In his latest offering composer and guitar virtuoso Richard Durrant is once again living on the folk/classical cusp with the first of these two LPs featuring a collection of solo instrumentals. The un-categorisable Durrant chose to record on a concert guitar crafted from a 5,000 year old English Oak by Gary Southwell, a four string Tenor Guitar made in Ditchling by Ian Chisholm (decorated with a silver Uffington Horse) and a humble ukulele. From the offset his recitalist’s credentials are apparent in a collection of confident, jazzy and very English arrangements of JS Bach placed alongside Durrant’s distinctive renditions of British Folk tunes and his own evocative pieces. This style of guitar playing could be described as “English Folk Baroque” with echoes of Renbourn and Jansch but, as one of the truly great guitarists of his generation, Durrant seems to rise above any glib comparisons with his carefree fluency of technique and musical confidence. Typically for Durrant there is more than a whiff of ‘prog’ about this production not least in the sumptuous artwork by Sussex artist Mark Charlton who depicts the Sussex landscape mixed with guitar parts colliding with bits of Neolithic bog oak.
On the second LP, whimsically titled The English Guitar Hymnal, Durrant is no longer the virtuoso soloist. Instead he adds touches of double bass, cello, shruti box, mandolin, keyboards and even lead vocals. He is also joined by some stellar players including recorder whizz Piers Adams, Howard Beach (harpsichord & chamber organ), master fiddler Nick Pynn and percussionist Stephen Hiscock. Singer Robert Andrews, daughter Daisy Durrant on backing vocals, accordion & whistle and Sompting Village Morris whose bells, sticks & dance moves can be heard on Durrant’s epic song ‘Morris Dreams’ are all added to the mix. This highly original double album is instantly likeable (especially on vinyl) and has a distinct narrative arc suggesting that Durrant is inviting us to sit and listen to all four sides in one sitting. Whether you do or not Stringhenge is an intriguing creation by a maverick musician at the height of his powers. The original instrumentals ‘My Lady Jane’ and ‘The Walrus Tree’ are delicate and profound in equal measure whilst the stand-out song ‘Kenneth The Hedge’ (a remarkable ditty about an ancient hedgerow hacked down to make way for a bypass) is delivered with a casual abandon befitting early Pink Floyd.
On completing Stringhenge Durrant set off on another of his epic “Cycling Music” tours from St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney to Brighton Open Air Theatre via a live performance on Radio Three under the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. Carrying everything on his bicycle and trailer he played ten concerts and cycled over one thousand miles. He explains his reasons:
“My cycle powered Stringhenge tour was a very personal pilgrimage which I hoped would reconnect me with a country that I love but no longer understand, recognise or even feel comfortable being associated with. Indeed it was after the referendum in 2016 that I felt a real need to create a very different sounding album and on Stringhenge the juxtaposition of the finest European music (JS Bach) with sounds that evoke the beauty of the British landscape (folk tunes) I hope not only sounds natural and beautiful but makes a clear point about our co-existence within Europe.”
Go and see Richard Durrant perform live to hear his unbelievable, top drawer, solo guitar playing. If you’re lucky you may even get an explanation as to why a catchy little track on side four of his double album is called “Frank Bough’s Allemande”. All is not as it first appears in the world of Richard Durrant, certainly not on Stringhenge.
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Artist’s website: www.richarddurrant.com
Richard Durrant plays Bach – on a ukulele: