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John Fahey – Live at Audimax Hamburg 1978

Blast First Petite

Appearing as part of a series of DVDs from Blast First Petite unearthing performances on legendary German TV music show Rockpalast (see also [post=kevin-coyne-live-dvd text=”Kevin Coyne in 1978″]) comes a rare broadcast featuring John Fahey from March 1978. Remastered from the original video tapes, this is a rare opportunity to see footage of Fahey on stage, and the results are captivating.

Fahey arrives in front of the WDR TV audience to a brief introduction and no stands upon which to place the guitars he holds in each hand. Thankfully his embarrassment is averted by the reverentially lighthearted way his corduroy jacket is instantly whisked off his waiting arms as he seats himself at the mic, at once amusing, and indicative of the esteem in which he was – and is – held. Eschewing banter or introductions, a blue-shirted Fahey launches into just over an hour-long instrumental run through of standards and his own compositions, head bowed in rapt concentration and legs astride as he cradles the acoustic guitar like a cello with occasional breaks for some lap-top slide action. His beard shivers and his hair gradually becomes yet more straggly as his careful combover cascades down as the sheer energy Fahey puts into playing and gravity takes over. That energy is well-spent, his fingers flying and picking with hypnotoic dexterity across the fretboard and over the strings, making even as hackneyed a refrain as “Camptown Races” sparkle brightly in his hands with deceptive ease, sounding for all the world like he’s playing two instruments at once – and it’s worth reflecting that this DVD demonstrates that Fahey, live or on record, only ever played a 6- (or rarely 12-) string guitar.

Watching a solo guitar player on TV might not exactly always be the most captivating of television spectacles, but frankly, why should it be? Instead, this represents a magnificent record of Fahey in performance and one which captures an iconic, seminal figure in American music at the very peak of his primitivist guitar prowess (though it would be equally fascinating to see him in avant-garde mode in the Nineties). The thunderous applause which greets the end of his set is rewarded with further slide number, and the final segment is a short interview discussing the influence of Leo Kottke, Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe‘s erratic rhythms and especially the phrasing found on old blues 78s and in jazz. Here he comes across as a thoughtful, genial eccentric, and it would be great to see more of this interview as it seems like it might have been a fragment extracted from a longer show.

Essential for anyone with an interest in Fahey’s ever-expanding legacy in the possibilities still open to the solo acoustic guitar, Live at Audimax Hamburg is both a superlative historic document and thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.

-Richard Fontenoy-

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1 comment to John Fahey – Live at Audimax Hamburg 1978

  • Bill MacAllister

    What is stark about this performance is how little Fahey says during the performance. There is essentially no interaction with the audience. In his concerts that I attended in the Santa Barbara area in the late 60’s and early 70’s he would spend time explaining a song title, complaining about record executives, lauding his wife, trashing his ex-wife, etc. The perfomances on this CD are wonderful, but it a bit sad to see him this withdrawn.

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