Pop: Davy Graham

12 Bar Club, London

When Davy Graham first emerged on the London club circuit in the late 1950s, he was regarded as an eclectic guitar genius with one major problem: he baffled his audiences. Here was a man who didn't just play blues and jazz, traditional folk songs and classical styles, but was also fascinated by the music of north Africa, India and all points between.

Every guitar picker in town learned to play his song Anji (recorded by Simon and Garfunkel and still part of the Bert Jansch repertoire) but no one could follow his wild musical excursions around the globe.

In retrospect, he can be seen not just as one of the key figures in the British folk-blues movement, but as one of the earliest exponents of world music. He loved travelling and studying different styles and simply ignored musical boundaries.

With acoustic music back in fashion, the time is surely right for the rediscovery of Graham. He may have celebrated his 60th birthday last year, but with this appearance in that cramped but suitably intimate West End folk cellar, the 12 Bar Club, he proved that he's still in remarkably good form, in excellent humour and as unpredictable as ever.

Backed by bass guitarist Roger Bunn (who played with him on his 1976 album All That Moody) he came on wearing a purple tie, a hat, glasses and layers of sweaters. It was not the standard guitar hero image, but then this was not a standard guitar hero show.

He began in jovial, technically low-key fashion, strumming first through the slinky 1930s jazz drug tune If You're a Viper, and then Randy Newman's Yellow Man, before branching out for some blues and jazz solos. Then he swung off into a cheerful country hoe-down to end his first set, before re-emerging with a delicate, finely performed treatment of the Billie Holiday ballad God Bless the Child.

He followed this with a lengthy solo instrumental section in which he veered from Balkan dance tunes to echoes of Arabic styles, followed by "one from Armenia". Some of the crowd looked as baffled as Graham's audiences had back in the 1960s. He ended, to his bass player's obvious surprise, with a spirited version of Down and Out. "I haven't heard you play that since 1958," said Bunn.

So is Graham about to be discovered by a wider audience, as he most certainly deserves? Well, many of his classic, long-deleted old albums have been reissued at last and, like Jansch, he has acquired a new, far younger musical following. The opening set at the 12 Bar was provided by Matt Deighton, known to pop audiences for his guitar work with Paul Weller and on occasions Oasis, but acquiring a growing reputation for his solo acoustic guitar work and cool, gently introspective folk-soul songs such as Isolation.

Once he came off stage he was down at the front, watching and recording Graham's every move.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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