TOMMY EMMANUEL | London, Royal Festival Hall

Listening to one of Tommy Emmanuel’s albums you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a 3-piece: bass, rhythm/lead guitar and percussion. In person, it is once again thrillingly apparent that he is quite simply a guitar virtuoso who has no need for anything other than his instrument and extraordinary talent to create blissful, electrifying music.

In Tommy’s hands, a guitar seems like a completely different instrument. Is this because he’s playing it right and others are getting it so wrong? Or is his musical synaesthesia capable of pushing a guitar far beyond its intended purpose? Whichever it is, the dexterity of his hands and musical instinct are capable of holding a packed concert hall in wrapped attention. From Ray Charles-inspired numbers to a good ol’ Guitar Boogie, the ease with which he fleshes out a melody with harmonic licks and percussive flourishes is absolutely captivating for the casual listener and border-line hypnotic for the guitarists in the audience.

If his recorded work occasionally lets slip a laugh, his live shows are all about the personality that lies behind such endearing off-cuts. The jokes are as old as Tommy (some older, as he points out) although the humanity and kindness of his personality is honest and fresh as the performance. Hearing the human stories behind pieces like Lewis and Clark and the words that have led to different melodies and creations offer a rare insight into a musician who spends a lot of time on the road and on the stage playing songs with secret words only he knows. Tonight though he’s not alone on stage with his music. His daughters make an appearance and his eldest (Amanda) performs a dance inspired by one of her father’s pieces: The Duke.

Tommy explains that his daughter dances not because she is a trained dancer but purely because she loves to. Honestly, this shouldn’t surprise any of us — after all, she’s Tommy Emmanuel’s daughter and his spirit of open-hearted creativity is infectious. Just as she runs rings around a patch of light on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall, we’re reminded that her father runs rings around us all.

Tommy is gigging hard across North America and Europe at the moment. Catch him at one of the places listed here.

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