1989 - 3

ALVIN LEE - Night Of The Guitars



The above acclaimed rock guitarists performed individually and collectively at
 "Hammersmith Odeon Theatre" in London






For more than a decade, popular music has been indistinguishable from fashion. A parade of hip styles attached to hit singles, with songs and artists designed only to last until the next big thing. The guitar, once the proud king of the rock and roll jungle, has been relegated to the role of specialist. Need a rocking edge on that lame top 40 number? Just pop in this generic solo packed with lots of distortion, high squealing notes and whammy bar tricks. Yes sir that’s the ticket alright! Into this void stepped Miles Copeland and his all instrumental series called,

“No Speak”. The concept was simple, send some of the world’s most gifted musicians into the studio with these basic instructions: Forget about singing. Forget about hit singles. Let your instruments do all the talking, and make it rock! Admittedly, Miles motivation was a selfish one, he wanted to hear some butt-kicking, instrumental music. Lo and behold, he found a huge audience, of both young and old alike, that were starved for the exact same thing

Trends were shifting and musicianship was finally in again. The logical next step, was to take the show out on the road, in order to return this music, back to its natural habitat – the stage!

What better way to do this than a monster caravan package tour, featuring nine of the world’s top rock guitarist. It was dubbed, “Night Of The Guitar”, and it rock and rolled through the United Kingdom for seven days in November of 1988. Each guitarist performed four selections, that were usually backed by other guitarist on the bill, which included the rock solid house band of: Clive Mayuyu, Dereck Holt, Livingstone Brown and Chris Bucknell.

There were brand new songs, some old memorable songs, some vocal tunes and a few very special jam sessions included. Brash, melodic music that was driven by adrenaline – laced- nervous energy, every tune boosted the exquisite guitar work that only comes when veterans are granted free reign to step into the spotlight and play whatever they please. The very best of these unique three hour concerts, were captured on a two record set, “Night Of The Guitar Live”! It’s a document as rough as it is inspired. An aural snapshot of one particular time and place. Can it be referred  to as definitive? No, not a chance, because definitive implies an ending. Nothing is definitive, when you’re discussing living, breathing, working musicians.

Night of the guitar live! Contains no drum machines, no funny haircuts and no poseurs.

Just nine brilliant musicians, on stage and doing what they do best of all, playing  rock and roll guitar. It’s about time isn’t it?

Richard J- Grula







These two videos were originally released in 1989
They have been out of print since 1991 - worth searching out.

We recommend the record album over the CD
The CD is lacking the rock & roll jam medley






Night of the Guitars:

Alvin Lee (Ex-Ten Years After) quickly adds another high point to the concert with this performance of his new song “No Limit”, which is also the best track on the Guitar Speak album.

As far as this style of playing goes, it’s just straight ahead rock and roll, within a strong melodic presence. Alvin may well be one of it’s masters, as the version performed on stage, stays faithful to the one on the album. At the beginning of his next contribution, Alvin in his quick wit says, “and now for a change, I would like to do an instrumental”:

“Ain’t  Nothin´ Shakin´ is his choice, as it first appeared ten years earlier on his solo album called, “Rocket Fuel” 1978. Funky Groove Rock. His version of this song is far better than anything with this title should be. The extended / extensive soloing is no doubt

self-serving and over indulgent…but this is the place to do it. But did he really have to inject still another “Sunshine Of Your Love” riff / reference point into the song?

Alvin remains at his best while working within his best idiom.








To complement the release of the first Guitar Speak album, IRS records organized a week-long "Night Of The Guitar" British tour with many of its featured artists. Naturally, the final show was recorded for release; a two-part video set (which I don't have) presents the show in its entirety, with the album release presenting various highlights.

This tour was obviously the fulfilled dream of many guitar craftsmen, particularly those with an affinity for the psychedelic/early progressive period. For some of the artists, as well, it must have appeared as a step in the right direction after a period of decline; Howe's subsequent recovery after the Asia/GTR years now seems obvious enough, for instance, and Krieger's appearance may have helped prepare the world for the Doors revival a few years later. The show was not without it lulls and fiascos, of course, but it seems to have been based in an artistically credible idea. For 1988, this wasn't an everyday occurrence.

Pete Haycock and Steve Hunter serve as the "resident sidemen" for most of the night, making it somewhat appropriate that they'd receive the opening positions on this release (after Miles Copeland's introduction, of course ... he sounds exactly like his brother). Haycock (formerly with the Climax Blues Band) starts the show with "Dr. Brown I Presume", a fusion-based track with, appropriately enough, features a fairly good (if slap-heavy) bass solo by Livingstone Brown; Haycock puts in a good performance as well, though the keyboard backing sounds more than a bit dated. Not a bad track to whet the appetites of the audience, I suppose.

Steve Hunter (formerly of Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel) comes out next, with "The Idler". This track has a rather troubling introductory section -- a smooth, urban jazz feel that seems a bit too laid-back for the occasion (it's never a good sign when live drums sound sequenced, I suppose ...). Thankfully, the sheer level of space granted to the track (a common Guitar Speak feature) allows it to develop into something more interesting; by the song's end, it actually comes out as a decent piece of music.

Haycock comes into the foreground again with "Lucienne", though he probably shouldn't have -- this apparent tribute to an earlier period of guitar stylings comes off rather flat. The melodrama seems forced, the band accompaniment is weak, and not much really happens in the foreground. From a historical standpoint, Haycock's technique is somewhat interesting; as a song, though, this doesn't rate too highly.

Copeland then introduces ex-Spirit guitarist Randy California, who performs "Groove Thing" for the assembly. All things considered, a different track might have been in order -- the guitar introduction is a work of raw beauty (from California, at least ... the band seems much tamer), but the vocal sections aren't really that notable by any standard. California's solos reveal quite a bit of talent; he may have been almost completely derivative of Jimi, but there's no denying that he was good.

After thing middling success, California then manages to come up with something really notable in his version of "Hey Joe". I'm not even that much of a fan of Hendrix's version of this track (which, obviously, California's is thoroughly based on ... even as far as the vocals), but will acknowledge that RC managed to come up with a powerful tribute, in this instance. Some might differ with the reggae additions on bass and drums near the end, but these don't distract from the point of the song.

Miles Copeland then goes overboard in his introductory hyperbole, signaling the appearance of former Doors guitarist Rob Krieger, the biggest name on the tour. Krieger begins this set with an (over)long free-form introduction which doesn't really have anything to do with "Love Me Two Times", and not terribly much to do with music; I suppose that one can get away which such moments once one reaches the status of a legend, though. The actual song is a bit better, though not necessarily by much -- this was never the most shining moment in the Doorsian catalogue, and the vocals here are out-and-out bad. It's only when the mid-song guitar solo comes in that this performance justifies itself; with Hunter acting as a moderating influence, Krieger seems able to focus more clearly. This is obviously a mixed bag performance, but some points of merit can be drawn from the well.

The double-guitar driving forces of Wishbone Ash, Ted Turner and Andy Powell, make their appearance next, and perform the best-composed track of the night (thus far). "The King Will Come", from their progressive Argus album, seems a shining jewel in the ragged terrain of Wishbone Ash's career, developing the story of the Book of Revelations in a fairly non-sophomoric manner. The vocal harmonies are actually fairly good in this performance (apparently sung by the guitarists themselves), and the guitar interplay goes over quite well. Neither guitarist seems to be a real virtuoso, and the soloing is a bit limited in comparison to some of other tracks here; the value of the song makes up for this problem, however. The edges may be a bit rough on occasion, but this one's worth seeking out.

Ex-Mountain guitarist Leslie West's "Theme From An Imaginary Western" was a noble idea, but it didn't go over that well in practice. Dedicated to "my partner Felix, who's up in heaven" this number was apparently written primarily by Jack Bruce; despite having some decent vocals (not from West) and a few interesting blues-rock sections, however, this never really amounts to that much of a track. Arguably, West's sentiments were getting the better of him here; the soloing at the end, in any event, is far from the album's high point.

West then introduces ex-Yes/Asia guitarist Steve Howe. On the video, Howe performs "Clap" as his opening piece; this album, however, features "Sketches Of The Sun" in its place. Why this track was chosen over the more well-known "Clap" for the shorter version isn't quite clear -- nevertheless, this is a good performance of the track (featuring Howe's usual subtle variations), despite a few sound problems that seem to plague the performance. Howe then performs "Wurm" with assistance from Pete Haycock; I've already discussed this track in my review of "Yesoteric Volume Eleven", but suffice it to say for this commentary that this version features the penultimate live guitar performance of the track, generally unhindered by a duel with the keyboards (which imitate Tony Kaye's performance on the studio version). Another high point of the show, even if its separation from the rest of "Starship Trooper" is a bit jarring at times.

"The Governor" Howe then introduces Alvin Lee (ex-Ten Years After), who quickly adds another high point to the concert with his performance of "No Limit" (possibly the best track on the Guitar Speak album). As far as this style of playing goes (straightfoward rock, with strong melodic presence), Lee may well be one of it's masters; this version of the track, after a somewhat silly intro, is faithful to the album version. After muttering something incoherent, Lee then goes into a performance of "Ain't Nothin' Shakin'", which is much better than anything by that title should be. The extended (and extensive) soloing may be a bit indulgent at times (and does anyone need another "Sunshine Of Your Love" reference point?), but this is still Lee working within his best idiom.

The entire ensemble then comes out for "All Along The Watchtower", an appropriate a choice as any for the final song of the night. Stewart Copeland seemingly makes a guest appearance on drums here, and possibly on some of the vocal parts as well. After a subtle lead-in, the song begins in earnest -- the first two verses are handled fairly well, but the focal point of this track is obviously the mid-song solos, of which there are four: Krieger's is good, Powell's creates a sustained ambience without quite getting the "highs", Howe's is almost completely out of left field, Haycock's is fairly smooth. The third verse is marred by a silly reference to the "two horses" traveling through the Night Of The Guitar touring list (with accompanying guitar scales), but this isn't unforgiveably bad. It drags on a little bit, of course, but this is still a decent performance.

Those listeners who liked the Guitar Speak album should like this as well. Recommended for those interested.

The Christopher Currie







Alvin Lee at "Night Of The Guitars" - Hammersmith Odeon, London  - Photo by Georges Amann


Alvin Lee in Paris 1989

Excellent Photo by Georges Amann - presented at www.digigraphie.com

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