Being known as The Colonel and The Governor is all good and well, but if you are going to put those monikers out on your tour headline, you need to be pretty confident that you can live up to the expectations that people will bring along with them when they see you play. Of course, there is never any doubt among the assembled faithful that both musicians will not only live up to their respective handles, they would exceed them considerably, and they did – and then some!
The duo start the gig together, blending their disparate sounds and styles together in a seamless mix of fluid jazz sounds. The differences in appearance show the variety in their styles – Tommy in a suit with open-neck shirt, Martin in jacket and trousers with a dark t-shirt.
First up to take centre stage solo is Tommy. It’s a powerful experience watching and listening to Emmanuel play ‘Blood Brother’ – the way he overlays melody and rhythm creating a sound akin to two guitars being played simultaneously, is a tantalising affair. Tommy plays with a distant smile, eyes closed, clearly in his own little world. His track ‘The Duke’ draws total attention from the huge crowd, and underlines the perfect acoustic sound of this sumptuous theatre.
Ideally, we would all be watching this in a tiny, smoky club that was packed with only 60 people in it, but these two players are far too popular for that. So we sacrifice the ideal immediacy of a close-up atmosphere in order to enjoy the next best thing, an evening of peerless guitar from a total master.
After an interval, both musicians return to the stage – this time Tommy Emmanuel has changed into a casual black shirt and jeans. His rhythm playing on the Django selections – the exchange of rhythms and lead lines, the instinctive unspoken interplay, is simply masterful to watch, and Martin Taylor firmly enhances his reputation as one of the finest jazz guitarists in the world. His fluid jazz runs work perfectly on his signature Maestro. Each player has a way of playing that perfectly complements their chosen instrument, Tommy on his beaten-up Maton, Martin on the semi-acoustic Peerless.
As Martin Taylor has the stage to himself, he talks of touring with Stefan Grapelli, and being asked for an introduction by Chet Atkins, which led to a long and productive friendship between the two guitar masters. Martin’s version of ‘I Got Rhythm’ echoed Tommy’s style of melody, rhythm and bass lines all running together in pin-sharp syncopation.
Tommy Emmanuel returns for his world famous Beatles medley, adding some muscular strumming to the melancholy of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, and pulling every ounce of rock and roll from ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Lady Madonna’.
Martin Taylor returns to the stage to join Tommy, and it’s a matter of heads down, see you at the end. They even playfully hint at ‘Duelling Banjos’, but that is a special treat we are to be denied of tonight. There is still the tour-de-force of Tommy Emmanuel’s tapping and percussion workout around every single inch of his guitar, including some work with a drummer’s wire brush to enhance the variety of sounds he can coax out of his Maton.
Seeing an artist on the live stage with an unparalleled level of musicality and innovation that most people can only dream of is enough to make you want to go home and use your treasured instrument for firewood. However, the vibe left behind by two such close friends and serious respecters of each other’s diverse skills was nothing like that. Anyone who has experienced the sheer joy of playing that Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor obviously get from gigging, not just from playing their guitars in each other’s musical company, but to a room full of appreciative listeners, would feel inspired to go home and practise your chops for hours on end.
Perfection and pleasure of playing were the feelings that ran right through this evening, only increasing as the good-time music unravelled and expanded into greater heights of proficiency and musical humour.
They make it look easy – like anyone can do it, and that surely is the supreme gift of the master musicians, because as any player knows, the easier the experts make it look, the harder it actually is to replicate, or even to get anywhere near to that level of dexterity and feeling.
That was the real pleasure of the night’s entertainment, and that is why the two must clear their schedules and make touring together a regular event in future years – this is something that is simply too good to miss.