Unusually, on Thursday, I went up to Nottingham to a concert – the guitarist Duke Garwood, whom I’d first caught at Latitude in 2015 (see my piece on the Sunday shows). I really enjoyed his show then – those slowly rumbling songs, embellished by a warm, expressive guitar. Nothing flash, but some searing solos that reminded me of the sounds that Robin Tower ekes out of his guitar to this day. Both indebted to Jimi Hendrix, though in different ways. Duke Garwood’s take on the blues is a rolling, creeping thing, which evokes the atmosphere of the Louisiana swamp (or my image of it – I’ve never been there). On record, you hear the sound of JJ Cale and things can be quite subdued. Live the guitar really comes to life.
Duke has a short UK tour to promote his new record, “Garden of Ashes”, which has been well-received. His date in London, at Oslo in Hackney, is on 16 February, and I’d commend it to you. I can’t make it as I’m seeing Emily Barker that night. But I didn’t want to miss this rare chance to see the man play that guitar. Nottingham suited me because it’s also where my son is at University, so we had dinner before I went on to the Bodega. He declined the opportunity to come to the concert!
The Bodega had a good atmosphere to it – quite small and with a friendly feel. It’s a popular place for clubbing, I’m told. There were probably about 200 people there, maybe a few more. The wonders of Duke Garwood are still known only to a few. He played unaccompanied: mostly songs from the new album, but others thrown in, apparently at random. I couldn’t quite tell whether Duke was still a bit unprepared for the tour – he has a wry sense of humour, which leaves you not knowing whether he really did forget to play certain tracks off the new album until right at the end. He also mentioned his drummer going off to India to join Hare Krishna. I did wonder whether this was actually true, as the two guys who played short support sets were, I think, part of his band. Second on was John J Presley who shared the same approach to the guitar as Duke – with just a bit more of a howl in the solos, and, indeed, his singing. I’d have happily watched a bit more of him.
I’m no expert in the Duke Garwood catalogue, even having bought a couple of the earlier albums. So I can’t tell you exactly what he played, except that it was an hour or so of that slowly rumbling groove, hypnotic and uplifting, when the guitar began to echo and sway. The sound was less Troweresque this time – maybe because he didn’t have the band anchoring his runs. Or maybe the slightly more subdued groove fitted the new album. This is music that locks you into a dream, immerses you. One song ends, another begins, the groove slides on. Slide is a good word – the guitar runs often sound like they are coming from a slide guitar, with emphasis on the bass strings. But they aren’t – it’s a combination of Duke’s technique and the distortion pedals.
The show got a great reception from the people there and Duke seemed pretty chuffed about it. He seems a modest guy: maybe used to playing in the shadows, in other people’s bands (he’s worked a lot with Mark Lanegan in recent years). He quipped during the show about being way out of his comfort zone. And maybe it was true. A man of great talent who is a bit uncomfortable being in the spotlight.
Yeah, I loved this show. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but it was worth the trip up to the East Midlands. Another artist I hope we’ll see at the summer festivals. Enveloping us in his slow-burning, gliding, sliding blues.