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Rafferty provides perfect end to guitar festival

The Bermuda Guitar Festival wrapped up over the weekend with Adam Rafferty’s enjoyable and infectious performance providing the perfect end to this year’s event at St Andrew’s Church.

Clad in shooting cap, jeans and a black shirt lanky Adam Rafferty revolves, strides, bobs, weaves and lunges around the stage with eyes tight shut, occasionally opening them to cast us a conspiratorial look or flashing us a grin, all the while grooving to the music he’s playing on his cutaway acoustic guitar, expertly played by himself, and also expertly amplified by his sound engineer.

The amplification is high and precise because it has to reflect every nuance of sound, every minute click and thudlet and because Rafferty’s unique playing demands it. He is simultaneously playing all the parts of a rock band: bass, percussion, rhythm, lead and vocals.

He does this by minutely controlling the sound he’s making: Right thumb and first finger hold the pick mainly for bass lines or melody or finale chords or rimshot percussion; right middle through pinky provide strum, melody lines, rhythm guitar, snare percussion (on the guitar body); left hand controls the fingerboard, hammers and also percussion. His mouth provides bass drum, cymbals, vocals. Both hands double up for percussion on the guitar body. He is a performer who brings huge energy to everything he plays and because he loves the music, we do too.

Adam’s programme included his arrangements of jazz standards and mainstream pop hits of the 1950s through to the 1990s, and his own compositions. I think that the origin of his musical inspiration lies somewhere in the late 1960s because he is a brilliant interpreter and perhaps most at ease with the music of Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, the Jackson Five, Michael Jackson himself and rappers from the early days of rap such as Ice T.

The early Jackson Five number I’ll be there he describes as a deep emotional experience, and describes the voice of the then eleven-year-old Michael Jackson as “angelic”. Adam’s version of the song is a good example of his more tender and traditional fingerstyle treatment, obviously deeply felt and sincere. You can find it on YouTube and the last time I visited it had had over a quarter of a million visits.

This number is dwarfed by the 1.4 million visits to Adam’s version of Stevie Wonder’s 1973 Superstition. This is a technical triumph of interpretation on solo guitar because the original instrumentation includes not only traditional instruments of the rock band but also brass, congas and keyboard. Adam strips the instrumentation down to the bass riff, percussion and song line, and includes his head, which bops in imitation of Stevie Wonder, as part of the performance.

The result is a more intimate sound than the original but with all the important elements included.

Adam performed jazz standards, Fly me to the moon, Mas que Nada Chick Corea’s Spain, Autumn Leaves and Lonnie Smith’s Play it back. All were enjoyable and Adam’s adaptation of the last two particularly successful. Autumn Leaves combined elements of two versions of the song that I particularly enjoy, Eva Cassidy’s from 1998 and Chet Atkins’ from the 1960s.

Adam is a friend of the composer/organist Lonnie Smith and his version of Play it Back included the complete range of the Rafferty vocal percussion and bass sounds. His enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment of this boppy number was infectious: a quick glance around the church pews revealed that everybody in the audience was smiling, too.

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Published June 05, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 04, 2013 at 3:14 pm)

Rafferty provides perfect end to guitar festival

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