Richard Durrant – Stringhenge

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Richard Durrant is a gifted and lyrical guitar player that is abundantly clear from this double CD release. On the first disc, playing a concert guitar crafted from a 5,000 piece of English bog oak, a four string Tenor guitar and a much more humble ukulele, Richard plays a set of mostly Bach instrumentals. “Stringhenge Part One” is a captivating listen. Durrant’s playing has the nimbleness of Steve Hackett, himself an excellent classical guitarist with a wider repertoire than his earlier band associations might suggest and the pastoral swing of John Renbourn, someone else who was both influential and all over the guitar in terms of influences himself. Tracks like “The Deep Dark Woods”, originally the Double from JS Bach’s 2nd Lute Suite, are lyrical, beautiful pieces of guitar with perfect timing and some surprising flourishes. “Sorton’s Hornpipe” based on “Jacky Tarr” a traditional Scottish tune, carries whispers of Bert Jansch in the first moments, then swings through a Folk Dance, jazzing it like John Renbourn at his best. The harmonics in the last section are a complete delight. “A Brief History of Wood” rocks too, classical guitar and some of those reflective quiet moments Greg Lake did so well on “I Believe in Father Christmas”. His grace and nimble playing manages to rehabilitate the Ukulele, giving it the light and sparkle of a high strung guitar, rescuing it from the humorous foot note it is in danger of becoming. “Two Ukulele Bourees” is Bach’s 3rd Cello Suite, sparkling and very much not played for laughs. Richard can play it slowly too, with space and tension, on “The Skye Boat Song” he creates interest and tension but using sparse playing and some classical flourishes to great effect. Disc One “Stringhenge” is sublime, beautifully recorded solo guitar. It stands alone as 36 mins of instrumental music that stops time. It also lulls you into a false sense of security as disc two The English Guitar Hymnal. Is more of a thematic set that plays with both the form and your expectations. Opener “My Lady Jane” is a sublime guitar piece with organ, dedicated to John Renbourn. I think he’d be listening hard and it would have raised a chuckle. “The Walrus Tree” uses wonderfully recorded atmospherics and some Beatlesque backwards tape to accent Richard’s achingly beautiful guitar. The wonderful recording captures every note and inflection with sympathetic accompaniment to make it all shine. “Edward the Good Angel” is a stately, captivating and brave arrangements of elements from Elgar’s emotional Cello Concerto. The minimalism of the ending against the bird song is a wonderful contrast to the earlier dense guitar and harpsichord. “Kenneth the Hedge” is perfect Pop Prog, conjuring the spirit of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd and the humour of Genesis’ Gabriel era Selling England by The Pound. The chorus has all the power of Elbow if anyone thinks this is just 70s pastoral whimsy. “To Be a Minstral” is Richard’s fine voiced take on Bunyan’s “To be a Pilgrim”, a rich tune familiar to any Renbourn fans. The Church Organ at the end, puts us in Church and makes it a Hymn as well as heralding a wonderfully swinging instrumental. Frank Bough’s “Allemande” is a wonderfully surreal English dance tune. “Morris Dreams” has a touch of “January Man” to it. Imagine a concept album played by members of Jethro Tull and Van Der Graff Generator and you’re not far wrong. “May Dances” meet rich vocals lifted straight from a Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers or A Passion Play with a touch of Fox head-wearing Gabriel. Anyone who thinks music lost its way in 1977 will have this wonderful track on repeat. It fades to bird song which makes the final track sound like a hidden track and a moment of perfect Englishness on this surprising cycle. Interestingly listening to this as a stream, it was followed by Richard Thompson’s latest Thirteen Rivers and the two sat well together. Stunning guitar, perfectly recorded, wonderful arrangements, sympathetic players, capped with perfect moments of English pop whimsy. A disc of classical guitar and then a disc that glistens like it was recorded after XTC, Mike Oldfield, Genesis and Peter Hammill spent an afternoon in a rural English Pub. What’s not to adore on this album by a captivating English virtuoso and eccentric, five parts Pentangle, five parts Oldfield or Stanshall. Brilliant.