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Stuart McCallum, Future Inns, 10 March

March 11, 2016

Just one man and a guitar, but he conjures a whole orchestra. Impossible to listen to Stuart McCallum, down from Manchester for the evening, without pausing to marvel at the range of effects he deploys (OK, it’s an amplified acoustic guitar, and there are quite a few pedals involved as well).

He may begin with unadorned guitar chords, but other elements gradually accumulate. A strum is established, looped as a backdrop, overlaid with an ostinato figure, and the two continue for a while as a solo line plays over the top. Occasional electronic washes frame the soundscape, but guitar sounds dominate. Close your eyes and there could be three or four guitarists on stage, not just one.

It must all be planned quite carefully – using loops like this demands that – a feeling reinforced by the fact that at least four of the pieces we hear are on a 2014 CD (a duo with McCallum’s teacher, the great Manchester guitarist Mike Walker) I take away. But there is  spontaneity, too: he clearly thinks orchestrally and can modify an arrangement in real time. Or, as he says, “Sometimes I just go off at a tangent and it’s hard to know where it’s going to end up”.

It could simply be impressive because technically dextrous, co-ordinated – as watching a plate-spinner who also tap dances might be. But the results are superbly musical. A couple of standards, Alfie, and When I fall In Love, provide welcome moments of recognition, as does a beautiful Bill Frisell tune, Where Do We Go that he calls just moments after the resourceful American’s name crossed my mind as someone who has explored some of the same terrain. McCallum’s own compositions, Lightsome, Vital Space, Beholden, and an untitled piece with such a heavy Spanish inflection it only just avoids pastiche, fill out a fascinating set.

A larger crowd gathered last night, I hear, for another player who has a singular musical vision, the devotional Tord Gustavson who pulls them in regularly at St George’s. But those who chose Future Inns instead heard something just as individual, I fancy – and refreshing, intriguing, and altogether delightful with it.

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