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Jon Lord • Lichfield Festival, 17th July 2009

Another Cathedral, another Jon Lord concert; last time it was the vast cavernous confines of Durham, this time the smaller but beautifully ornate Lichfield, the stage set at the far end of the Nave under the beautiful West window. We were fortunate to find ourselves seated just three rows back with an excellent view across to Jon’s Grand Piano and Hammond C3 placed stage left. I’ve waited a long time to see one of Jon’s solo shows, the Durham Concerto offering little of Jon the performer, mostly Jon the composer, I was not to be disappointed.

jon lord - lichfield 2009I took no notes at the time so cannot give a detailed set list however the first half began with one movement from Jon’s recently composed piece in memory of his dear friend the late John Mortimer featuring the flutist of the night (Bruce Martin I believe, also playing the piccolo which Jon told us Bruce refers to as the Shrieking Twig). Various pieces followed not least being an excellent performance of De Profundis from Beyond the Notes. It wasn’t just his recent solo material that filled the programme, we also got a number of pieces from Sarabande beginning with the title track itself played with considerable energy, a joy to listen to. Back in the 70’s I recall I could share my enthusiasm for Purple albums with my fellow heavy rock fans at school but in my love of the compelling rhythms Sarabande I was pretty much on my own. Now all these years later I could hardly believe I was watching a live performance of these tracks. The first half ended with a fantastically energetic performance of The Telemann Experiment, one of my favourites from Beyond the Notes. It was fascinating to watch as Jon, by facial expressions and gestures, counted in the other performers during this complex piece, they all did a fantastic job of what must be a challenging piece to play with only limited opportunity for practice. The Badke Quartet and the other performers certainly had their work cut out tonight with Jon’s pieces demanding everything from beautifully delicate playing to the furiously energetic, often within a single piece. However they really seemed to enjoy their task with many exchanged smiles and moving to the music when not actually playing.

Jon stuck with the piano almost exclusively in the first half, excepting one single long note from the Hammond used to end one piece. However things were different during the second half. Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance gave Jon a chance to let rip a little. Steve Balsamo and Kasia Łaska took on the vocal duties of the evening. Steve did an excellent job with Pictured Within and Kasia not only coped admirably with Sam Brown’s vocal parts, singing with great feeling, but also the Sam penned The Sun Will Shine Again written for and sung by Frida originally.

There was a second piece played not yet recorded officially (to my knowledge) tonight: Air On a Blues String. Jon explained that this piece was inspired by a comment by Durham Concerto soloist the cellist Matthew Barley when Jon heard him encouraging young classical performers to embrace improvisation and other genres of music as part of their experience to improve their classical playing.

Jon didn’t just borrow from Dave Brubeck, he surprised me by introducing a piece as written by his old friends David Coverdale and Ritchie Blackmore before launching into a performance of Soldier of Fortune. Steve Balsamo might not have the Coverdale deep growl, yet he and Kasia still did a good job with a lovely arrangement by Jon.

We had other pieces from Sarabande including Bourée and Gigue, these with their dance base often set feet tapping all around us. The audience, made up by the look of it mostly of general festival goers rather than Jon fans, often seemed to have little idea of who Jon was, certainly judging by comments heard around us beforehand. However they seemed thoroughly won over by the end, we overheard one lady say as she left “what a really lovely man”!

lichfield festial 2009 logoOverall this was a fantastic evening, we may think of Jon mostly as organist but the delicacy and feel he displayed at the piano keyboard just goes to show what an excellent pianist he was too. Watching his facial expressions was a treat, even mouthing along to the words of songs on occasion. His choice of pieces for the evening’s programme is hard to fault, mixing the deeply moving with the joyously energetic to make a thoroughly enjoyable show. With a team of accompanists having such a short time to prepare it’s no surprise that Jon reads sheet music throughout sticking to the arrangements, no freedom here for long wandering periods of improvisation expecting the band to just follow along. Despite which Jon manages short breaks on both piano and keyboard. I marvelled at how difficult it must be to pull off a show like this with ad hoc groups of musicians yet it is a testament to their skill, professionalism and Jon’s encouragement that I couldn’t spot a flaw in their performance.

Jon saved us something special for the final piece, introduced as something written in 1969, when he was apparently just 11 years old (?!). Walking over to the Hammond he sent shivers, not for the first time that evening, up my spine by tapping out the opening notes of Child in Time. I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to see Jon play this one again but what a treat. Tearing into the Hammond at times, this was no token run through. It was slightly strange to see such a highly animated Jon Lord from behind, the Hammond facing the band rather than us! The two vocalists did a fine job with Steve singing and Kasia helping out where Ian would scream. What a treat to end with, no surprise that almost the entire audience where up on their feet to applaud at the end.

I guess I am not unusual among Purple fans in having a partner who doesn’t quite share my depth of enthusiasm for Deep Purple itself but in Jon’s post-Purple output Glynis is equally enthusiastic so it was a pleasure but no surprise to hear her echo my feelings at the end by saying this was without doubt one of the very best concert experiences she’d ever had. This was a show with no lows, no “I wish they hadn’t done that”, just one high after another.

Thank you Jon!"

review: Peter Judd