Veteran English rock guitarist Jeff Beck has been acclaimed widely over his six-decade career – a true virtuoso of the six-string electric, sustaining a respect among peers accorded to only a few in the ever-distancing past – Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix.
Jeff will be 78 this month; it’s getting to be an old man’s milieu, and an instrumental guitar hero – maybe especially in the TikTok-driven 2020’s – needs a singer for half a dozen numbers to give the show a boost halfway through: and conveniently, a friend and collaborator of Beck’s is newly freed from the witness stand in his libel case in Fairfax, Virginia, and has joined him tonight in Glasgow: Hollywood film actor – alright then, global star heart-throb – Johnny Depp, 58.
Less than a week ago no-one would have predicted the bubbling crowd outside the Royal Concert Hall stage doors, spilling out onto Nile St, blocking the traffic and attracting the attendance of several local police: but on this balmy Glasgow evening, a sea of mainly young females – and, more visibly, their phone screens – was where all the fash was. It has no doubt rocketed the tour’s profile, and earned, I imagine, not a little oppobrium from Beck’s core constituency. Depp’s trial, for defamation against his ex-wife Amber Heard, has been inescapable headline news this week and now inextricable from Beck’s tour’s media profile (just search Jeff Beck Glasgow and see whose face appears most).
Still, Beck’s collaborators, since he made his name in the late 1960’s London blues boom have been widely varied, from star singer Rod Stewart to (Anglo-Indian composer) Nitin Sawnhey – the latter’s Nadia is on the set-list: and Depp’s moonlighting as singer with the guitarist is no surprise, the two of them having collaborated in 2016 on a version of Lennon’s Isolation, which gets an airing in the packed auditorium, to much delirium from the contingent who, I’m suspecting, didn’t seek tickets two years ago when the tour was announced, pre-Covid.
They share a liking for a basic-rock style, and this was striking for me, as from the tense funk of opener Star Cycle (aka the theme from 1980’s tv music show The Tube – a collaboration with Czech-American keyboardist Jan Hammer) I had fondly expected something more akin to the complex jazzy funk-rock fusion of his mid-70’s albums Blow by Blow and Wired. But although the articulation, feedback, harmonics, and skying vibrato are all there in his considerable armoury, alongside a restrained elegance in some numbers, the fare tended towards 3-minute statements, such as the Beach Boys’ Caroline No, Link Wray’s Rumble, and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On/What’s Happening Brother. The guitarist’s army-fatigue gilet, cargoes, mop-top and shades are signally familiar – what an unostentatious British lead guitarist should look like, right? – and he’s so softly-spoken that most of his inter-song announcements reverberate unintelligibly.
Beck-Depp treatments of Hendrix’s Little Wing and The Beatles’ A Day In the Life make an impression, but I felt the nagging persistence that Beck’s mainstay Stratocaster is the more articulate ‘singer’: he has a pedalboard as long as a pier, but it’s visited rarely, and most of the variations in tone and attack are in his deft finger-work. It’s quite a sight watching the two hands working in tandem as bowed notes follow hammer-ons and 99 other (mainly self-patented) tricks. Depp is a perfectly serviceable vocalist, but for all his front-page star quality, with his somewhat shuffling gait, shades on and hat pulled over – he’s maybe not the swaggeringly charismatic presence you might expect. Only on a thunderous Killing Joke cover does he really begin to cut through as a stage performer. Still, he is clearly enjoying himself, doubtless happy to be free of courtroom litigation, and remains there to accompany rather than overshadow the ‘real’ legend to his right.
Support was Irish singer, violinist and pianist Sharon Corr – yes, ex- The Corrs – who has lost none of the vocal sweetness and rich violin tone that made the group’s Talk on Corners a 1990’s staple.
With thanks to Stuart Bennet of Deacon Communications for his assistance.