Tommy Emmanuel + Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo, Union Chapel London, 24th May 2018

Islington’s Union Chapel is perhaps the favourite venue of many of the musicians who perform in London. It seats around a thousand people (on very hard Church pews admittedly)  but the reward for the gig goer is an intimate atmosphere and wonderful acoustics.  There is a strict noise limit and a 10.30 curfew which suits the acoustic players perfectly.

The evening started with almost everybody already seated to listen to Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo. The American guitar duo played, in wonderfully tight harmony, a selection of medleys featuring many of the jazz and blues greats. It is clear that Frank is very much playing with the spirit of Django Reinhardt sitting on his shoulder. They are immensely skilled and had an immediate rapport with the audience even slipping in Hank Marvin’s ‘Apache’ as a tip of the hat to being in the UK.  They served as a superb warm up for Tommy and it is rare to see a supporting act getting a partial standing ovation at the end of their set.

Tommy Emmanuel is a man who must eat, breathe and sleep guitar. Starting in Australia as a professional musician at the age of six he has played with everybody imaginable from a duet album with Chet Atkins to working with Les Paul and the likes of Mark Knopfler. His tour was partly to promote his new album ‘Accomplice One’ which is a selection of duets with such Americana luminaries as Jason Isbell, Jerry Douglas and Suzy Bogguss. His fans loved the new numbers but it was his Beatles medley that garnered the greatest applause. Then he played the most wonderful rendition of ‘Michelle’ which featured the most accomplished harmonics I have ever heard. Tommy was obviously thrilled that his daughter, Angelina, was in the audience and he played an eponymous number to great applause.

Three quarters of the way through his set he brought back on first Frank for a couple of numbers, then also Vinnie for the final twenty minutes using them as rhythm to his lead and then as three guitars in perfect harmony. A well deserved full throated standing ovation produced a delicate encore and sent both players and audience on their way floating on a great musical high.

There are times when you listen to Tommy Emmanuel that you really cannot fathom how he is able to make the guitar sing in the way he does. This was perfectly illustrated when he introduced his drummer, bassist and rhythm player who all happened to be Tommy on the same guitar at the same time. Even if you were not a particular fan of what was being played, you could not help but be carried away by the skill and artistry on display. One of my guests, who has played guitar for over 50 years, said, after the support, that Frank and Vinny had given Tommy a tough act to follow. Three numbers into his set she leaned across and commented that he needn’t have worried as we were in the presence of a guitar genius. This is a much over used term most of the time, but occasionally it’s well deserved and this was one of those rare wonderful occasions.

Photography by Lesley Konyn

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