Review and photography by John Bentley

When it comes to spotting interesting new artists, for me it often starts with hearing something on the radio then following it up with an album purchase or a live gig. Going to a gig is often a great introduction to an artist as you get to experience their personality and body of work, all providing context to the music. So it is with Gwenifer Raymond, a new talent who burst onto the music scene last year with her debut album, ‘You Were Never Much of a Dancer’.

Gwenifer Raymond, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

The all-solo instrumental guitar evening starts with support Dean McPhee. An interesting artist, McPhee plays his Fender electric guitar through a valve amp and effects pedals, creating delay and echo, sampling himself as he plays to build up layers of sounds, effectively accompanying his solo guitar playing. Playing three extended improvisations, on the second piece he really lays on the sound layers and his guitar soars by the finale. McPhee has three full albums under his belt to date and has supported many artists on tour.

Dean McPhee, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

For Welsh-born Gwenifer Raymond, music started with being given a cassette tape of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ at the age of eight. She has played in various rock and punk bands over the years, but was eventually drawn into delta and country blues, as well as Appalachian music. She then got totally hooked on this roots music, particularly Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, John Hurt and Roscoe Holcomb. Deciding she wanted to play like them, she took guitar lessons and this led her to ‘American Primitive’ guitarist John Fahey, jokingly nicknamed Blind Joe Death. A favourite on DJ John Peel’s 1960s and 70s radio programmes Fahey was a trailblazer in steel-string acoustic instrumental guitar music, developing a much imitated ‘fingerstyle’. Often using unusual guitar-tunings, his style was a complex blend including elements of finger-picking blues, classical and eastern music.

Gwenifer Raymond, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Raymond’s debut album owes a big debt to Fahey, but she has created her own take on it. During her one hour instrumental set she provides an exciting and dazzling display of musical virtuosity on both guitar and banjo. The speed, energy and confidence of her playing are truly amazing and at times her fingers are a blur on the strings and fret board. But it’s not just about speed, as she weaves all sorts of genres into the music, including eastern raga and hints of rock workouts. Live her playing is at times almost frantic, more so than on the album, but it’s very structured and controlled. The set features mostly material from her album, but there is also some new material. From the album, ‘Sometimes There’s Blood’ is a very representative example of her work – do check it out.

Gwenifer Raymond, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

It’s a master stroke alternating between guitar and banjo, as it provides for a diverse set, with the banjo sounding particularly primitive and rootsy, as on traditional number ‘Idumea’ and the ultra-fast ‘Bleeding Finger Blues’. Gwenifer doesn’t normally say much on stage she says, but this all has to change when a banjo string snaps and has to be replaced. In the few minutes it takes to change the string, she starts to chat, confidence lifted by the sympathetic and adoring audience. For the encore the pace and style change yet again with a slowed-down bottleneck blues, ‘Sweep It Up’. A captivating and stunning performance.

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