Jan Akkerman

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Jan Akkerman (guitar)

Despite a UK tour with his band in May and a solo tour around the West Country and South Wales in July, it was a great pleasure to be able to see Jan back in Edinburgh for the first time in about 34 years - when I had first seen his then enigmatic Dutch prog rock band Focus riding high in the charts. Some musicians come and a lot don't last but this guy goes from strength to strength performing his music and enthralling his still legions of fans.

So it was that a bulging "Big room" of those affectionately known as Akkernutters welcomed back their hero; just him, his acoustic Irish-made Louden guitar and a Saltire emblazoned baseball cap, which did his 'street cred' with the natives no harm at all. The cap was quickly hung on the back of the microphone stand in full view of the adoring fans to emphasise the empathy. Thank you Mr McAkkerman!

Now with just the combination mentioned, if you were thinking that this would be a night of regurgitated Focus tracks and you hadn't seen Jan on a solo tour before then you may be slightly disappointed. Not for the majority though. I have never seen an audience so still, quiet and engrossed in the proceedings as this one. Some were just transfixed by the sheer mastery of the guitar, some just trying to pick up fingering techniques by watching one of the world's greatest exponents.

The entertainment for such a brief hour and a quarter was astonishingly good. Jan plays the music he wants in the style he wants, so you get classical styles, flamenco, rhythm and blues and acoustic rock all mixed in a bowl of improvisation in the uniquely Akkerman style. There was a good mixture of old and newer material.

The 1999 album Passion is still dear to his heart and we were treated to both the deft finger work of "Always" from 'Suite 1' and the free form bluesy "Tranquiliser" which has resurfaced on the new Live in concert 2007 album - a must have for all those Akkernutters, as it encapsulates that electric atmosphere of Jan's live performances. The 2003 live album provided "Central station" - an extraordinary piece which totally captures both the rhythm and the hurly-burly of a busy station; you could actually imagine being there and transposing the movement around you into musical terms.

Of course the night couldn't go without deference to Focus, which was brilliantly executed as an acoustic medley. Actually, 'House of the king' which was annoyingly hidden away as a 'B' side to the 1972 single with 'Sylvia' as the 'A' side is on the live album as well, but you may have to go online and order it as I believe it is only released in the Netherlands.

A great treat for all - young and old - from a man who has been there and played with the best. For the sheer artistry of this man we are deeply indebted and one can only hope that it is not too long before he ventures north of the border again, complete with the Akkerman band, to let rip on our auditory senses again. Until then, if you need another injection of musical pleasure or you actually missed him (shame on you), there's another chance to see him at the Ullapool Guitar Festival on the 7th October.


© Julian Davis. 23/08/2007. First published on www.edinburghguide.com