Thursday, 9 December 2010

The lucky few

There are guitar players, and then there is Tommy Emmanuel.

Tommy Emmanuel was the primary reason that I bought tickets for the Penang Island Jazz Festival, now in its seventh year. I've heard a lot about the Festival in recent years and had always wanted to go but being the practical person (call me lazy if you like), driving between Batu Ferringhi and Bukit Mertajam wasn't very agreeable with me. Besides, I'd be casting a wary eye on the weather too. Invariably, December brings with it a lot of rain in the evenings. The Festival is held in an open enclosure at the Bayview Beach Resort and unless you bring along some umbrellas, you'd be drenched. There are also very few chairs so it's best to bring a large mat to lay on the court or grass. But sitting down for long periods on the ground also present its fair share of problems to me! So you see, that's why I've never attended the earlier editions of the Festival.

But it would be different this time, see. As long ago as a few months, I had learnt that two-time Grammy nominee Tommy Emmanuel had agreed to perform in Penang at the end of the year. I've heard of him, I've read about him, I've listened to some of his songs over the radio, and I've watched some short clips of him over the Internet. I decided why not go and see him live since he was coming my way. I know that this year, there had already been some foreign artistes performing here but they had cut no ice with me. Patrizio? Nahh....too superficial. Air Supply? Nahh...too gooey and yucky. Now, Tommy Emmanuel was somethng else! The real thing, the fair dinkum stuff. I don't know how to play any musical instruments but I do know good music when I hear it. And I had heard enough about Tommy Emmanuel from the airwaves and the Internet. Now to see him live in person.

The funny thing was, come mid-November I had almost forgotten about his visit. My memory is not as good as it used to me, unfortunately, and I simply forgot about the Festival inself. Until one fine day I wandered into a CD shop at a shopping mall and saw tickets on sale. Thank goodness for that. My memory jolted, I immediately got two tickets for the final night of the Festival. Come rain or come (moon)shine, my wife and I shall to there for him. So that was how I ended up at the Bayview Beach Hotel, 46 kilometres one-way from home.

Tommy Emmanuel appeared on stage at 10 o'clock after all the earlier acts had come and gone. From the moment the lights dimmed and the spotlight shone on him, we knew that his performance was going to be something very special. From the very first notes that were played, I knew it was going to be a mind-blowing performance of a lifetime. There he was with his three well-worn and battered guitars, but not only was he finger-picking away, he was also giving his guitar bodies enough slaps, scratches and poundings to extract every bit of sound from them. Heck, he was a one-man band. When I closed my eyes, I could swear that I was listening to the bass, rhythm and melody all at once and occasionally with percusion thrown in as well.

If you see him perform, you will understand why Tommy Emmanuel is regarded as one of the best - if not the best - present-day guitar virtuosos in the world. That he could agree to play in the Penang Island Jazz Festival showed that he didn't mind playing before an audience of thousands or an audience of a hundred. Here in Penang, I would estimate the crowd at about 600 so that's somewhere in between. Everyone had come to see him play, so we are the lucky few that did. I bumped into Daniel from the SERI office in Penang, Eddy from my old NOMIS days and an ex-colleague Chee from my former JobStreet stint and we all confessed that possibly the one act that we had come to watch was this.

So there was Tommy Emmanuel on stage, lapping in all the adultation from the animated crowd. The programme notes said that Tommy Emmanuel would be presenting a 40-minute set but in the end, what we had was an almost unbelievable 70 minutes of entertainment. Thank you, Tommy, for a most memorable visit!

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