THERE can be few more humbling – and spiritually uplifting – venues in London to listen to music than the Priory Church of the Order of St John.
High ceilings, candelabras, colourful order banners and paintings of saints and sacrificial sheep, add to the spectacle as does an early stretcher used by St John Ambulance for those in need of rescuing. There is also a garden, complete with olive tree, for those in need of a little contemplative thought.
All this explains why the church, situated in London’s trendy Clerkenwell, is now host to the Clerkenwell International Music Series – regular concerts (primarily classical) held throughout the year celebrating the work of great composers and up and coming musicians from all over Europe.
While music from Brahms, Chopin and Prokofiev (among others) is on offer before the year is out, the series’ artistic directors (Fiammetta Tarli and Ivo Varbanov) are not frightened to experiment. Hence their decision to invite renowned acoustic guitarist Antonio Forcione to perform (June 13). It was a bold move, especially given Forcione’s promise to deliver a night of ‘Motown and Magic’. But it paid off handsomely as a near full house roared their approval at his mix of improvisation, virtuosity and brilliance.
Even the banners seemed to sway in approval. Not a lyric was sung all night, bar a little bit of audience participation (encouraged) for the encore – Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Every sound came from the extraordinary playing of his guitars – on occasion it was almost mesmeric. Not a knight thundered in disapproval.
The Motown was a little thin on the ground, comprising Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and I Wish – and a rousing version of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine. But the Magic was sprinkled everywhere with Forcione – capped and wearing a lurid orange shirt that even managed to outshine the candelabras – playing music from his youth, interspersed with a number of his own compositions.
He duly paid homage to the Beatles (Come Together), the Police (Message In A Bottle) and Dave Brubeck (a splendid Take Five). From his originals, a seductive Alhambra had the audience dreaming of romantic evenings in Granada (with the sun beating down and the Rioja flowing) while The Cool Cat (a tribute to Henri Mancini and the Pink Panther) provoked chuckles galore.
With Touch Wood (taken from the album of the same name), Moon Water, Acoustic Revenge (again, from the album of the same name) and Tears of Joy completing the set, this was very much a night for music lovers – not knights, nor stretchers.
Forcione has come a long way since he came to this country 35 years ago and started his musical journey busking in London’s Covent Garden. Catch him if you can. A musician born with magic in his fingers – with a bit of showmanship thrown in for good measure. A one man music machine.