music is produced by either a single instrument or an ensemble of many. the advent of the guitar changed the way music is played – a single instrument that can sound like an ensemble of many, unlike, say, any woodwind instrument or a violin. two hands, five fingers on each, coordinated by creativity and spatial centres of the brain. that’s all you need. well, that’s what tommy emmanuel would like you to think.

like many of his fans in finland, i was introduced to this australian acoustic guitar ace (plays maton guitars) by kamal who showed me videos of his performances on youtube. i didn’t know any of his material but suffice to say his playing impressed me so much that i agreed to join kamal and aizad for his gig in sheffield last night.

the crowd was sober – different from the ones that i am used to. everyone was pretty civilised. so, it was a good thing i left the devil horns at home then. the opening act was this young welsh chap called gareth pearson. like tommy, he was a finger picker (as it should be, i suppose). fluid playing, although not enough to impress the diehard tommy emmanuel fans. he played a short 5-song set interspersed with nervous banter. yeah, one thing about acoustic gigs. the banter goes with the territory. reminds me of the small jewel gig i saw in brum. she even had time to clip her nails while talking to the audience.

tommy emmanuel got on stage at 9pm prompt. i didn’t know any of his material, so i will not even dream to attempt a setlist in this entry. he is mainly an instrumentalist, singing occasionally in a few songs. the fact that he spends the most part of the year gigging really shows. he displayed absolute mastery of the instrument, even every knock on the maton’s body didn’t sound out of place. his playing may sound frantic, rushing through every string and fret but his accuracy was simply astounding. the fast instrumentals he played would weave into the various nuances you’d listen in jazz, blues and rock. he played great arrangements of covers like somewhere over the rainbow as well as self-penned tunes.

one peculiarity i noted in his playing was the uncanny ability to play complex bass and melody lines simultaneously. whilst this skill is a given in fingerstyle, tommy’s beatles medley which included day tripper and lady madonna was a jawdroppingly good example of fingerstyle. kamal told me that as a kid, tommy never knew of the existence of the bass guitar, hence developing this fantastic skill, thinking that was how bands actually play their tunes with a guitar!

one song that stood out last night was initiation. with the aid of a delay and possibly a phaser, he virtually recreated an aboriginal sonic masterpiece with his guitar. he played the obligatory guitar boogie (the famous youtube song) and ended his main set duetting with gareth pearson with a chet atkins tune (i think). tommy got back immediately after doing angelina as an encore to his fantastic 2-hour set.