Intimate and elusive appearance from acclaimed musician Adam Stafford.
When Adam Stafford makes a rare appearance in Brighton, his last being two years ago, is something you cannot pass up.
The directions followed as such "It’s in Kemptown, not to be confused with the restaurant in town". After entering the postcode into Google Maps a brief walk and two buses I was outside the venue. But there is no sign of a venue. I started walking round and round and round a very small area of Brighton trying to find this elusive venue. After asking in three pubs and half a dozen people on the street, I was ready to give up. To find it you have to use Google Maps, and take a leap of faith. Eventually, I found my way of its understated door just before its start time. Upon walking in I felt like I was intruding on a private party.
As the name suggests, at the Coach House, is an old coach house situated at the back of a residential garden. Over the past 15 years, it has hosted art exhibitions, local bands and even underground cult favourites Pere Ubu.
Jamie Sturrock got things underway with an improvised shakuhachi set. The shakuhachi is a traditional Japanese flute, but Sturrock coaxed Arabian, Oceania and Western sounds out it, playing a few haunting notes, then used to it beatbox, before returning to its conventional use, during his 20-minute raga.
After a brief interlude, Stafford opened his hour-long set with ‘An Abacus Designed to Calculate Infinity’. Taken from his new album ‘Fire Behind the Curtain’, Stafford looped, re-looped and then looped his guitar some more to create intricate and dense melodies that filled the venue. Next, he played a new song ‘Million Year Emperor’. The bassline sounded like an old church organ, but fuzzed up and his guitar sounded like an analogue synth or was it a muted trumpet, either way, it showed there is plenty of life, and ideas, in the old dog.
When watching Adam Stafford you can do one of two things. Firstly you can let the music wash over you, lose yourself in the reveries and drift off. This is easy to do. There is a hypnotic state to the music that gently pulls you into its world and before you know its home time.
The second thing you do is just watch Adam Stafford as he creates each song from scratch, right in front of you. A tap of a string here, a slight turn of a knob there, turning a pedal on or off there and the music grows and swells about you. As he adds more and more layers you wonder what he can hear that you can’t. Surely this is the song, but after a gentle string bend, everything has a totally different meaning and vibe. And then it stops. You applaud. He begins again.
“I’ve lost my paintbrush,” Stafford
tells the crowd “It’s ok, I’ve found something else” he said producing a wooden spoon to drum out ad-hoc rhythms on his picks before a maelstrom of guitar loops and riffs enveloped us. “This one is off the new album and if for all the captains of industry” he said with a wry smile before ‘Museum of Grinding Dicks’ erupted from his dextrous fingers. This is when Stafford lets rip and just shreds. There is a level of visceral power here that was missing from his previous songs. He’s pissed off and wants you to know this. It works.
Near the end of his set, he announces dryly “I’m gonna play a couple more. Any requests. No ‘Freebird’ though…” After playing ‘Shot Down Summer Wannabes’ and ‘Frederick Wiseman’ the show is over. The house lights go up and its time to go home.
Adam Stafford is a singular and unique talent. He is an artist who deserves more attention and (internet) column inches than he gets. He could very easily write and record 4/4 indie pop music that said something and hinted at something grander. He would easily be lauded as a ‘killer shredder’ and lauded as a ‘guitar hero’ if he played metal/heavy rock or jazz. But he doesn’t. He’s done that, and has the T-shirt, probably still for sale if you ask him nicely.
Instead, he tries to convey his feelings of happiness, sadness, alienation, anxiety and depression by crafting labyrinthine like compositions involving nothing more than his voice, guitar, effects pedals and the occasional string section.
Through guitar and vocals, Stafford creates music that is understated but contains complex patterns and shapes. You could pass it off as ‘studio trickery’ but after witnessing it live you realise he is more in common with an artist, adding colour, shade and texture to a painting, rather than a guitarist. He is an artist that should be embraced and after seeing him perform in such an intimate venue makes you think about life and music in a different light.