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 "Itâs 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 âAn Abacus Designed to Calculate Infinityâ. Taken from his new album âFire Behind the Curtainâ, 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 âMillion Year Emperorâ. 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 canât. 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.
âIâve lost my paintbrush,â Stafford
tells the crowd âItâs ok, Iâve found something elseâ 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. âThis one is off the new album and if for all the captains of industryâ he said with a wry smile before âMuseum of Grinding Dicksâ 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. Heâs pissed off and wants you to know this. It works.
Near the end of his set, he announces dryly âIâm gonna play a couple more. Any requests. No âFreebirdâ thoughâ¦â After playing âShot Down Summer Wannabesâ and âFrederick Wisemanâ 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 âkiller shredderâ and lauded as a âguitar heroâ if he played metal/heavy rock or jazz. But he doesnât. Heâs 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 âstudio trickeryâ 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.