sat 19/01/2019

Jeff Beck: Still on the Run, BBC Four review - a legend without portfolio | reviews, news & interviews

Jeff Beck: Still on the Run, BBC Four review - a legend without portfolio

Jeff Beck: Still on the Run, BBC Four review - a legend without portfolio

Superstars queue up to praise mercurial guitar hero

Jeff Beck, determined to avoid typecastingSteve Hefter

As Aerosmith’s guitarist Joe Perry put it, “there’s a certain amount of fuck you-ness in everything Jeff does.” Perhaps it’s this which has allowed Jeff Beck to achieve the rare feat of surviving into his seventies as what you might describe as a guitar legend without portfolio. He does what he wants when he wants to, is revered by the great and good of the electric guitar universe, and has avoided being trapped into playing The Yardbirds’ greatest hits until the end of time.

He isn’t known as an eager interviewee, but the Beck on show here seemed relaxed and vaguely amused to be taking a stroll through his back pages. The fact that he was surrounded by his collection of souped-up hot rods, which he tweaks and rebuilds obsessively, no doubt helped to put him at ease.He was very good on how he’d been inspired by Fifties rock’n’roll, with a bit of help from his sister Annetta’s record collection. While others listened to the vocalist, be it Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent or Ricky Nelson, Jeff would be fixated on the guitar solos and trying to work out how the guitarist (perhaps Scotty Moore or James Burton) did it. Beck found an early soul-mate in the young Jimmy Page, and used to go round to his house in Epsom to swap fretboard tips. A cheerful Page was on hand to deliver paeans of praise to Beck and his unique string-bending, harmonic-popping technique.

Beck and Page teamed up briefly in The Yardbirds (pictured above, with Beck and Page at left), where tracks like “Heart Full of Soul” and “Shapes of Things” became early laboratories for Beck’s technical innovations, but he was just passing through (apart from anything else, he had a suspicion that manager Giorgio Gomelsky was keeping most of the money). When the band were signed up to a ghastly teenybopper package tour of the US, it was the last straw for Beck, who quit abruptly.

He did much the same with his next venture, the Jeff Beck Group. This included Ron Wood on bass and Rod Stewart on vocals (both of whom chipped in here with some delightful anecdotage), and was responsible for the mighty Truth album, a landmark of freewheeling blues-rock often cited as the disc which inspired the birth of Led Zeppelin. “It was an honour to be in the band,” said Stewart. They stormed the States, and it was all going terribly well until Beck suddenly baled out a fortnight before they were due to play at the 1969 Woodstock festival. “He disappeared in the middle of the night,” shrugged Rod.

Subsequently, Beck, who more or less accidentally helped Stevie Wonder to write “Superstition”, has kept his collaborations looser (his early-Seventies band Beck, Bogert & Appice managed to make one studio album before imploding). He became infatuated with John McLaughlin’s playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and veered off into jazz-fusion, and for a while hooked up fruitfully with keyboardist Jan Hammer. Eric Clapton, yet another celebrity interviewee, observed that “Jeff is a rock’n’roll musician who understands jazz. Now that’s a very rare animal.” More recently, Beck has teamed up with Joss Stone, Imelda May and Beth Hart, and spent a year working with vocalist Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg from Camden Town band Bones (pictured above, Beck in 1972).

This was an enjoyable portrait of a musical maverick who seems to have achieved greatness almost in spite of himself. His refusal to be typecast or pigeonholed almost resembles a pathological condition, to the extent that his career has tended to resemble a long sequence of disconnected experiments. The horde of Triple A-listers queueing up to sing his praises reached almost comical proportions (did I mention Slash and David Gilmour?), but the absence of “ordinary” family or friends or even his wife Sandra meant that the machinery inside Beck that makes the mercurial decisions and whimsical choices remained carefully concealed from view.

It was all going terribly well until Beck suddenly baled out a fortnight before the 1969 Woodstock festival


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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