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Richard Durrant: Stringhenge

© Kris Pawlowski

Stringhenge is Richard Durrant’s latest creative adventure – a wistful, musical, peculiarly British, acoustic affair full of neolithic imagery, densely woven tunes and unusual venues.

In Stringhenge the maverick guitarist and composer is living on the folk/classical cusp playing his own distinctive, solo guitar music alongside a fascinating collection of other English melodies. He also introduces his amazing, trademark arrangements of unaccompanied Bach juxtaposed, for the first time, with British Isles folk tunes. The effect of this is striking; it’s almost as if he’s using the high baroque to unlock the hill barrows and henges of Britain.

The inspiration for Stringhenge was Richard’s ‘life changing’ concert guitar, built by Gary Southwell – the Lincolnshire Luthier.  Southwell’s work speaks for itself (see his website and prepare to be stunned) and the guitar at the centre of Stringhenge is beautiful in many ways, but notable mainly for the fact that the back and sides are made from an English, black, oak tree that was growing more than 5,000 years ago and then preserved in the anaerobic mud of East Anglia.

Richard says:

“This guitar has an almost sacred presence and Stringhenge grew out of my relationship with it. It lead me to commission the Uffington Tenor Guitar from Ian Chisholm, to write loads of new music and to gather the images for an entirely new show.”

At one time the guitarist and composer lived in a tumbledown, 11th century, Benedictine priory in Sussex at the feet of the famous Long Man hill carving, providing reinforcement for the musician’s desire to connect with the landscape.  The artwork used for the Stringhenge was created by his sister,  Ann Durrant, using material copied from ancient British rock carvings and turned into prints and lino cuts.  Ann works in a mobile studio built into an old bus which has its own wood burning stove and printing press.

There are yet more layers to Stringhenge. The Southwell concert guitar features several, tiny “cup and ring” images taken from British rock carvings, whilst the Uffington Tenor has a shining, silver Uffington Horse on its headstock.  And some of the venues on the Stringhenge tour are connected in some way with the sense of prehistory conveyed by these ancient carvings; one concert is in sight of the famous, white horse, another at the feet of the LongMan of Wilmington, and one very close to the site in Norfolk where the oak tree grew all those years ago.

Richard continues:

“I have a deep love of our landscape but I’m also aware this is a particularly ugly time to be labelled patriotic, so I have struggled to steer a clear path.  One solution I have found is to embrace my musical, artistic perspective. This enables me to feel more ‘forensic’ and to body-swerve the murky detritus of our current politics.”

Stringhenge is as beautifully produced and richly visual as any of Durrant’s tours of recent years and Durrant plays the two protagonists, those incredible guitars, as brilliantly as ever. But he is also a clever weaver of intriguing tales and with these, and his real, roots music, he manages to link the Neolithic to the 21st century.

Richard has the last word: 

“When I’m up on the Sussex Downs I often wish that I could look inside the hills.   When I play music it’s almost as if I can.”

Richard Durrant’s Stringhenge is at The Cut, Halesworth on Thursday 16 November. For more information or to book, call the box office on 0300 3033211 or visit www.newcut.org / www.richarddurrant.com.