Frenchman Claude Bourbon's one-off evening of Medieval and Spanish blues opened with what at first seemed to be a lengthy instrumental number: as fine a demonstration of Bourbon's dexterity with an acoustic guitar as could be hoped for, which helped the audience forget their surroundings and embrace the fantasy of a Mediterranean evening. It was a full 15 minutes before Bourbon opened his mouth, with only the brief pause to pick up his slide offering even the most fleeting opportunity for applause. When he did, it transpired that this opener was in fact the longest rendition of Gershwin's 'Summertime' ever performed.
Would that he had kept his mouth closed for the whole show: Bourbon is a spectacular guitarist but his vocals left more than a little to be desired. His strained croaks spoiled any song that they were inflicted upon, as any attempt at a husky growl collapsed into a raspy moan and falsetto wails fell woefully short. Any hope that Bourbon's voice is lost in translation, that he might sound less strained in his native French, was put to bed by his rendition of 'C'est Dimanche', a comedic trifle of a song that was as much undone by Bourbon's singing as any of the English numbers in his set.
It was a shame really: Bourbon is a genuine virtuoso on guitar. That opening, wordless quarter of an hour was an absolute pleasure to behold, as was a ranging rendition of Bach's Bourrée in E minor that had audience members swaying with approval throughout. While Bourbon's guitar tone was sometimes harsh, to the extent that the odd fiercely bent note at the climax of a phrase caused an abrupt snap back to reality, for the most part the feeling of a change of scene generated by his playing was absolute. If only Bourbon's guitar alone did the talking.