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Unlimited 2014 - disability arts online
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Two of the British Paraorchestra’s finest musicians, Tom Doughty and Adrian Lee, entertain an appreciative crowd in the main foyer space of the Royal Festival Hall / 9 September 2014

photo of guitarist Tom Doughty, dressed in a black suit with a slide guitar across his knees

Tom Doughty from The British Paraorchestra

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By Lloyd Coleman

Because of the nature of this free Unlimited Festival event, last Friday afternoon, audience members were able to come and go as they pleased. It was a testament to the skill and natural charm of these two men that so many chose to stay for the whole hour-long set, once we had settled into the comfy sofas and (not so comfy) chairs laid out in front of the performance area.

Tom led the proceedings with his usual dry wit, which I have come to know and love through our collaborations in the Paraorchestra. When we toured to Qatar earlier this year, I remember he spoke to a roomful of EU diplomats in the British Ambassador’s residence, and without effort pierced the thin layer of po-faced formality and forced a wide grin onto everyone in the room.

He has a knack for making an audience, however big or small, feel completely at ease. In between songs, Tom would turn to Adrian (also a Northerner, now living in London) and ask such questions as: “How does this one go again?” and “We’re doing the one in E minor now, right?” This relaxed style of presentation is something from which many of my colleagues – particularly in the world of classical music – could learn a lot.  

While they may share the same instrument, Tom and Adrian come from quite different musical backgrounds. Tom plays the slide guitar on his lap, and sings songs that follow on the tradition of blues music.

Adrian will more often be found playing an electric guitar, and if you come to a Paraorchestra gig you won’t fail to see (or indeed hear) him dancing with his feet across a board of effect pedals. Though it has to be said that on this particular occasion, Adrian offered us a more ‘stripped back’ version of his magical sound worlds, in order to match Tom’s gentle strumming.

That last observation reaches to the heart of what made this particular pairing so beautiful to listen to. Both are renowned for their musical sensitivity within the Paraorchestra. Adrian can always be relied upon to provide a rock steady pulse with his ostinati, and Tom somehow always hits the sweet spot with his solo lines, entering and concluding at just the ideal moment.

Things were no different at this gig; it was apparent that there was a real, deep and mutual respect between them. When Tom announced that the last number of the set would be one that everyone would “all definitely know, for a change”, he conveyed some nervousness. But they needn’t have worried that the only song everyone would definitely know was Marvin Gaye’s classic ‘I heard it Through the Grapevine’, recalled in their own inimitable style. That’s because no matter how unfamiliar the material was, it was an absolute pleasure to spend a Friday lunchtime in the company of these two brilliant artists.

Keywords: blues,music,unlimited