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Until recently, I was kind of indifferent to Pat Metheny. He’s not a musician to whom I gave much thought. He called out Kenny G in a quite entertaining way, and I guess his music wasn’t unusually pretentious or self-indulgent compared with that of other white jazz musicians of the 70s, 80s and 90s. I was never into it, but it didn’t make me particularly angry either. But as I say, that was until recently.


Several times now, friends have unwittingly followed me to their first classical performance to be confronted by an orchestra of period instruments. Since all our instruments look pretty “period” to them, my explanation of gut strings, no valves and simplified keywork are all a bit lame. Without fail, though, they all point to the phallic mast growing out of a lute and towering over the rest of the rhythm section, and make the perfectly reasonable enquiry “what the hell is that?”

“It’s like a guitar and bass guitar all at once.” I say. “It’s like the Jimmy Page double-neck, but lengthwise.” There were plenty of other ways to make loud bass in the the Renaissance, but none were quite this punchy, and carry-on restrictions were considerably more lenient. Listen to this performance of Jan Grüter playing the beautiful Kapsberger/Piccini “Chiaccona”.

It’s a really cool instrument. It’s capable of great power and tremendous gentleness of tone. It has the biggest range of any instrument in the guitar family and it comes in a box that looks like it should carry a rocket launcher. So before I go on, I want to be really clear: I love this instrument, I admire both the way it is played and the sacrifices made by those who play it. The thing I don’t understand is why performers get these things out at gigs and act like there’s nothing funny going on.