Tony McManus is rightly rated as one Celtic music’s finest musicians, a guy who is grounded in the tradition and picks guitar like few others with an incomparable feel and grasp of the music. Currently based in Ontario, McManus has been working the Celtic acoustic music world for almost forty years, starting as a relative youth in his Scottish homeland. Now with around a dozen albums behind him, he travels constantly, touring, teaching and recording as he goes. London’s Kalamazoo Klub was his latest venue where he pitched his musical wares to a sweaty, hothouse full to bursting, capacity crowd.
Moving effortlessly from his native Scotland and neighbouring Celtic cousin Ireland, he picked his way through a batch of jigs and reels, pausing from time to time to add an anecdote or sing an old traditional track before pulling in a variety of other lesser travelled Celtic byways with intricate finger-style pieces from Asturia in northern Spain and the harp-influenced sounds of France’s Breton region. In short, this was little short of a genuine roots tour de force, highlighting McManus’s extraordinary knowledge and virtuosity.
After a short breather, he returned to the stage for the second, closing set of his performance to find many still gabbling noisily at the bar area. Having sat patiently for a few minutes clutching his signature model guitar optimistically, he pulled a wonderful trick out of his sleeve: a perfectly picked acoustic few bars from Led Zeppelin’s big-seller Stairway to Heaven” brought an instant hush to the crowd and he instantly moved on with the same tune picked in a stunning variety of unexpected styles including Miles Davis, pop, and even had the confidence to invite stylistic offerings from the floor where one wag asked for a Mexican variation which McManus duly produced to well-deserved applause. This was truly clever, clever stuff, guitar work of the highest order.
If you’ve yet to catch this guy, look out for him on the road, you certainly won’t be disappointed.