³How does he get so much sound out of that guitar?²
This was the question on everyone¹s lips after being blown away by blues/folk guitar master Paul Ubana Jones last Wednesday night.
Had I not seen it myself I would have sworn Jones had support for his performance at Murphy¹s Law in Waikanae such was the power, depth and richness coming from his voice and guitar.
The Nigerian-Englishman, who will turn 54 on Tuesday, doesn¹t need a band or back-up singers. He is his own orchestra.
Part minstrel, part bluesman, Ubana Jones¹ music blends folk, blues and blinding guitar anthems, while his songs speak of the loves and hardships of his and his friends¹ lives.
Add to that the presence of one who had spent decades on the road and you had a night to remember, as the 60-odd at the Kapiti Live Music Club gig all did.
Especially those who joined him on stage to perform originals practiced at the previous night¹s workshop.
Nineteen Kapiti musicians spent three hours learning technique from the master on Tuesday night, putting it together with him on stage the next night after his opening set.
Ubana Jones joined the smokers in the garden bar after his first set, where a punter asked if he could request a song.
³I heard you play House of the Rising Sun in Leigh about three years ago and it brought tears to me eyes,² came the request.
Ubana Jones said he would and later,
with the accompaniment of Kapiti violinist Susan Colien-Reid, he let loose with his own special version, which silenced the audience.
It was not surprising Ubana Jones fell for the guitar. At the impressionable age of 13, he saw Bob Dylan perform on his first European tour. A year-and-a-half later he saw Jimi Hendrix and ³it blew my mind².
³I saw Eric Clapton and he changed guitar playing, but Hendrix took it to another level.²
He grew up in a poor house in South London in the sixties. ³When my parents had some money, they¹d bring records home. They didn¹t play instruments themselves, they were too busy trying to keep over the poverty line.²
But they made sure their children had the chance, with the young Ubana Jones getting a guitar, then a piano when he was 11.
He paid his parents¹ back by winning a three-year scholarship to study guitar and cello at a London music school, leaving in 1973 to perform professionally around England.
³I left England in 1978-79 and moved to France and that¹s when I started to focus on a solo career,² he said, attributing it to the wanderlust that stays with him.
He fell in love with Europe and said it was good for him to ³get out of the UK scene².
Married to a Swiss woman he moved to New Zealand in the late eighties.
³We had two kids and wanted to check out another part of the world. We had nothing, but we came here with a lot of ideas.²
Christchurch was now home, but he ³needs² to return to Europe twice a year for balance.
The couple now had four children, aged 13 to 23, with the eldest living in Switzerland, playing metal and making furniture.
All played music, but did not share his tastes.
Ubana Jones credited the influence of Hendrix, Clapton and Dylan in his work, while he had been compared to Ritchie Havens and Ravi Shankar.
Asked how he got such huge sound from his acoustic guitar, he chuckled.
³It is a huge sound and I need that. It¹s about technique and it¹s about playing at the volume I play at.
³It¹s my right hand technique. That huge sound is me holding on and then letting go of my strings.²
It was technique like this he passed on to the Kapiti musicians on Tuesday night.
The workshop had been a big talking point among Live Music Club members last week.
Susan Colien-Reid joined Jones on stage again at the end, accompanying him brilliantly for the beautiful finale My Lucky Star, which drew a big round of applause.
³I wrote it when I was on the road with Norah Jones. It¹s 18 months old so I want to get it on this new album. I really hope to get it out before the end of the year. It will be my ninth album,² said Ubana Jones.
Like many of his songs, it was about ³taking stock² of what people had in life and focusing on the positive aspects of it. ³This positive star that looks down on us all,² he said, adding it had no religious connotations.
But the real finale came when Ubana Jones came back for a blistering encore. Beginning with a stirring instrumental based on an Indian raga, he built the tempo before launching into a song of a poem he wrote about a friend who committed suicide at 17.
He completed the encore with a return to the instrumental raga, concluding the night with one of the most powerful solo guitar performances you could expect to hear from an acoustic guitar.
Ubana Jones said the song, like all of his music, was never the same twice, as he liked to be free with it and not confined by tradition.
³I just want to carry on making good music and carry on touching people and, if I can do that, I¹ll be around for another 20 years.²