The town’s Plaza venue was in for a treat this October, when the legendary guitarist Albert Lee arrived in town, playing as part of his UK 2018 Tour.

Fringed by three young band members, the unmistakable white-haired, softly-spoken guitarist from Leominster, belted out a raw, emotional and incredibly entertaining set, as he plucked and picked his way through an invigorating combo of country, hillbilly and rock ‘n’ roll numbers.

Now in his mid-70s, Albert Lee is one of the most celebrated and respected guitarists in music history. Born in Herefordshire in 1943, Lee first started to enjoy commercial success in the 1960s as a lead guitarist with Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, considered at the time in musical circles to be one of the best R&B bands in England.

It was during his time playing with Heads Hands & Feet that Albert Lee was propelled to guitar showmanship status, hailed in Colin Larkin’s The Guinness Who’s Who of Country Music as a “guitar hero” for playing his Fender Telecaster at “breakneck speed”.

Recognising his prolific talent, Buddy Holly’s Texas-born rock ‘n’ roll band, The Crickets, utilised Lee’s skills on three albums. The lad from Leominster went on to work with Eric Clapton for more than five years, and later the country-rock influenced Everly Brothers.

Despite sculpting a credible name for himself among the Transatlantic music greats as somewhat of an obligatory guitarist to play beside, Lee also crafted a solo career spanning a multi-genre mix of styles, many of which he has led the way with throughout his incredible six decade-long career.

The Plaza gig showcased these different styles, as Lee, accompanied by a talented young band, carried out an emotive set playing tribute to many stars who’ve been involved with or influenced his solo success.

Casting a disappointing shadow on what was an entrancing gig from start to finish was the glaringly noticeable number of empty seats in the auditorium. To say the Plaza was a quarter full would be generous, and those attending were principally the retired fans who would have first encountered Lee in the 60s and 70s.

Replicating an American-style conclusion, whereby standard practice is for artists to meet and greet fans and sign copies of CDs for sale, Lee met a line of queuing fans eagerly waiting to shake his hand and congratulate him on a fantastic performance.

Stockport may not be Chicago and artists meeting fans as part of the CD-selling ritual isn’t typical practice in the significantly more reserved British Isles. Lee’s commitment to mingling with fans after his concerts is arguably testament of the guitarist’s deep-rooted connection with the music circles of America and its prevalent CD-signing culture, where, in the likes of Nashville and Los Angeles, Albert Lee could be more of a household name than in Stockport.

Andy and Celia from Cheadle Hulme were among the fans lining up to meet the guitar legend.

“I guess the things I liked most, apart from Albert’s great guitar playing, was the variety of music he played – country, country rock, straight rock ‘n’ roll, and hillbilly – and the opportunity to talk to him afterwards. It was a shame the audience was so sparse, but it meant we had great seats,” the couple commented.

Chris had travelled from the Peak District to watch Albert in Stockport and, like Andy and Celia, was surprised at the number of empty seats in the Plaza.

“It was a real pleasure to see one of Britain’s finest guitar players. The only disappointment was the poor attendance. The crowd was blatantly of more mature years, which proves our X-Factor-obsessed population no longer appreciates real talent.”

Besides X Factor et al arguably diluting authentic musical talent appreciation in Britain, poor promotion of the concert at the Plaza is being pinned on the thinness of the crowd.

“We only found out Albert was playing by pure chance when walking past the Plaza. When such a musical legend comes to town, it should be broadcast for the whole of the North West to see,” Chris added.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead