Australian Guitar Legend in the ‘Jing

BD and I seem to both be in the mood for something a little different from our normal dive bars recently. We may have missed out on tickets to the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s tribute to John Lennon, but in looking for tickets for that, I found out a Australian guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel was coming to town! It seemed to be perfect timing as it turned out to be my buddy Froog’s birthday and he’d missed Tommy when he came to Beijing last year. So we got a couple of interested friends together and headed out to Haidian on Wednesday.

The show started at the stupidly early time of 7pm, but when we got inside the venue we realised why. Apart from about 10 laowai the PKU Centennial Theatre was full of Chinese music students, who had probably come straight from class. I was not only surprised they knew who Tommy was (I didn’t realize he was so well-known outside Australia!) but they knew all the songs, cheering every time he said what he was about to play and clapped enthusiastically through the show (at often very inappropriate times – but that’s a Chinese thing, I hear)

For those of you who haven’t heard of Tommy, he’s somewhat of an Australian legend. Completely self-taught and plays classical and jazz guitar with an amazing finger picking technique he called “Thumb and Fingers” where his thumb plays what the left hand would play on the piano and finger play what the right hand would play. I didn’t know this before, but he was voted best acoustic guitarist twice in Guitar Player magazine and has had great reviews from other legendary guitarists, such as Eric Clapton.

I’ve seen Tommy before in Australia and I love his own songs, Ruby’s Eyes, of course, being my favourite. I was going to post it here, but it seems Froog has beaten my to it, so check it out over on his blog. He also played a composition he wrote for native American Indians while touring US and another he wrote when he visited an orphange in Africa. Unfortunately he was playing up the cheesy-ness for the Chinese audience, including Beatles medley’s, a whole song played using the guitar as a drum (including a drumstick on the microphone at one point) and ending with a cover of Wind Beneath my Wings.

It seems to be a regular thing, as he was here in Beijing last October too. So if he’s back again next year, I’d recommend going, in the meantime check out some of his stuff on Youtube!


a kiwi, a music lover, a traveller & an IT geek hanging around in the 'jing planning her next adventure.

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3 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    Not to rip on your generally favourable review, but can’t a bloke enjoy himself onstage and play his choice of covers without being accused of cheesiness? The Beatles medley was quite intricately arranged, displaying a sense of fun along with incredible musicianship (and note that the popularity of the Beatles is not limited to China). All that percussion takes a lot of practice and the condition of his guitar indicates that he’s clearly been doing it for a long time, so I really doubt that it was a one-time gimmick for this show. The title of the last song escapes me now but I’m certain that it wasn’t ‘Wind Beneath my Wings’ – are you sure about that?

    Anyway, I’d echo your recommendation – he’s definitely a musician worth seeing.

  2. Kris says:

    I’ve seen tommy in the States and he also did a beatles medley, different songs though.Personally, i thought the beatles songs were fun and the crowd loved it, nothing wrong with a crowd pleaser.

    I concur that the last song was not “wind beneath my wings”

    Regardless, Tommy is a great player and entertainer. Highly recommended!

  3. Ruby says:

    Nick – sorry, must have missed your comment!

    I agree the crowd loved it and so did he, part of being a entertainer is giving the crowd what they want and he definitely did that. For my taste (and a couple of people I spoke to afterwards) some parts were a little cheesy, especially compared to times I’ve seen him perform before in Australia. I would have loved to see more of his own stuff than covers, but I still loved the show! Amazingly talented guy.

    I’m not 100% sure about that last song either, that was what I thought it was, but I could be wrong. Any ideas?