Gitbox Rebellion Review

A review by Rob Harbers

Arts Festival day seven. Halfway through the marathon. Three acts on one night. A panoply of choices. A temptation to gorge, to take it all in. An editor forcing a choice to be made. FOMO on a massive scale. Difficult choices. Painful decisions. And people think this game is easy. Watch an act, throw some words on a page. Such is the life of a roving critic.

Enough with the self-pity! From out of this abundance of options, I chose the melodic charms of Gitbox Rebellion, performing in the salubrious confines of the Blyth Performing Arts Centre. And that took care of a night’s worth of FOMO – this crew were fucking awesome!

The brainchild of master guitarist and musical polymath Nigel Gavin, Gitbox Rebellion first formed in 1988, releasing the album “Pesky Digits” in 1991 (of which I still have a copy on cassette, of all things!), and following up with “Touch Wood” in 1994. Their intricate, but supremely accessible sound saw them playing to appreciative audiences up and down the country, many of whom were probably just intrigued by the concept of a guitar orchestra. And were blown away by the sheer craft and skill of what they witnessed. Some might see this as inevitable in a country that’s made an icon of the Ten Guitars of myth and legend, but it was far more about the skilful and harmonic ensemble that is Gitbox.

After an extended hiatus period, Gitbox (mark two) came together in 2017, born from a desire on the part of many to experience the magic for themselves, having missed out the first time around. For this incarnation, original members Nigel Gavin, Kim Halliday, Russell Hughes and Bodi Hermans were joined by Sonia Wilson, Rob Mita, Doug Robertson and Sam Lovegrove – some of whom weren’t even alive when the first album was released! Apart, though, from the matter of a few less wrinkles in the skin, you wouldn’t know it – the transition is seamless, with all fitting in effortlessly (or the type of apparent effortlessness that comes of long hours of practice).

Getting on to the performance itself, things kicked off with all six strummers appearing from stage right, playing as they entered, before getting up on stage and plugging in. From that point, for the next hour or so an enraptured audience was carried along through a masterclass in ensemble playing, traversing tunes ranging from Jeff Beck to Ennio Morricone to Django Reinhardt, via Guitar Boogie and the Wabash Cannonball, interwoven with a large amount of original material. Amongst the original material was the locally-inspired “Sacred Hill”, written by Nigel for the Nairobi Trio (one of his myriad other gigs).

Through it all, barely a word passed between the players, communication taking the shape of a gesture here, a raised eyebrow there – and the occasional gurn, these being guitar players, after all! Could’ve sworn there was some telepathy going on as well, such was the interplay. Pure class, indeed.

The ringmaster, or perhaps lion-tamer, is undoubtedly Nigel, leading with the lightest of touches – a gentle hand on the tiller, as opposed to a strict martinet. All that’s needed, really, with a cast as skilled as this.

To summarise, a journey through a rich musical landscape, carried along by a troupe that is much more than the sum of its parts, and an experience warmly recommended to all. Ziggy might have done it before them, but they demonstrate that there’s still much more to see when it comes to playing guitar.

All too soon, it was over, and we emerged blinking into a beautiful Hawkes Bay evening, having witnessed something very special, and looking forward to the next attraction in this rich lineup – and we’re only halfway!

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