Concert preview: Acoustic Alchemy makes rare stop here


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Greg Carmichael remembers one of the last times, about 15 years ago, that he played Pittsburgh with Acoustic Alchemy, the band he has fronted for nearly 30 years. It was at Rosebud, which was next door to Metropol in the Strip District, and he noted the ironic juxtaposition of both venues.

"In the next room was the Violent Femmes," Mr. Carmichael says. "It was completely opposite -- they had a massive crowd. It was quite a funky area."

Acoustic Alchemy

Where: Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Jazz Hall.

When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

Tickets: $50; 412-322-0800 or www.mcgjazz.org.

He won't have to worry about competing with a rock group for the band's next shows, which are Thursday at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz Hall during a limited 10-date tour of the United States.

Acoustic Alchemy's concept has always been two types of acoustic guitars, with Mr. Carmichael playing an instrument with nylon strings and his counterpart playing steel strings. The group formed in the mid-1980s in London, where it is still based, with just Simon Jones and Nick Webb, the latter of which played steel-string. Mr. Carmichael replaced Mr. Jones, who decided to focus on classical music. Together, Mr. Carmichael and Mr. Webb worked up to playing wine bars and eventually found themselves playing trans-Atlantic flights.

After being signed to MCA Master Records, the duo put together a backup band and recorded its first album, "Red Dust and Spanish Lace," released in 1987. Over the years, Acoustic Alchemy has had a number of hits, such as "Mr. Chow," "Jamaica Heartbeat," "Say Yeah" and "Only in My Dreams." And to this day, when it comes to sales and live performances, "Our bread and butter is America, always has been," Mr. Carmichael says. The band does a lot of summer festivals, generally on the West Coast, "because you can guarantee [that the] weather" will be good.

Even with all the work, the band remains in the United Kingdom. He did at one point consider moving to the United States, perhaps Seattle because the weather is similar, Mr. Carmichael says.

"But I'm a Londoner and my kids had just started school. If I want to go out, [everything is] right there."

Mr. Webb died of pancreatic cancer in 1998 and was replaced by Miles Gilderdale, who had played electric rhythm guitar at a time when the band didn't have a keyboard player.

"He was in the band when Nick died, but he had to lock himself away for a while" to focus on acoustic playing, Mr. Carmichael says.

The band released its latest studio project, "Roseland," including the hit single "Marrakesh," in 2011. "We're about to release a live record" -- "Live in London" -- that their engineer is now mixing, Mr. Carmichael says. No new tracks but things will differ because "You do things live you can't do on a CD," such as switching solos around.

After this American leg ends, the group will go back to London for a couple of weeks and then to the African country of Gabon -- one of its biggest fans is "a managing director of an oil company," Mr. Carmichael says.

The band's backup lineup includes keyboardist Fred White, bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Greg Grainger. The Graingers are twins.

 

 


Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.

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