For many – and certainly for electric guitar fanatics – he was the star of this month’s LawRocks battle of the champions.
Chris Marsden, a real estate litigation associate at Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), is also one of the most accomplished guitarists ever to don a suit and negotiate a decent result for a client over a lease renewal claim.
Furthermore, and with all due respect to his fellow LawRocks band-battlers, he is also probably the most accomplished guitarist to play at the event, full stop.
By the time he was 14 years old Marsden was a better guitarist than most people ever become. In 1997 he was runner-up in the national Guitarist of the Year competition, held at Wembley.
Marsden probably manages to handle his legal work without mentally practising Eddie Van Halen’s seminal lead break in Michael Jackson’s Beat It, but a couple of weeks ago that might have been harder than usual.
The song was one of the highlights of Marsden’s band’s – BLP’s Real State – standout set at LawRocks. Even for Marsden, that level of widdly requires a serious degree of concentration.
For the uninitiated, LawRocks is the UK legal market’s version of The X Factor (except with talent), a charity fundraising battle of the legal bands that has now been running for three years.
On 17 November at London’s iconic 100 Club, six of the best rock ’n’ roll bands from the UK legal market met to perform and claim the right to be called champion.
Each had already won one of the previous six LawRocks competitions, an event devised by Keating Chambers senior clerk Nick Child that has raised thousands of pounds for charity since it launched. On that loud and messy November evening alone it raised £11,000.
The six bands – the others were from Bird & Bird, CMS Cameron McKenna, Hogan Lovells, Mishcon de Reya and the Practical Law Company – were all genuinely top quality, but two – those from BLP and Mishcon – emerged as the night’s winners based on ability, performance, song choice and all-round pazazz.
Watching Marsden perform, you could have been forgiven for thinking he was a ringer, ie a non-lawyer professional musician wheeled in specifically to up the quality and boost the chances of BLP snaring the gong (not that any of its esteemed players, led by property partner David ’Hot Shoes’ Battiscombe, would sink so low).
But then Marsden only escaped the perils of a life on the road as a music pro by the narrowest of margins.
“If you’d asked me at age 14 what I wanted to do with my life, I’d have said music,” he says. “But when it came to the crunch, I knew that life as a musician would probably be extremely tough.”
Lawyers occasionally complain about having a tough life, but Marsden is convinced that the lifestyle is not as precarious as it would have been if he had opted to become a session guitarist.
“You’d get yourself a job and have to drop everything to go on tour, then have to start looking for work again after it ended,” he says. “However, I still sometimes wonder what it would be like to play in front of 100,000 people in Hyde Park.”
Battiscombe, for one, is clearly delighted with Marsden’s choice.
“When I first rehearsed with Chris and he replicated the solo in Beat It I simply couldn’t believe my ears,” he admits. “But too often people just rate guitarists by how flashy their licks and solos are.
“Chris is amazing technically and can shred his guitar in ways that would make Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan weep, but there’s something else he has that’s very rare: he knows how to listen.”
Not a bad quality for a lawyer either.