ENGLISHMAN Albert Lee, revered as one of the world's greatest guitarists, admits he is still searching for the perfect performance after 50 years in music.

The man Eric Clapton dubbed ‘the ultimate virtuoso’ returns to the county on Wednesday after a roll call of musical royalty — led by former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman — turned out to celebrate Lee's 70th birthday in London last month.

“I like to think I’m playing as well as I ever have done, and the reason for that is I haven’t really stopped,” said Lee.

“Sometimes I’ll play these horrible little bars for 50 dollars or whatever, and the reason is, I’m hoping it would be that extra-special gig I always search for.

“I keep looking for that perfect night on stage.”

Lee’s musical CV reads like a Who’s Who of rock and roll stardom, having worked with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton.

Lee also enjoyed a never-to-be-forgotten time playing with Eric Clapton for five years and toured regularly with the Everly Brothers.

“It was so heart-warming when these great characters, Dave Edmunds, Ralph McTell, Marty Wilde, Joe Brown and Andy Fairweather Low, came to my birthday party and played, and to be honest I was a little overwhelmed by it all because I don’t really like a fuss.

“These days I hardly pick up a guitar except when I’m on stage, so I don’t really have to think about it.

“Even when I make a mistake live I can change it in seconds, because for the last few years I’ve lived in that powerful musical zone.

“It is almost a second sense, and that’s how it feels.

“However, that has only come to me over the last decade.”

Lee is recognised for both his adaptability and technical brilliance, equally at home for his guitar licks at breakneck speed or playing melodic, slower passages.

“Albert’s skill is extraordinary, his ear is extraordinary and when he gets into his stride, I can’t even keep up with him,” Clapton once said.

Lee learned to play in the Fifties, when as a teenager he admired and imitated the styles of Lonnie Donegan and Scotty Moore.

“It can be very tiring on the road at my age, but I love coming to the north most of all because the crowds are probably more appreciative. They always clap a guitar solo.”

Although born in Herefordshire, Double Grammy-winner Lee has made America his home for the last 40 years, and it’s where he made his mark with such dazzling skill.

“I was raised in Herefordshire, with no more than a dozen cottages in the village,” he recalled. “We had no running water or electricity. I went back several years ago and the owners showed me the old place and it brought back a lot of good memories.

“I just love America, though. I’d never want to move back to England, although I admire this country.

“I live in a secluded valley in the Santa Monica mountains, about 15 minutes from Malibu Beach, and pretty close to Los Angeles It is such a peaceful haven and that’s my home now.”

Albert Lee and Hogan’s Heroes. Clitheroe Grand Theatre, Wednesday, May 7. Details from 01200 421599.