Category Archives: richard thompson

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Richard Thompson solo acoustic at the Warwick Folk Festival, 24 July 2014

It was a last minute decision. “Hey, Richard Thompson is on at the Warwick Folk Festival tomorrow. I wonder if there are any tickets left?” There were; and we were fortunate to end up about 6 rows from the stage in the large marquee which houses the main stage, on a balmy English summer evening – rather to RT’s surprise, it seems. “I’ve got a reputation for bringing disaster to festivals”, he told us, “in the form of rain and mud”. It was not to be; and the event yesterday was, as summer music festivals go, distinctly genteel, complete with chandelier in the wine tent.

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The audience too was exceedingly well behaved; if anything a bit too subdued but nevertheless enjoying every minute of what turned out to be an outstanding concert.

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A few quick reflections. RT was on excellent form; of course the guitar work is the big attraction but he also has a powerful voice which he uses to great effect in his various tales of woe.

It was great to seem him play from a relatively close position, but frankly I have no idea how he gets the sound he does, and the variety of sounds; you see him moving his fingers and it looks like nothing extraordinary but the music he produces really is.

In Vincent Black Lightning, for example, you hear a tune, a bass accompaniment, little frills and decorations and runs, and it sounds like three guitars; and even while doing that he delivers an intense vocal performance, to get just the right throaty growl and on the “he did Riiiiiide” refrain.

I was also struck by how much feeling he puts into songs that he has performed countless times. Of course that is what performers do; but we have all experienced events where old favourites are delivered in a throwaway manner; I never got that feeling yesterday.

There was plenty of between-song banter and RT took numerous requests, even complaining, “please shout your request in before I start the next song”, when someone succeeded in changing his mind about what to play.

It was great to hear some older songs, including Bright Lights and Genesis Hall. “I used to be in a band,” said RT, telling us that he left due to “musical differences,” and observing that Fairport Convention had got on fine without him.

I enjoyed every song; but one or two stood our for me. Johnny’s Far Away is a rollicking “sea shanty” in the which the crowd joins in the chorus. Its subject is infidelity and RT says “it’s about what musicians get up to on the road.” Johnny is in a band which plays on a cruise where he has a fling with a “wealthy widow” or two; at home his wife Tracey “laying in the booze” consoles herself with “another man, a smoothie”. It is all very seamy, complete with Johnny returning home with “sores and all” as Tracey’s lover sneaks out the back, but is there a trace of sympathy as Tracey declares, “I can’t express myself with my old man,” and Johnny, “I can’t express myself with my old lady?” Or were they just trying to justify themselves to their temporary partners? It seems RT is reflecting on what he has observed in a lifetime on the road, but with some ambiguity, accentuated by the contrast between the sordid subject and the good-timey singalong chorus.

Humour, reflection, sharp observation, tinged with sadness, delivered with virtuoso performance: it makes for an intense experience and the evening flew by.

Beeswing was fantastic, wistful and beautiful.

The most sombre moment came towards the end when RT performed three “songs”, if that is the right word, with words taken from First World War diaries. The opening words: “I’ve never seen a dead body before I went to war and the trenches.”

These words are chanted more than sung, with sparse accompaniment, and the performance was potent but bleak. Nothing new for RT you might think; except that these are unsugared by the humour or melody which lightens other songs.

This is preparatory work for a performance at a centenary commemoration of the 1914-18 war which is set for sometime in 2016, we were told.

The purpose of such events is that we do not forget the horrors of the past nor, we vainly hope, repeat them; and I applaud RT for including this in the concert.

After that we moved to Wall of Death, whose title made a natural link with what had gone before, but which returned us to RT’s normal territory, juxtaposing merriment (a funfair) with gloom (death); but of course it is only a fun ride isn’t it?

A short encore of Keep Your Distance and that was it. Thank you RT for another fine concert.

The set list:

Bathsheba
Saving the good stuff for you
Valerie
The Ghost of you Walks
Johhny’s Far Away
The story of Hamlet
Vincent Black Lightning
Dry My Tears
I want to see the Bright Lights Tonight
Genesis Hall
Fergus Lang
Persuasion
Beeswing
I Misunderstood
Feel so Good
Read about Love
The Trenches
Wall of Death
Keep your distance (Encore)

Richard Thompson Nottingham 27 January 2011

I heard Richard Thompson and his band last night at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. A pleasant venue, not too large, good acoustics, but lacking in atmosphere. The concert was pretty much sold out and there was no doubting the warm regard of the audience towards the performers, but it was not a lively crowd; it was an enjoyable evening but one that never quite sparkled.

Money Shuffle was an energetic opener; it is one of those songs that you think you have heard before even when you have not, with a timeless Richard Thompson feel to it. Then it was on through Dream Attic – he is performing his recent CD nearly in its entirety on this tour – with a slow tempo for Among the Gorse Among the Grey, and then full speed into Haul Me Up, a rollicking number which was a lot of fun.

As we progressed though the album Thompson gave succinct intros to the songs, gently mocking his own predilection for songs of death and mayhem – I loved these little bits of chatter, and I wish they had been put into the album, which is recorded live.

When we got to Big Sun falling in the River I had a moment of reflection. The song is set in London, Thompson told us, where the river is wide and at the right moment you can get some spectacular sunsets. The lyrics tell of a relationship going bad and shattered dreams:

Big Sun Falling In The River
Big sky shining in the water
Big love dying like the dying day

He doesn’t sing it like someone particularly upset though – not like, say, Missie how you let me down, or Long Dead Love, from Daring Adventures. Still, it is one of the recurring themes in Thompson’s music, with another being death. Sidney Wells, also on Dream Attic, is a gory tale of a serial murderer. Why so gloomy?

After my second beer last night I had what seemed a brilliant insight into the matter. It starts with English folk music, which sings of death in order to help us come to terms with mortality. And it continues with Richard Thompson writing Meet on the Ledge as a teenager:

Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge
When my time is up I’m gonna see all my friends
Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge
If you really mean it, it all comes round again

Richard Thompson’s words gained added poignancy after the tragic motor accident in 1969, when Fairport Convention’s drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn died.

There is no answer to the reality of pain and loss; but music and humour is one route to healing and perhaps this is part of what is going on in Richard Thompson’s music and in the folk tradition.

As for the concert, we moved on through an evocative Stumble On and a lively Bad Again towards the interval, after which, Thompson had told us, he would sing his hits “it will be very short” he joked.

After settling for an ice cream thanks to the Royal Concert Hall’s lack of anything that can be described as beer, I returned after the interval expecting a succession of blasts from the past and more engagement from the audience. It turned out not quite like that. There was less chatter – though after performing The Angels Took my Racehorse Away, Thompson did remark on his pride that Henry the Human Fly, from which the song is taken, was the worst selling record ever in Warner Brothers catalogue (an exaggeration, I am sure). We got Wall of Death, though I felt it was a bit of a throwaway, perhaps he is getting tired of the song. We got an atmospheric Al Bowlly’s in Heaven with solos from band members, who were:

Pete Zorn – all sorts
Michael Jerome – drums
Taras Prodaniuk – bass
Joel Zifkin – electric violin

Al Bowlly is hardly a song for drummers, but let me mention that Jerome’s performance was excellent throughout the show, adding lots of energy to the sound, even if he did knock over several mic stands and cause a panic emergence of roadies onto the stage to fix things up during one of the songs.

Still, while Al Bowlly and Wall of Death count as hits in Richard Thompson terms, I would not say that numbers like One Door Opens and Take Care the Road you Choose are in that category, and it remained a low-key evening. We had one short encore and that was that.

I enjoyed the first half more; I think Thompson is more engaged with the new songs, and liked that he took the trouble to tell us a bit about them.

I have never been been to a poor Richard Thompson concert; I loved being there last night and he delivered in every respect. If I sound a little disappointed it is only because I have been to some that I enjoyed even more. I think Dream Attic is a good album but not a great album, and feel the same way about the concert. That said, if you ever get the opportunity to see this man perform, go without hesitation; he is one of the best.

Setlist

The Money Shuffle
Among the Gorse among the Grey
Haul me Up
Demons in her Dancing Shoes
Crimescene
Big Sun Falling in the River
Stumble On
Sidney Wells
A Brother slips away
Bad again
If Love whispers your Name
—INTERVAL—
The angels took my racehorse away
Can’t Win
One door opens
Al Bowlly’s in Heaven (band solos)
I’ll never give it up
Wall of death
Tear-stained letter
Take Care the Road you Choose
A Man in Need

Richard Thompson at the Cambridge Corn Exchange

I saw Richard Thompson, accompanied by Judith Owen (vocals, piano) and Debra Dobkin (percussion, vocals), perform his 1000 Years of Popular Music set at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge (Friday January 16th).

This is a great atmospheric venue with good acoustics, but we arrived slightly after 7.30pm thanks to traffic and parking problems, to find that the show had started on the dot. We missed the first two songs and ended up in seats that weren’t the ones we’d booked, but they were good seats which is what counted.

The concept is that RT and his ensemble play songs from the ages – from Medieval to the present day. Why? A few reasons. Because he can, and few others could. Because he’s exploring his cultural history. Because he wants to introduce songs that are old but good to a new audience. Because he wants to pay tribute to the past. Because it’s a hoot. All of these.

It makes for an enjoyable evening, though it is inevitably uneven. I studied English Literature and knew some of the older songs as poems; it was good to hear them in a new context, especially with Thompson’s dry,witty introductions. I enjoyed his 19th century social comment songs, Blackleg Miner and I Live in Trafalgar Square. He caught the mood of the Kinks’ See My Friends brilliantly. His rendering of Abba’s Money Money Money is hilarious. I didn’t think he carried off the Beatles so well, though we saw some striking Beatlemania photos.

I was sorry he did not perform Oops! … I did it again (yes, the Britney Spears song) as this is one of my favourites on the CD, another ode to failed relationships.

The paradox of RT is that he is fascinated by mortality, decadence and despair, yet is among the most clean-living, disciplined and downright healthy artists out there; he is sixty this year but his voice is strong and physically he looks almost the same as he did twenty years ago, with his trademark beret.

He carries it off really well, but would I rather have heard 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Wall of Death, and The Ghost of you Walks? I suppose I would; but at the same time kudos to RT for doing something different.

This is the set list from the day before in London (I didn’t go but it was posted to the discussion list); ours was very similar but I’ll update this post when I have the exact set list from last night.

Hevene Queen
3 Ravens
So Ben
False Knight
Pipe Shepherds Pipe
When I am Laid in The Earth
Remember Thou O Man
Shenandoah
Blackleg Miner
Trafalgar Square
Sally Gardens
When a Man Goes to Woe

Interval

Java jive
Night and Day/Something Wonderful
Wine Spo-Di-O-Di
All Right I’ll Sign the Papers
See My Friends
Friday on My Mind
Money, Money, Money
everybody’s Got to Learn sometime
Maneater
Encores
Ja Nuls Hom Pris
Cry Me a River
Beatle Medley