A superbly performed concert by Richard and his wonderful band at the Dome in Brighton on 3 February, completing the UK leg of a tour to promote the Dream Attic album. I'd bagged front row tickets and it was a treat to see five such astonishing musicians at the top of their game, and having a whale of a time too. They thoroughly deserved the standing ovation at the end.
But I don't really want to do a full review, because I left more impressed than moved and I don't want to get into a gripe session. My problems are:
- I'm not keen on his recent song writing - he has written some amazing stuff in his time (as the early 90s tribute collection Beat the Retreat from the likes of REM and Evan Dando amply testifies. Buy immediately if you don't already have it) but I can't remember the last one that really did it for me;
- the set was heavily weighted towards the recent, despite some classics making an appearance in the second 'hits' half;
- I don't find his current singing voice attractive enough to sustain more than 2 hours of lead vocals.
I realise this essentially this comes down to the attitudes which infuriate me when they're applied to people like Bob Dylan and Neil Young: he doesn't write them like he used to, he doesn't sing them them like he used to, why can't he do more of the old ones, etc. In other words, why doesn't he make the artistic choices I would make if I was him? So I won't continue in that vein... You carry on doing what you want to do, Richard.
The good things I took away from Thursday were:
- awe at the tightness, technical brilliance and sustained attack of the ensemble. I was reminded (in a good way) of Red-era King Crimson, or a crack fusion band like the Mahavishnu Orchestra - with the added ability to turn out a polka or slip jig, and to have a laugh while they're doing it;
- particular appreciation of Richard Thompson's right hand - plectrum between thumb and index finger, middle and ring fingers often snaking out to pick beneath it. And the wonderful air a maestro has of time to spare when doing the most difficult stuff;
- beautiful performances of some songs I love - 'Wall of Death', 'The Angels Took My Racehorse Away', 'Al Bowlly's in Heaven'.
Then it sent me back to the old stuff. I've just been listening to Fairport Convention's Full House, which is not an album people talk about that much, in comparison with the epochal Liege and Lief, What We Did On Our Holidays, etc. Well, they ought to talk about it. Very much a band record - coping with the departure of star vocalist Sandy Denny, further integrating Dave Swarbrick, combining fresh original songs with the traditional tunes. And Richard's contribution is huge: matching Swarbrick step for step in the jigs, a glorious extended electric workout on 'Sloth', an endearingly tentative lead vocal for a verse of 'Walk Awhile' - plus some of the funniest sleevenotes you'll see.
And it gave me a cue for remembering the first time I saw Richard Thompson live: as a duo with Linda in a folk club upstairs at the Dog and Partridge in Clitheroe in (probably) 1974. They were amazing, as you'd expect. And the pub's lack of plush dressing rooms and separate facilities meant that I had my closest encounter thus far with a musical hero, standing next to Richard at the urinal in the gents. Didn't say anything, of course - you have to give these people a bit of space to do their thing ...