It was during the encores that it hit home. Someone shouted out “Hey Joe” and Richard came straight back with “Sorry, we don’t do trashy covers” before launching into a very Hendrix-esque cover of the song.
Thompson’s 2013 album was called “Electric”. We saw him tour the album at the Barbican. This though was the truly electric Thompson experience. This was a power trio a la Hendrix with long serving drummer Michael Jerome and bass player Mickey Farragher. There were ample opportunities for the band to cut loose and boy did they take them.
Richard Thompson has long been a touchstone for many of the college radio favourites of the 80’s and 90’s. This was demonstrated on the “Beat The Retreat” tribute album with his songs covered by R.E.M, Bob Mould and Dinosaur Jr, amongst others. Tonight though it was really evident just how influential Thompson was on the likes of Peter Buck and J Mascis. Typically when 70s legends pull on their guitars, we’re treated to endless bluesy solos. Thompson is unique though and particularly in the use of discord, open strings and strange scales. “For The Shame Of Doing Wrong” and “Hard On Me” were cases in point, with the guitar work reminding me of Peter Buck’s on “Begin The Begin” and “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.”
The set took a little while to get going. There was another early 80s touch on “Broken Doll” with Thompson playing guitar arpeggios that were reminiscent of “Every Breath You Take.”
It was the acoustic sequence that provided a pivot for the set. A lovely solo version of “Meet On The Ledge” was followed by “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”. I’ve written previously about the song but what stood out especially was Thompson’s soulful vocals. “Beatnik Walking”, a trip around Amsterdam from the new “Still” album, lead into a bold version of “Al Bowlly’s In Heaven (And I’m In Limbo Now)”. The song is one of RT’s wonderful story songs, telling the tale of a WWII veteran in 1980’s alone and living on the streets, remembering when he used to go dancing to Al Bowlly during the war. Bowlly himself was kicked by a Luftwaffe parachute bomb in 1941.
It was bit of fun next with “Guitar Heroes” with RT paying tribute to his influences with solo in each of their styles. Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, Hank Marvin and James Burton all get the treatment.
The serious stuff is reserved for the run for home. The Telecaster gets a rare outing for “Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed” followed by a fierce “I’ll Never Give It Up”. A defiant muscular “Wall Of Death” leads into a wistful “When Love Whispers Your Name”.
Aside from the Highland ballad “She Never Could Resist A Winding Road”, RT went back to his inner rocker for the encores. “Tear Stained Letter” and “Fork In The Road” kicked along apace with a fantastic cover of 60s The Leaves garage classic “Shouldn’t Do That”.
A word on the drummer – Michael Jerome is fascinating to watch. He plays a jazz kit with the drums sat low and accessible. He uses his hands, his elbow, plays with brushes, the wrong end of the sticks and even places towels over his drums. Great stuff.
Unfortunately the London traffic meant we missed the first few songs of the Rails support set. The Rails are RT’s daughter Kami and her husband James. Their album was a former Rough Trade Album Of The Month and was issued on Island’s old pink label. What we saw of their set was mesmerising with just two voices and two acoustic guitars. Having seen Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in recent years, the Rails are heading in a similar direction.
Back to Thompson though. He really is unique as a musician who is still challenging after all these years. Long may he continue.
Here’s a short documentary on the making of Thompson’s latest album “Still” at Wilco’s studio, The Loft. The album was produced by Jeff Tweedy in his usual understated way. I could pretty much unreservedly recommend any of RT’s albums and “Still” is no exception.
Richard Thompson Setlist
- That’s Enough (with The Rails)
- All Buttoned Up
- Sally B
- Broken Doll
- For Shame of Doing Wrong
- Hard on Me
- Meet on the Ledge
- 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
- Beatnik Walking
- Al Bowlly’s in Heaven
- Guitar Heroes
- Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?
- I’ll Never Give It Up
- Wall of Death
- If Love Whispers Your Name
- Hey Joe (The Leaves cover)
- Tear Stained Letter
- She Never Could Resist a Winding Road
- Fork in the Road
- Take a Heart (The Sorrows cover)
The Rails Setlist
- I Wish, I Wish
- Jealous Sailor
- The Trees They Do Grow High (Martin Carthy cover)
- William Taylor
- Panic Attack Blues
- Willow Tree
- Fair Warning