Review: Richard Thompson and The Rails, Grand Opera House, York

Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson

First published in Music news and reviews
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YOU don't go along to a Richard Thompson concert expecting to find a guitarist who threatens to eclipse the great man. But that's what happened here.

The support act was The Rails, featuring Thompson's daughter, Kami, and the prodigious fret-man James Walbourne. The novelist Nick Hornby, who had a hand in introducing the pair, felt moved to describe his playing as "an unearthly cross between James Burton, Peter Green and Richard Thompson".

Kami and James, who are now married, gave a lovely set of close-harmony singing, while James sent dizzying flurries of notes from his acoustic guitar, playing with all the gusto of the man up next.

Richard Thompson appeared on stage in his usual mode: beret and beard with a matching sense of mischief. This set was loosely linked to his new album, Acoustic Classics, although the first song came instead from last year's album, Electric. Thompson launched into Stony Ground without comment. This is usually his way, as the banter comes later.

After that, the night divided into old songs given a shake-up, as featured on the new acoustic album, and one or two unexpected treats.

This show was just one man and his acoustic guitar, but what a man and what a guitar. As always, Thompson played like a demon, mixing rock, folk and jazz styles, delicately picking out a tune one moment and blasting out a rocky number the next, all with brain-numbing brilliance.

The rockier songs – Valerie, One Door Opens, Good Things Happen To Bad People, I Misunderstood – were given a big sound, with the guitar and the voice bolstered with an echo-effect; while the gentler numbers – Beeswing and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – were allowed to stand by themselves.

An unexpected choice of song took Thompson back to his early days with Fairport Convention, a period he joked about in typical sparky, mocking style, before delivering a peerless version of Who Knows Where The Times Goes?

Other old songs given an airing included Wall of Death, Walking On A Wire and The Great Valerio. Thompson also included his new, driven take on I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, his only hit as such, which prompted him to point out that his new album reached number nine in the charts last week. "Not bad for an old folk-rock dinosaur," he said, pointing out wryly that he was sandwiched between Yes and Dolly Parton, and below lots of people he had never heard of.

Throughout, Thompson played and sang with as much zinging vim as ever, seeming undiminished by age (he is 65). And witty too, raising an eyebrow while singing of marital mistakes during his affectionate country song, Saving The Good Stuff For You.

Not bad, Richard, not bad at all.

 

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