Richard Thompson review – a showcase for decades of exquisite craft

Estimated read time 2 min read

There’s something surprisingly exhilarating about a band simply striding on stage without a speck of fanfare. But then it’s a walk that Richard Thompson has completed countless times, and his affiliation has always been with the song.

Tonight, the revered folk-rocker – complete with red Fender Stratocaster and customary jet-black beret – is performing songs from Ship to Shore, his 19th solo album, which is out on Friday. Thompson, now 75, walked away from Fairport Convention in 1971 to carve out a solo career that has been bountiful by every measure.

In the foyer there are flyers advertising Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in August with the tagline “the friendliest music festival in the country”, and it’s a similarly affable crowd this evening. A man in the front row is compelled to stand up and shake his hips during Turning of the Tide’s vibrant bustle. Another, such is the lack of visbile smartphones in the auditorium, looks sheepish when he gets his out to capture Thompson’s rendition of Beeswing. But he shouldn’t be – it’s a sublime performance that invokes memory, regret and hope all at once, as if Thompson is addressing his younger self who penned it 30 years ago.

Thompson’s banter is also expert. Spotting another rogue smartphone user, he jokes about “duplicitous bootleggers” putting things on “MeTube”. “Another industrial dispute,” he quips, as the band leave him to it for a solo spot. Introducing his band, Thompson reveals that the second guitarist, Zak Hobbs, is his grandson, and he’s clearly here on merit, teasing rich twangs from a mandolin, or trading bluesy electric guitar solos with his grandfather on the capricious Hard on Me – the sort of fretboard flurries that give legs to the Hendrix comparisons.

It’s already apparent by the time we get to Take Care the Road You Choose, two songs in, but in this setting, every note is laid bare and almost tangible to touch. Perhaps most impressive is Thompson’s restraint in these silken turns, surrendering himself completely to the moment. First a seasoned storyteller, then a guitar maverick, he’s been doing it long enough to master that rare skill as well.


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