Richard Thompson concert review

Richard Thompson concert review

9 days ago

The day may come where the flower of musicianhood fails, where age conquers once-great players leaving only a distant echo of their talent. The day may come, but not this day, and not last night at Portsmouth Guildhall.  

Richard Thompson belied his 75 years, nearly 60 of which have been spent as a jobbing professional musician, with a customarily breathtaking performance. His playing on new album Ship To Shore is superb, and the live act shows that it wasn’t achieved by studio trickery (as if). I’ve been going to Richard Thompson gigs for nearly 40 years now (some of my friends still regard me as a Johnny-come-lately) and the exceptional is expected. As I’ve written elsewhere, Dead Man Singing was inspired by a Richard Thompson gig, and this was the first time I’ve seen him play since my debut novel was published. I left a signed copy for the great man, which I’m told was passed on to his Tour Manager, so I hope he enjoys where his music led me.

Back to the gig. With such a vast and rich back catalogue, it was inevitable that there were notable omissions from the setlist. No room for classics like '1952 Vincent Black Lightning', 'I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight' or, my personal favourite, 'Wall of Death', but that just leaves room for other great songs. Highlights this time included one of his phenomenal extended guitar workouts on 'Hard On Me' – the first time I’ve seen him play that live in 20 years or so – along with two of his very finest songs, 'Beeswing' and 'Dimming of the Day'. It was great to hear 'Al Bowlly’s In Heaven' as well, particularly apt on a day when Portsmouth was hosting commemorative events for D-Day.

Two of the songs that feature in Dead Man Singing – 'Turning of the Tide' and 'Withered and Died' – were played. For once, the former wasn’t done in its usual fleet-footed acoustic arrangement, but as a full band version following the template set by Bob Mould’s cover. Here’s a clip of RT and Bob trading solos on it five years ago to give you a flavour. The camerawork is shonky and amateur, the playing anything but.

The band leant more into his rockier 80s elsewhere too. 'Man In Need' was a very welcome throwback to the time when I first discovered his music, and the main set finished with a spirited romp through 'Tear Stained Letter', rolling back the years to my first Thompson live experience in 1986.

Richard has refreshed the line up of his touring band, but his supporting cast all enjoy lengthy associations with him. Wife Zara Phillips and grandson(!) Zak Hobbs were on backing vocals and guitar/mandolin respectively. Any suggestion of nepotism was soon dispelled, with Hobbs more than holding his own trading solos with his grandad – no mean feat. Taras Prodaniuk was on bass, as he has been for the last 15 years or so, while the new boy on drums was hardly an unfamiliar face: Dave Mattacks first played with Thompson in Fairport Convention some 55 years ago, and his customary touch and sensitivity were evident throughout.

A Richard Thompson gig is never a disappointment, but this one had everything: RT’s trademark wit between songs, breathtaking soloing, and even covers of the Byrds’ 'Bells of Rymney' and Sandy Denny’s 'John the Gun'. At an RT show, you never know quite what to expect in terms of song selection, but the quality is guaranteed.

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