Richard Thompson, Edinburgh Queen’s Hall, August 25
It takes a really special skill to be able to walk out onto a stage with scarcely any more equipment than a street busker. But Richard Thompson really is a special kind of artist. It’s not the first time he’s played Edinburgh Queen’s Hall, armed with just his guitar, a few effects and a mike. But the fact remains that no matter how many times I’ve seen him, he still blows his audience away.
His latest album, Acoustic Classics, is his own attempt to convey what just some of his back catalogue stripped down to just him and his acoustic guitar sound lie. For someone frequently reckoned to be one of England’s finest electric guitarist, that might seem either leaving one of his main strengths behind or a way of conning more money out of your audience, if you wanted to be cynical. The fact is that it shows why he has such a fantastic songbook, and tonight’s gig reinforces just that.
Not only is he a master of all trades (singer, guitarist, songwriter) but he’s also a pretty witty raconteur. Early on in the set he plays ‘Valerie,’ casually fluffs up the intro and makes a joke out of it, being as he’s played it so many times. He goes on to deliver a version that is even better than on record – there’s comedians playing the now-ending festival that would do well to learn from him how to handle an audience.
And with a songbook like his – going back to very nearly half a century – he has an awesome array of tunes at his disposal. So we get a number of tunes that have reappeared on Acoustic Classics – ‘Walking On A Wire’ ‘ Persuasion’ ‘I Misunderstood’ and of course the fabulous English road song that is ’1952 Vincent Black Lightning.’ We get a number that didn’t – including tracks from last year’s brilliant Electric -’Stony Ground’ and ‘Good Things Happen To Bad People,’ as well as ‘The Ghost Of You Walks’ ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ and ‘Pharoah’ (he introduces the latter as being his ‘paranoia’ song).
Yet perhaps the most moving moment of the night is when he talks about being in Fairport Convention and it’s clear he misses Sandy Denny still. And then he plays ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ I have honestly never cried at a gig before, but it was intensely moving and I wasn’t the only bloke playing with their glasses in the dark trying to make out they had something in their eye.
And justly, our man goes off to a standing ovation, before giving us ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Wall Of Death’ for encores (and another standing ovation). Even into the 2010s, Richard Thompson is continuing to win new admirers (the kid in front of me was ten years old, if that) and finally, getting the chart positions that he deserves.
A performance that touched a loyal and loving audience.
Acoustic Classics is out now on Beeswing/Proper