Richard Thompson/Joseinne Clark & Ben Walker
Edinburgh Usher Hall, October 17, 2017
I’ve seen a number of gigs at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall before. However, tonight there is a mobile phone ban in place, which whilst fair enough from stopping people posting ropey video online or – God forbid, having phone conversations, makes trying to remember details for a review rather hard if you phone is the medium for making notes.
That irritant aside, Richard Thompson’s latest visit to the Scottish capital showed just why his reputation continues to grow fifty years into his career. The support act of Joseinne Clarke and Ben Walker are aptly chosen to warm up the crowd. Clarke’s self-deprecating brand of humour is lovely – and should she ever decide to give up singing, comedy would be an excellent alternative. Their set is bookended with Thompson connections – starting with a cover of Fairport Convention’s ‘Reynardine’ and finishing with their take on Nick Drake’s ‘Time Has Told Me’; on which Thompson played (along with no less than three Fairport Convention albums that year). They have recently released a new EP The Birds on Rough Trade – and the title track also gets an airing. It’s a fantastic place to start with their music.
With Richard Thompson, I must confess to finding it harder and harder to write reviews. Not because he isn’t good, he’s bloody fantastic. It’s more about trying to avoid cliché and repetition, and to avoid simply fawning. This year has seen him release two new acoustic albums (Acoustic Classics Volume II and Rarities), as well as playing with Fairport at their annual Cropredy Festival. He sets the bar extremely high by opening with ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘The Ghost Of You Walks.’
Trying to examine exactly why it is that he is such a compelling performer, whether solo or not, it’s a mixture of certain things. Guitar playing that is intense – but is inclusive and draws you in, rather than feeling that it is a virtuoso trying to keep you at bay. Equally it’s matched with that baritone – oh, and a wonderful sense of humour.
As is the case, the set is a mixture of well-known songs from across his career, and well as a few unknown gems. So we get an acknowledgement of his half-century with his respectful interpretation of Fairport’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ paying tribute to Sandy Denny, the song’s writer. From the Rarities album we get ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down’ which deserves to be elevated from rarity to the Thompson Classic songbook.
He acknowledges that he’s not always had a lot of chart success – but when he plays the should have been a chart hit ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ you can’t help thinking that it’s the public’s loss, not his fault. He’s understandably still smirking about an event a few years later when his then latest album debuted above that of his seventies contemporaries Yes’ latest album. When the set includes classics like ‘I Feel So Good,’ ‘Beeswing’ and ‘From Galway To Graceland’ who could fail to be wowed? That’s before you consider the masterclass in songwriting that is ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952,’ his contribution to making sure that Britain had songs about the road to rival America.
There’s so much musicality seeping form his every pore that it seems not to matter whether he plays with a band or not. He manages to play the guitar in such a way that it seems that a rhythm section is present within it. There may be countless imitators – but there’s no-one who can touch him.