Richard Thompson, world-travelling troubadour

The artful pairing of one of the world’s greatest musical performers with the superb acoustics of singer-songwriter-friendly Koerner Hall was a stroke of genius – it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Likewise, the abilities of one man to still a crowd and mesmerize them with his 42-year’s worth of contributions to modern music, if not the soundtrack to their very lives, could not be realized in better hands than those of Richard Thompson – especially in a lush, live setting.

The sheer beauty of the Hall was, even for a celebrated, world-travelling troubadour of Thompson’s calibre, enough to take him slightly aback – both for sheer beauty, the resultant sound quality and the fact that he was surrounded by his audience.

Yet, for a moss-free bon vivant like Thompson, it’s less about where he is than it is what he does best – and that’s to entertain. Many in the hallowed Hall seemed there to take in the legend by reputation alone – as one of the World’s Greatest Guitarists and Singer-Songwriters, even bringing their kids along for the ride.

He’s a one-of-a-kind, a musician the likes of which don’t appear very often – while others in attendance knew exactly what to expect, reveling in another rare opportunity to drink in his prodigious, ever-animated talents. This was a tour of a different sort, visiting a complete panorama of his storied career ­­– from classic albums with his former wife, Linda, and time spent in the premiere English folk-rock band, Fairport Convention to countless solo enterprises including his dark, unforgettable epic, Shoot Out The Lights.

Beginning with two beloved classics: “When The Spell Is Broken” and “Waltzing’s For Dreamers”, starts Thompson off on one of his favourite subjects – the downside of relationships, adding that element of melancholy that he seems to relish.

A rousing, near-rockabilly version of “Valerie” presents a frenetic, 3-man guitar solo, reminding the audience of the other side of the coin. “Johnny’s Far Away” from ‘07s Sweet Warrior retains its slight Celtic feel with a side of dark foreboding and a pipe-like guitar solo while Mock Tudor’s “Uninhabited Man”, with its 3 Bears lyric, is slow but Thompson wraps it in a surprisingly full sound.

One of the ultimate Thompson anthems – “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” – ignites the clap-along crowd as Thompson’s 20-fingered assault delivers the infamous tale. For a man who has sung “(I Want To See The) Bright Lights Tonight” a million times since ’74, he attacks it in lively fashion, all chipper and beaming – as if there was no pain involved.

From “Crawl Back (Under My Stone)” to the equally uplifting “Wall of Death”, there’s no denying that Thompson can make the worst of a bad situation while, a trip back to “historically unimportant” Fairport days, a tender tribute to Sandy Denny, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”, allows him the opportunity to inject it with some personal pain of his own.

The lively “Cooksferry Queen” quickly picked up the pace while the set closes with the lively, slightly trad-sounding “I Feel So Good” follows two requests, tackling “Bathsheba Smiles” followed by the daunting Scottish ballad, “Willie O Winsbury”.

Beginning the first encore with the hilarious “Oops, I Did It Again” – a remake of Britney Spears’ hit for his 1000 Years of Pop Music project and a bit of a singalong, followed by “I Misunderstood”  – a sad, soulful song that asks much of Thompson’s voice, ending it with some Townshend-like power chords.

Returned again, he closes with a robust “Walking On A Wire” followed by a rocking version of  Johnny Burnette Stick McGhee’s “Drinking Wine Spodee O Dee”. There was little more to say or do.

Photos by Eric Thom

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  1. avatar
    Richard Flohil 29 November, 2011 at 09:54

    Wonderful review – especially if the object was to remind people like me what idiots we were to miss the concert! A wee niggle, though: The attribution of “Drinking Wine Spodee O Dee” to Johnny Burnette is surely wrong — the song was written by Stick McGhee (Brownie McGhee’s brother) and it was a huge blues hit; it crossed over to the white market thanks to the cover version by Jerry Lee Lewis. Both those guys deserve the credit for that rollicking song, rather than Burnette.

  2. avatar
    Eric Thom 29 November, 2011 at 10:02

    Thanks, Richard – fair comment. Didn’t do my due diligence but I thought I was doing well as I’d originally thought it was a Jerry Lee Lewis song. Did one better than that – but thanks for the correction!

  3. avatar
    David Newland 29 November, 2011 at 10:37

    Thanks for the correction Richard – we’ve noted the change with strike-through text. For those who are interested, here’s Stick’s version of the tune:

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