I always feel a bit of an intruder when I go to see major artists who I hardly know. (Maybe it's because I like to clap knowingly when the big songs come out for an airing.) Richard Thompson's recording career spans nearly forty years and though I've been vaguely aware of him for at least ten of them, I've only really properly heard 1999's "Mock Tudor" album and couple of recent Andy Kershaw sessions. His mammoth close-to-three-hour set at the Barbican last night is one of a couple of gigs I've got lined up in the next fortnight involving English folk aristocracy (see also gigs 2).
As if to demonstrate how prolific he's been since his early days in Fairport Convention, he's just released a five-CD set of rarities, this alongside his most recent release of original songs, "Front Parlour Ballads", a few of which feature tonight and which I recognise from Kershaw a few weeks ago.
He's a great guitarist and does the work of two men on a sturdy acoustic which lasts out the three hours unchanged. The only other back-up he gets is from double-bass stalwart Danny Thompson.
It's probably the lyrical content which is the most notable feature of his songs and this is what suffers most in a large venue like this. (It obviously doesn't help that I'm hearing most of them for the first time.) The "clever-clever" ones, like "Hots for the smarts", come across well but generally a lot of the words are lost in the ether. I notice later that his web site gives lyrics of every song he has ever recorded, but that's not much help at the gig.
Although "folk-rock" is mainly his thing, he covers a range of musical styles and even veers into a jazzy kind of gipsy swing on a couple of numbers. It's generally quite an upbeat night and the best that I can say is that I don't feel that I'm missing out too much not knowing many of the songs and that I'll probably go down the shops at the weekend and buy some of his stuff...
Read some reviews from people who know more about him than I do:
- Robin Denselow in the Guardian
- David Sinclair in the Times