Halloween night, so tricks AND treats with Richard Thompson
While we’re being topical, it could have even been ‘a night at the opera’ (good title for the bootleg that may well soon appear on Dime…the York gig is already up) with the colossus that straddles the genre of Folk Rock along with The Guvnor, Ashley Hutchings, and their peers in Fairport Convention.
Fairport of course, is a band we support wholeheartedly at ATB as well as Tommo himself, most recently with the Richard and Linda Hard Luck Stories treasure trove. However, before we wax lyrical on the main event, we found the appetiser the perfect illustration of why you should always make the effort to get down early enough to see the support act.
Katherine Priddy whose The Eternal Rocks Beneath we were very taken with, provided an exquisite half hour that proved a case of less is more.
She’s on tour in December and we already have Jon Kean in place, forming a queue in Trowbridge (actually it’s only a few miles from his house, so he’ll be able to walk it). No Manchester date but there’s always 2022.
Trending the theme of ‘bringing the family on tour’, her roadie is her mum, keeping her in check while she runs through a short set of material. Presented in stripped back arrangements – and stripped back to the extent of a fragile delicacy – it’s nice to hear after she namechecks the Radiohead influence on the sonic palette of the new album. There are nods to Greek mythology in Icarus and Eurydice which go down well with the classicists in the Manchester audience and a nod to the headline act with the tumble of fingerpicked guitar notes on Letters From A Travelling Man.
It seems an age since Thompson’s 13 Rivers appeared in 2018 and even longer (obviously) since 2015’s Still. Despite having no new album to promote, although he was active enough writing and recording in the dreaded lockdown, with Serpent’s Tears getting a few plugs during the evening; the gorgeous The Tinker’s Rhapsody getting a prime slot in the encore. We’re in the process of playing catch up, so have the pleasure of experiencing Richard’s postponed solo show and IMHO as they say, there’s no finer sight than RT in full flight with an acoustic guitar.
The man with the beret (let’s now go down the Alan Partridge “I like your beret” routine) follows the evening’s theme of keeping things in the family by having partner Zara Phillips join him onstage for the latter half of the set. He’s shared the stage with daughter Kami in the past (we saw The Rails support at The Lowry in 2015) so no surprise when he remarks how Wall Of Death benefits from an extra voice. One of the songs from his work with former wife Linda along with the main show closer I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, there’s an element of coming full circle in how those Richard/Linda songs should be performed.
First off though, we find our modern day hero dipping back not too far to Electric for opening flurry of Stony Ground that rings out boldly and finds him, not for the first time, stepping to the side of the mic for a little Beatle bow and the chance to tell us all how good it is to play for live people rather than to a wall. We know the feeling and are more than happy for him to run through a set that like a good football team, is built round a strong spine. So yes, we get the unsurpassable 1952 Vincent Black Lightning that never – ever – fails to please. Old Planty may have disowned Stairway long ago, but you can’t really imagine Thompson giving 1952VBL a rest for too long. It’s more thatn just a crowd pleaser. There’s a Down Where The Drunkards roll where he encourages us to imagine we’re in a big folk club and sing along and Beeswing gets an early outing and smatter of applause as the opening bars roll out.
And like many good football teams, the strong spine is accentuated by classy performers showcasing their wares all over the pitch. Several are introduced with a reading; an excerpt, where appropriate from his own Beeswing memoir that , naturally, all us cultured Mancunians have already devoured. Fairport in Germany and the pleasures of the Reeperbhan, the beginnings of the band and then their first US tour and being met with a degree of hostility by one of Thompson’s musical heroes, all add context as well as reminding us to have another dip into the tome when we’re home.
The latter anecdote serves up a song being released but not played; not even making the original Full House album but thankfully restored, Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman prompts the reminder that we can finally look forward to the twice postponed fifty year anniversary of the full album performance – fifty two by the time Cropredy 2022 comes around. There’s a tongue in cheek Keep Your Distance, that finds him remarking on the missed opportunity for the marketing men to provide an anthem for social distancing and it would be rude not to be in town and not play Salford Sunday. It was a Sunday after all, although the same song in the Salford Quays Lowry theatre some years ago inevitably caused some consternation with town boundaries… The place that Ewan MacColl called the dirty old town and that Thompson name-checked in his lyric as the ugly town – that I’m sure he changed to ‘lovely town’ – could be my hearing or the effect of the overhang at the back of the stalls.
Whether or not, as he mused, it would earn him local celebrity status or even that of local icons of the likes of Joy Division is immaterial. The thing that stood like a shining beacon at Manchester’s Opera House, is that Richard Thompson is back with a passion and a drive that any young musician would do well to emulate. Phenomenal.