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Richard Thompson Band

Celtic Connections @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (Tuesday 25th January)

By • Jan 31st, 2011 • Category: gig reviews

As I walk up the steps to the entrance of Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, although I feel grand and important – two things I never feel in normal life – I do somehow feel the illusion is marred by the fact that I am dressed in jeans and converse and on my own. Surely an occasion like this demands a long silk dress draped over me who in turn is draped on the arm of a handsome older man. However, I am here to see, in my opinion, one of the world’s greatest folk musicians and after all, folk is a lonely genre.
Richard Thompson has been filtered into my life from an early age and although I have come to regard him as staple listening of all folk fans it was not until seeing him live did I really come to appreciate how much of a brilliantly skilled guitarist he is.
Thompson’s great, crashing songs make me feel proud to consider myself a Londoner; not even that, a Muswell Hillbilly like himself, so when I heard that he would be coming to play a show in Glasgow I was more than excited, because as much as I love Glasgow (don’t get me wrong here) I do yearn for a little bit of London in a cloth hat every so often.
After a brief introduction by compere Bob Hermis of the simple but always resonating line “I will count to silence” the lights go down and the band come on. It causes a warming to my core to see such a happy group of men and their instruments and of course the enigmatic Richard Thompson himself, dressed in his trademark cap and an ensemble somewhat resembling an overgrown boy scout. The band radiate a great amount of enthusiasm but in a simple way and with a lack of fuss which is refreshing and only ever displayed by those great, classic artists.

Dream Attic was released in 2010 and like every other release of Thompson’s one can instantly tell it is him and see the genius in it, but there is always a new and refreshing twist to each album. He is always but never the same.
The opening track on the album and of the set, ‘The Money Shuffle’ is as the name suggests a folk rock dig at the ever-useless financial sector of this country. Although seated, this opening track demands people to at least, if not nod their heads vigorously, partake in some serious foot tapping with the belting anthemic vocals of Thompson and a mid song spine-tingling, back-arching saxophone solo. Moreover, if you can’t expect great things from an album whose opening line is “I love kittens” then the musical world really has become dull.
The high ceilings and grandeur of a classical music hall is the perfect location for Richard Thompson’s booming, silken voice and folky twangs of the instrumentals, which reverberates around the room sinking into the walls and getting caught in every crevice. During the tribute track ‘A Brother Slips Away’ the melancholy and haunting atmosphere that is hanging over the room causes me to shut my eyes and slip away into the dreamy England of yore that Richard Thompson manages to capture in his songs, which have a very good sense of old London pride to them. In fact, the whole album feels somewhat like an ode to ‘Britishness’. There are hints of our fair isle gleaming through in almost every song, from the darkened reimagining of London’s Chapel Street in ‘Demons in Their Dancing Shoes’ – a song about the sort of badass girl I always wish, but could never be – to the tongue-in-cheek ditty in which Thompson, who fervently insists that in general North Easterners are lovely people, notes the unexpected arrogance of a certain character, he says “of fiction”, in ‘Here Comes the Geordie’. This song is one that stands out to me especially and tickles my funny bone. It really highlights the great lyrical talent and diversity of Thompson, as not only a writer and performer of passionate and lasting folk ballads but as a great comic poet, which can be seen especially so in the line ‘I went to buy a hat but my head won’t fit in that’, which definitely gave me a giggle.

As well as being a set bursting with toe-tapping and jig-inspiring folk numbers, Thompson’s voice seems to be most poignant and awe-inspiring when paired with the slower and more melodic tracks. There is a thick, crisp and incredibly haunting aspect to his voice, which really shone through in the track ‘Among the Gorse, Among the Grey’ in which the deep, clear vocals and sad story of love rolled over me in waves and left a feeling in my stomach as if I had just eaten a big, warm, hearty meal. I felt fuzzy.
After ambling around aimlessly during the interval counting the extraordinary number of unoriginal people toting cloth hats (there were four sad individuals) Thompson reveals that the second half of the set will consist of, in his words “the hits with a small H”. The band deliver a mix of soulful numbers such as the jazz/bluesy ‘Al Bowlly’s In Heaven’ or ‘Take Care the Road you Choose’ with rockier tracks like ‘Can’t Win’ and ‘I’ll Never Give It Up’ with real brute force, attitude and passion which makes me wish I could push aside all the chairs and start dancing, but luckily, for the sake of all the other people in the venue, they are fastened to the floor.

It feels almost like blasphemy to cast any sort of negative light on the night or the performance but I did have one small gripe with the evening which lay in the absence of a few classic songs from my personal favourite album of Thompson’s ‘Mock Tudor’ which has provided the soundtrack to many lengthy car journeys with my family. But in a way, I also feel that to have him perform ‘Sights and Sounds of London Town’ or ‘Cocksferry Queen’ without my family hurtling along a motorway, breaking the bickering to sing along, it would have left me feeling quite homesick.
Richard Thompson and his band make the kind of music that I want to peacefully and happily drift off to sleep listening to; his voice is perfect for a lullaby and following an astounding and incredibly influential performance and a hazy walk home through a glittering misty Glasgow, that is exactly what I did.

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