I’ve starting to lose count of how many times I’ve seen Richard Thompson live over the last ten years, but it was an unexpected benefit to find that the support act this evening was The Rails, comprised of his daughter Kami Thompson and his son-in-law James Walbourne. Though this isn’t acknowledged until the headline act, it’s a wisely chosen support act. The close harmonies of this husband and wife team are fantastic and even to those not familiar with their music (for shame!) are won over. Shortly to release a new EP Australia, we get a fantastic set comprising songs from the new EP, including the title track, ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’ and ‘Willow Tree.’ They also give us songs from their debut album Fair Warning, including ‘The Panic Attack Blues’ which James tells us was written after going on a bender with Shane MacGowan. They conclude their set with a cover of Edwyn Collins (their favourite Scotsman – he’s produced them), entitled ‘Low Expectations.’ Whilst not one of Collins’ better-known songs, it certainly deserves to be.
Richard Thompson is on tour promoting his most recent album Still, amazingly his first top ten album in his native UK. Produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo fame, it’s yet another amazing collection of songs that shows why those in the know (and that number is still growing) rate him so highly. For his opening number he is joined by The Rails, observing that ‘nepotism will get you everywhere in this business.’ They start his set with ‘That’s Enough’ from the Thompson album Family. Thompson’s onstage banter has long been one of the joys of watching him live, telling us that the songs was written for the Occupy Wall Street Movement but a year too late, remarking ruefully that this is typical of his career. Not for the fans, Richard, not for the fans.
And it’s a career-spanning set. So highlights from Still like the album’s closer ‘Guitar Heroes’ (great on record, astonishing live) and ‘Beatnik Walking’ mingle in a set that stretches his career. Mostly backed by a pretty hot rhythm section, we do get two solo numbers, Fairport Convention’s ‘Meet On The Ledge’ followed by ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952.’ The latter has been described as his attempt to write a ‘British road song’ and the intensity of his performance is something to behold. But we also get two numbers from Shoot Out The Lights ‘Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?’ and ‘Wall Of Death’ alongside ‘Al Bowlly’s In Heaven,’ ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ and ‘For Shame Of Doing Wrong.’
Sure, I’m a big fan, what faults can I possibly pick? Well, I think he may have fluffed some of the words on ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952′ and there’s lots of other songs from his back catalogue I’d love to have heard. But this is clutching at straws. In all seriousness: if I was told that I had to pick only one artist I could ever see live again, it would be Richard Thompson.