Richard Thompson Electric Trio – Royal Festival Hall
It is always a pleasure to attend a Richard Thompson gig. At the very least, you are going to get value for money as his sets are always lengthy affairs. The RFH, revamped since I was last there, was pretty much sold out, the crowd’s age profile reflecting the advanced years of their hero, now 66 years young.
Unlike many of his era Thompson makes no concessions to his age. Judging by this concert his voice is in fine fettle, his fingers lithe and supple and there was no need to resort to backing singers or videoed sound tracks. Indeed, by opting for a trio format Thompson makes life difficult for himself because the line-up puts even more demands upon the guitarist. But he rose to challenge, aided and abetted by the solid rhythmic base laid down by nodding bassist, Davey Faragher, and the phenomenal Michael Jerome on drums.
There is an air of gloom and melancholy about Thompson’s best work and this mood was built on by the wistful and mournful set of the support band, The Rails, featuring Thompson’s daughter Kami and hubby, James Welbourne. At times if you closed your eyes you could imagine you had been transported back 40 years and were listening to her mother’s vocals – now that would have been a treat. The Rails seemed a bit nervous and had a false start with a Martin Carthy cover but managed to carry it off, encouraged by a benevolent crowd.
That wasn’t the last we saw of the Rails as they accompanied Thompson’s opening number, That’s Enough, an appropriately anti-establishment number to accompany his Citizen Smith-stylee black beret. The Rails disappeared and Faragher and Jerome took residence to play a set which was a mixture of tracks from the current album Still and some old favourites from his extensive back catalogue.
Thompson teased some astonishing solos from his Fender Stratocaster, none more so than in All Buttoned Up and a personal favourite of mine, For Shame Of Doing Wrong. The set wasn’t all electric rock. Thompson changed the pace of the show with an excellent acoustic solo version of the Fairport classic from 1968, Meet On The Ledge – one to be played at my funeral – and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning which showcased his finger picking virtuosity.
The backing band came back on and launched into a more jazzier strain with perennial favourite Al Bowlly’s In Heaven and two songs soon to be established as regular crowd pleasers, Beatnick Blues and Guitar Heroes. The latter, which required his guitar technician to help out on acoustic guitar, pays homage to Thompson’s formative influences, a theme he returned to in the opening number of his first encore – we were treated to two encores, the first of two songs and the second featuring three – a fine version of Hey Joe. There was a sense that in his mind Thompson is still striving to establish his place amongst the all-time guitar greats.
Judging by this performance and the reaction of an admittedly devoted crowd, Thompson is up there amongst the true greats of his instrument of choice. There were moments which were absolutely sublime and with his voice as powerful as ever, there were no signs that he will let up. I walked back to the train station thinking this was one of the best concerts I had seen for many a long year. But maybe I’m biased!