Reviewer: Jo Beggs
In 2011 Richard Thompson was presented with an OBE in the New Years Honours list for his services to music. That makes him something of a national treasure. The crowd at the Lowry certainly wouldn’t disagree with that. Most of them look like they’ve followed him through his four decades in the business and they’re still wanting more.
Thompson, often cited as one of the British music industry’s finest guitarists, hasn’t tried to build his touring career on his early success. After all, his Fairport Convention days, however influential the band were to the British music scene during that period, ended over forty years ago. It’s not as though Thompson has moved on from folk, though. It’s still in there somewhere, hovering around under the overtones of country, jazz, funk and rock.
This tour, on the back of his new album, Electric, released in February, shows just how eclectic Thompson can be. He describes Electric as “a little strange” for an artist coming from the folk tradition and that he wants to challenge his audience to expect something different, but songs like The Snow Goose, delivered as an acoustic solo encore, show that the lyrical storytelling is still a core component of his work. The new songs go down well and, despite Thompson’s suggestion that they might be a bit “in your face”, sit comfortably alongside old favourites such as 1982s Wall of Death and 1986s Al Bowlly’s In Heaven. What’s apparent is that Thompson’s career hasn’t really gone through any particularly low points. Some of his greatest songs come from the 90s, not a time associated with the best folk rock output, which he proves here with Dry My Tears And Move On and Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?
Electric is the result of Thompson writing for the trio he’s been performing with over the past ten years – Michael Jerome on drums and Taras Prodaniuk on bass – “an inspirational way to look at writing” he says. It’s not only created some great songs but makes the live experience feel like you’re seeing a trio in action rather than a solo performer with a backing band. Jerome is a mesmerizing performer with his easy, laid back style and a short drum solo was one of the highlights of the gig, not something I would normally find myself saying. The trio is slick, performances polished and dynamic. There are times when it feels just too ‘rock’ to be a seated gig, but that’s balanced out by the fantastic sound quality, and the audience is…well, quite advanced in years.
There’s a special moment for the Lowry audience in a new song from Electric: Salford Sunday. Thompson jokes that they write a special song for every town they perform in. But the song reflects a rather charming, and slightly gritty Britishness that still pervades Thompson’s work despite having long been based in the US. Just how does a Salford based love song to go down in California? I guess it just sounds exotic. They’re about to find out as the tour moves over the Atlantic next week.
Going back home with the trio will be Robert Ellis, the support act on the UK tour who very much deserves a mention. Ellis is an American country singer who delivers a handful of songs to open the show in which he displays an intriguing mix of new and old country – successfully mixing traditional cowboy masculinity (think Hank Williams), with a light-hearted and tongue in cheek all-American-ness (think Brad Paisley). His songs, mostly from his album Photographs, along with a couple of fantastic unrecorded numbers, are poignant and comic. His guitar playing is spectacular. He goes down a storm and there’s a big queue at the CD stand after his set. All credit to Thompson for bringing him along for the ride. Ellis is certainly one to watch.