So, the shows have begun. First up yesterday as Richard Thompson at the Southbank Centere. A brilliant show called “1000 years of popular music”.
I read an interview with him where he talked about the basic premise that he devised around the turn of the last century. He was asked by Rolling Stone to list the “best” songs ever. He listed songs going back to the Renaissance…Rolling Stone wasn’t amused and didn’t run his list. So, he created a show out of it which he has toured and even released on a CD. One more thing to know about him, he’s also considered one of the top 20 guitarists of all time by the same Rolling Stone. I’d guess he’s not one of the best known of that list. But, if Eric Clapton is “God”…Richard Thompson is at least an Apostle.
I’ve seen a lot of flashy guitar players, but fewer who are as adept at weaving their playing in and around the vocals of a song…and in the case of this show the songs included Opera, folk music, Gilbert & Sullivan and “Italian Renaissance Dance Music” (More about that later). He was joined by Judith Owen on vocals and keyboards and Debra Dobkin on vocals and percussion.
The show opened with a song about the Virgin Mary from the 1200’s, leading into a Scandinavian Folk Song called “The Three Ravens”. The ravens being al lively tune about a dead knight being eaten by carrion birds. From there we moved quickly through the centuries into a variety of styles. Each song was introduced by some witty comments and a brief bit of history, that kept this from being a dry academic exercise and really brought the songs (and the show to life). This was also a family friendly matinee. At one point as he tuned his guitar there a loud crying baby from somewhere deep in the hall…his quip, “Yeah, I hate tuning as well”…of course I’m sure with the timing is was much funnier in person than it reads on paper.
The show really seemed to catch fire with Shenandoah, a sea chanty originally that we all know as a folk song. It was for me a bit like seeing Macbeth the day before. That moment where the familiar comes to life and is seen in a new light. Something that even the recent Bruce Springsteen version of this song was less successful at achieving as Thompson was able to with his simple guitar arrangement and light Scottish accent.
From there the show continued strong with a song from the 1800’s (Black Leg Miner), British Music Halls (Trafalger Square) and some Gilbert & Sullivan (A tune from Yeoman of the Guard).
After a brief intermission he returned and tackled the 20th Century. Java Jive, Cole Porter (Night & Day) and then finally arriving at rock and roll and country. “Breathless” lead into “Jackson” followed by an obscure Kinks song called “See my Friends” based on a chant they heard fishermen singing in India. “Friday on my Mind” lead to what he billed as the only good song from the 80’s…(sadly it’s title escaped me, it’s main lyric was “change your heart”).
Then we circled back in time a bit. His verion of “Opps, I did it again”…(Yeah, the Britney Spears song…) included a break where he preformed the song as Italian Renaissance Dance Music….and yes, it actually worked. He showed how close the cord structures mimicked each other…Brilliant!
The encores were just as eclectic. A song written by Richard the Lion Hearted in 1192, he said he was one of the first popular “singer-songwriters”, “Cry Me A River” and finally a rollicking version of “Twist and Shout”.
A really wonderful start to the music of my trip!
If you’re interested, here’s a clip: