It’s a somewhat sobering fact to reflect that I have been a Richard Thompson fan for forty years now. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen him play, but I always come back for more brilliant guitar work, darkly disturbing songs, and a surprisingly well-developed stage patter. His voice has deepened and matured with the years, too. He really is a pretty good singer these days. So, no surprise that ‘er indoors and I hastened to the Lowry recently to see RT’s “A Thousand Years of Popular Music” show. You might think it perverse for such an accomplished singer songwriter to perform a show containing no songs of his own, but Richard has fashioned a rare treat in this show. How many people, do you think, could sing and play in a single evening everything from medieval plainchant to madrigals, early opera, music hall, thirties jazz and sixties rock?
The guitar playing is mind-boggingly proficient, it goes without saying. The accompaniment on this occasion is provided by chanteuse and occasional pianist Judith Owen and percussionist Debra Dobkin. and they make a very fine noise together. They finished, not with Britney’s “Oops I did it again”, which he’s used in the past, but with something by Nelly Furtado (during which, as a way of turning the wheel full circle, Richard included a verse he’d translated into Latin). Not everything came off -Judith Owen is much better at Cole Porter than Purcell – but you have to admire their chutzpah. It’s not really a history, of course: medieval times to Victorian are covered in the first half, and the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are featured in the second, so it’s weighted towards more recent stuff.
The show is available on CD and DVD, and is a must-buy for RT fans. A flavour of it can be had by viewing this bizarre video, from the Black Cab sessions web site, where, somewhat surreally, musicians play whilst being driven around London in the eponymous black cab. Barmy idea, but it works.