Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The format for ‘solo’ shows by rock artists is well-established. The stage will feature a wall of guitars each carefully tuned to be used for a specific song and there will be a variety of other instruments, such as keyboards, to add texture. For Richard Thompson The Solo Tour means what it says on the tin- you get the artist with one guitar and that’s that. Well no, there is also Thompson’s astonishing virtuosity and a back catalogue of songs to die for.
There is no reason to complain about lack of variety in this acoustic show. When playing as part of a group Thompson always includes acoustic numbers but tends to limit the choice to a few favourites. To hear songs that are rarely played live is a privilege. The quality of the guitar work is so high and so complex that, closing one’s eyes, it is easy to imagine that there is more than one person playing. Thompson’s range is amazing running from fiery rockers like Valerie to tender ballads such as Beeswing -making a welcome return to the setlist after being absent for some years. The subject matter of the songs is also unusual – for Thompson a love triangle is a boy, a girl and a motorcycle.
Thompson flaunts both his talents and his contradictions. At the mid-point of the show, he remembers that he has a song that references the city in which The Lowry is based and, off the cuff, performs a shaky version of Salford Sunday. Shaky or not, apart from Springsteen, it is hard to think of a major artist daring enough to take on an unrehearsed song in front of an audience. Thompson is enigmatic as to his opinions on the subjects of his songs; you can never be sure if he likes or hates his characters. The swaggering misogynistic Turning of the Tide is followed by From Galway to Graceland’s sympathetic study of mental illness.
Thompson is touring to promote his most recent releases; which comprise acoustic re-workings of his best-known songs and some that, he acknowledges, were left off albums because they didn’t make the grade. This makes the concert a dream come true for fans: an extensive look back over his entire work and not limited to a specific album. Even so, Thompson manages to confound expectations; when he dips back into his work with Fairport Convention he chooses the late Sandy Denny’s signature tune Who Know Where the Time Goes rather than one of his own.
It is a daring move not just because Denny’s version is so beloved but also that one of her songs featured in the set list for the support act of vocalist Josienne Clarke and guitarist Ben Walker so the audience has already heard a very strong cover. Clarke is a stunning vocalist and cocky with it; not content with performing her own songs and folk covers she stretches to a classical number by Edward Elgar.
By the time the encores roll around Thompson is inundated with so many requests he makes the obvious choice of one of his earliest numbers Meet on the Ledge. It leaves the audience with the sense of having been part of something special – as Thompson says in Beeswing ‘ A Rare Thing’.
Reviewed on 19th October 2017 | Image: Contributed