Grand Opera House, York, August 28, 2014
Richard Thompson delighted a capacity audience in York with his singing, songwriting, self-deprecating humour and, above all, his astonishing virtuosity on solo acoustic guitar.
He was showcasing tracks from his latest album, Acoustic Classics, which has reached the top ten of the album charts – “Not bad for an old folk-rock dinosaur” he says, as much to himself as to his audience. Thompson’s “unplugged” album features pared down arrangements of songs from his burgeoning back catalogue.
Valerie, for example, is usually played by an electric band at full throttle; yet, the track loses none of its intensity when played by Thompson on solo acoustic guitar where he adds intricate lead lines over a powerful chugging rhythm while singing a breakneck speed.
The maestro creates similar excitement with an “unplugged” version of another electric rocker, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight. Wonderful stuff.
Thompson changed tempo with a lyrical rendition of Persuasion, its sublime melody chiming clear as a bell from his guitar.
Old favourites such as Wall Of Death, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and Beeswing went down a storm, as did a rollicking sea shanty about a ceilidh band playing the cruise ships; the audience participation when joining in the chorus was much better than when he played it in Tokyo, said Thompson with a wry smile.
He mentioned he was involved in 14-18 Now, an arts venture marking the 100th anniversary of the Great War. His contribution involves setting music to the words of the Tommies themselves serving in the mud and blood of Flanders.
He played extracts from this “work in progress”, stating he had not altered the words at all because they were “so powerful, reflecting the incredible hardship and suffering that these men went through”.
Thompson also pulled another surprise out of his musical hat – he conjured up a beautiful interpretation of the Sandy Denny classic Who Knows Where The Time Goes? as a tribute to his former band Fairport Convention; it’s hard to believe that he left the folk-rock trailblazers more than 40 years ago.
Another treat was served up when Thompson’s support act The Rails, a folk-rock duo featuring his daughter Kami and guitarist James Walbourne, joined him for a well-deserved encore.
Kami sang a song with her father from their forthcoming “family album” and then looked on in admiration as Thompson traded guitar licks with his son-in-law.
An entertaining end to an excellent concert which shows that this particular “old folk-rock dinosaur” is far from extinct.