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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Roundhouse, London
October 20th 2007

We’re late. Partly it’s Jozzer’s fault – he’s been costermongering again and is late back from Borough Market. But it’s mainly due to the blocked streets from west to north London – full of beer-bellied, beef eating, red-rose wearing, swing-low singing, pint-clutching English rugby fans, pouring onto the streets from pub doorways, straining to get a pavement position and a view of the garish TV screens inside. It’s the rugby world cup. England are the defending world champions. Rugby’s coming home. The Springboks are dead meat fit only for a braai. Swing low, sweet chariot.

“Oh no” I hear you say – “it’s bloody Richard Thompson again – Whiskyfun’s almost-resident reviewed artiste”. Correct. And why bloody not? It certainly beats watching a rugby match. Particularly if you’re going to lose
Sandwich Inside the Roundhouse is almost a rugby-free zone. Surprisingly seated (again), our steward takes us on a guided tour of the balcony (sorry folks – his fault not ours) before landing on our dead centre stage seats, immediately below the bar that’s belching burnt cheese toasted sandwich fumes in our direction for much of the evening (just as well I guess, given that the abstemious Mr Thompson is a vegetarian).
He’s just finishing opener ‘Needle and thread’ from his new album Sweet Warrior – the title is taken from a sonnet by Edmund Spenser. "It's kind of a war record” says Thompson, “not just political war but also domestic war or relationship war". Strangely the album has received largely muted reviews, but in the opinion of this writer it’s one of his strongest works for a long time – with a characteristically acerbic take on recent world events, all the more interesting given Thompson’s Sufi Muslim faith. There are some cracking songs – ‘Dad’s gonna kill me’ – filled with common soldier’s slang (the Dad in question is Baghdad) it’s a no-holds-barred view of the war in Iraq from the ground. Then there’s ‘Guns are the tongues’, a tale of a woman who seduces young men and turns them into suicide bombers, and ‘Sunset song’, inspired I assume by Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s masterly Scottish novel of the same name. Thompson plays all of these, and in addition features ‘I’ll never give it up’, ‘Mr. Stupid’ and ‘Take care the road you choose’, from the new album.
Richard Thompson
‘Take care’ finishes with a wonderful Thompson solo. Graceful and fluid, he plays like a painter creating a picture with a number of sometimes apparently unconnected brush-strokes, but ending with a perfectly conceived canvas. Needless to say he’s assisted more than ably by his band – long-time collaborator Pete Zorn is outstanding and tireless on vocals, guitars, mandolins and horns. On bass Danny Thompson is as exceptional as ever – particularly with the resonant growling notes he produces on numbers like ‘Sunset song’. And drummer Michael Jerome brings a contrasting blues sensitivity to the band, in addition to a driving rhythm. It’s a great set – almost note perfect, and in addition to his guitar playing (enthusiasts will like to know that he’s playing the light-blue Danny Ferrington custom built ‘Ferringtoncaster’ guitar) it should be noted that Thompson’s singing is as good – if not better – than I’ve ever heard it. In fact the whole thing sounds so good that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was being recorded.
This possibly explains the urgency with which the band work through a crowded set, which in addition to the new stuff features a trawl though Thompson’s long career. It goes back as far as Fairport’s Unhalfbricking, with an acoustic version of Sandy Denny’s ‘Who knows where the time goes?’ (“Perhaps”, muses Thompson, “when everyone’s got fed up with Nick Drake they might give Sandy Denny the attention she truly deserves”). There’s ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Wall of death’, the scabrous fashionishta song ‘Bone through her nose’, ‘I still dream’, ‘Read about love’, ‘Al Bowlly’s in heaven’, ‘One door opens’, and of course ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. He’s supported by Jozzer on vocals for a lusty chorus of the wonderful ‘Mingulay boat song’ from Whiskyfun’s 2006 Album of the Year, the piratical Rogues’ Gallery, and finishes the evening with a rampaging version of the painfully cynical ‘Tear stained letter’.
We emerge just ahead of the Roundhouse throng, smelling strongly of burnt cheese. Outside the streets are silent. The broken bottles, drunks slumped in doorways, luminous pools of vomit, all speak eloquently of a national triumph narrowly (and thankfully) averted. Well done Springboks.
But no offence meant, there’s only one trophy winner tonight – and that’s Thompson and his magnificent band. - Nick Morgan (concert photograph by Kate)
Kate's Richard Thompson photo album

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