Richard Thompson

Journey through 1000 Years of Popular Music.
New Theatre, Oxford, Sat February 7th 2009

February 2, 2009
The black beret-wearing godfather of Folk Rock returns to Oxford with a show that lasts a thousand years!

Richard Thompson probably doesn’t worry much about ticket sales; he has a hardcore following that have stuck by him from way back when he was Fairport Convention’s pyrotechnical lead guitar player - and he probably has even less reason to now, with this intriguing premise for a 2 hour show. Apparently Thompson (along with many other musicians) was challenged by Playboy magazine to list his 10 favourite songs of the last millennium. Thompson, it seems, was the only one to take this seriously, starting in the early Middle Ages and culminating with Britney Spears’ Oops! I Did It Again. Thompson turned this list into a very successful touring show in 2002, and one very successful live album and DVD later and he’s back at it again with a few new tunes.

I caught the show at the Milton Keynes Theatre. It’s a sit-down affair (although the encores did prompt many a sprightly quinquagenarian to their feet in rapture!), with an hour devoted to the first 900 years, then an interval, then an hour on the twentieth century. Thompson’s guitar playing was, as ever, incendiary, leaping effortlessly from ballads to jazz to rhythm & blues to 90s dance pop - and it’s great hearing him play some traditional material again. The arrangements were all inventive, the choice of songs was solid (the sound was ropey and it was hard to hear the words, but that was probably just the theatre)… and the material was nothing if not diverse!

So why did I leave disappointed? This took some pondering on the journey home. My fellow folkie travelling companion and I agreed that maybe in Oxford we were a little spoilt by the high standard of traditional music on offer, and this felt… somehow a little lacklustre. Thompson never seems happier than when rocking out, and traditional tunes like Remember O Thou Man and Blackleg Miner certainly rocked, but this still didn’t feel like a man bubbling over with passion for his material - like say Tim Healey with The Oxford Waits - or being physically assaulted by an entire brass band - like an evening with Bellowhead.

Perhaps it was just an off-night. Although it might have been that Richard Thompson spent a little too long apologising for the material – he assured us in the first half that we shouldn’t worry, the twentieth century was coming soon! But we’re folk fans! What made him think we’d be fidgeting through all the older stuff? The same apologies came with some of the cheesier pop songs. I was about twenty years below the average age, but even I am far too old and far too sinful to feel guilty about such so-called ‘guilty pleasures’. You’re preaching to the converted, Richard! Never apologise, never explain.
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