Concert Set list; Bones of Gilead, Her Love was Meant For Me, Take Care the Road You Choose, Meet on the Ledge, Can’t Win, They Tore The Hippodrome Down, Dry My Tears and Move On, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, The Rattle Within, Guitar Heroes, Tale In Hard Time, Trying, I’ll Never Give It Up, Wall of Death, Put It There Pal, Tear Stained Letter, (First Encore) Beeswing, Down Where The Drunkards Roll, (Second Encore ) Sally B, Take a Heart (The Sorrows Cover).
I have seen Richard Thompson in concert numerous times and although the set list varies and most songs are familiar every performance brings its own surprises and delights. Although he is a guitarist nonpareil (and included in Rolling Stone’s list of all time ‘guitar greats’!) and is known principally within the folk rock tradition, I have always thought that he brings to his improvisations the touch of a jazz guitarist. This is celebrated in the song ‘Guitar Heroes’ from his 2015 album ‘Still’, a tribute to his influences where Django Reinhardt and Les Paul share equal billing with James Burton and The Shadows and which ends with the line “I still don’t know how my heroes did it”. At last night’s concert in the Belfast Empire all his skills were on display, backed by his long time rhythm section of drummer Michael Jerome, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and a guitar tech (whose name I could not catch, Jerry?, providing second guitar “when he could be bothered” according to RT!).
The band roared through the songs I have listed above; some of them from his forthcoming album ’13 Rivers’ due next month, but most from his extensive output (including two from the days of Fairport Convention – a band that is now 50 years young!). Several songs were treated to extended guitar work outs which carried all the usual Thompson signatures; bending notes, nimble runs up and down the fret-board and incredible invention, all backed by a behemoth of a rhythm section. However, as much I like the power and volume, for me the highlights were the more reflective songs; (‘Take Care The Road You Choose’ is a particular favourite), but the heartbreaking ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down’ from 2017’s ‘Acoustic Rarities’ is another gem. And it is impossible to get through anything about RT (and Jonathan would never forgive me!) without mentioning the song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ (from 1991’s album ‘Rumor and Sigh’). He plays it at (almost) every concert and it sounds different every time!
The first encore of ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Down Where the Drunkards Roll’ was complemented perfectly by the tear em up rock and roll of Tear Stained Letter (possibly the only song to include American ballroom dancer Arthur Murray and the Clash in the same lyric!) and the concluding cover by The Sorrows ‘Take A Heart’. All in all a superb concert even if the venue did not feel quite right for the audience (RT opened the set by apologising to all the old people who had to stand up – “don’t lean” he said “it’s a sign of weakness!”). I am sure that my son Jonathan was not the youngest member of the audience and his graciousness found me a seat in the midst of a sea of grey hair (some it my own!). But music like this is ageless and timeless and last night the (Belfast) Empire truly roared back in approval and enjoyment. Having seen RT last October at The Sage in Gateshead I can only hope his next visit to Belfast will be at The Waterfront!