Richard Thompson / The Rails
Royal Festival Hall, London
20th September 2015
Richard Thompson is back in the UK promoting his latest album, Still. A sell-out audience saw him and his band perform a powerful set. Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne reviews
Richard Thompson is probably of one of the most consistent songwriters the UK has ever produced. Since leaving the major label circus in the mid nineties, he has been churning out excellent albums at a steady pace and his latest effort Still released on Proper Records in June maintains that tradition and even got Thompson his first top 10 chart entry. I had seen Richard playing at The Half Moon in Putney last year for Danny Thompson’s 75th birthday. The two gigs couldn’t have been more different, the show at The Royal Festival Hall turned out be an all electric performance that rocked much harder than was I was expecting.
The opening act for tonight was The Rails, a husband and wife duo composed of Kamila Thompson (Richard’s daughter) and James Walbourne (session guitarist extraordinaire who has recently played with The Pretenders and Ray Davies). I had seen them opening for the former Kinks frontman in Croydon in 2012 when they were still called The Dead Flamingoes. Although they were really good at the time, they have improved ten times over in the space of three years. Kami and Jame’s vocals blended perfectly together and James’s guitar playing was spellbinding. Their set mixed songs from their Fair Warning LP with tracks from a recently released EP entitled Australia. Opening with I Wish, I Wish, their set included numerous traditionals and James Walbourne made a point of telling where they had picked the songs from. It might a be a bit of a platitude to say that but they are definitely carrying the mantle of Fairport Convention.
In a nice transition Richard Thompson was backed by The Rails on his first song That’s Enough, a song from The Thompson – Family album that came out last year. A song that Richard wrote for the Occupy Wall Street movement but two years too late apparently. After being joined by his rhythm section (Michael Jerome on drums and Davey Faragher on bass), Thompson launched straight into a rocked up version of All Buttonned Up, a great character song from Still that followed by a tribal sounding Sally B from 2013’s Electric. Broken Doll with its dissonant chords and inventive solos kept the sell out audience of the Royal Festival Hall enraptured. The first classic of the night was For Shame Of Doing Wrong from 1975 ‘s Pour Down Silver and the excellent Mock Tudor album got its sole entry of the evening with Hard On Me which featured solos from every band member.
After being left alone on the stage (“statutory union break”, Thompson quipped), Thompson offered a short acoustic set featuring two sterling numbers from his repertoire. An emotional Meet On The Ledge from his Fairport Convention days and the eternal crowd favourite Vincent Black Lightning 1952. The rhythm section returned and we were treated to three excellent tracks from Still. Beatnik Walking was introduced by a jibe at Margaret Thatcher and the Jazzy Al Bowlly’s In Heaven is followed by Guitar Hero” where Thompson pays homage to the men who influenced his guitar playing, effortlessly jumping between Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton and Hank Marvin he gives a masterclass in guitar playing. Going back in time the ambiguous Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed from 1981’s Shoot Out The Lights, his last album with his first wife Linda. An almost punk version of I’ll Never Give It Up is followed by the classic Wall Of Death.
Even if the band had just packed it there it would have been a fabulous but they came back for an extended encore starting with a rousing version of Hey Joe (the Jimi Hendrix version) prompted by an audience request. Tear Stained Letter was performed at a breakneck pace. She Could Never Resist A Winding Road from Still. After playing Fork In The Road and a fine cover of the Sorrows 1965 song Take A Heart. Of course Thompson has so many great songs that some of your favourites (a couple more from Mock Tudor for me :)) but the show was excellent and rocked probably harder than anything that I ever saw at The Royal Festival Hall.