Richard Thompson Beeswing Tour, York Barbican, October 25
Richard Thompson, Beeswing, Fairport, Folk Rock and Finding My Voice 1967-75. Written with Scott Timberg, published by Faber.
RICHARD Thompson is touring to promote the book about what he does when he stands on stage.
In some ways, this was like any other concert. Thompson alone with a loudly amplified acoustic guitar for company, an instrument that seemingly contained another band in its sound chamber. How can one guitar make that much music?
His rolling baritone voice barrelled away as usual, steeped in life and undiminished by 72 years and many more songs.
First up was a storming version of Stony Ground, a tale of aged lust, which Thompson grabbed by its mucky collar and shook, producing runs of chords and notes that were gloriously improbable.
Between songs he spoke wryly, as he always does. Yet this time the chat was more to the point. Thompson read passages from his autobiography, explaining how songs came about before he played them.
Walking The Long Miles Home recalled a ten-mile tramp home after seeing The Who. Turning Of The Tide dates from when Fairport played in Hamburg, where along Reeperbahn legal sex workers “in garter belts and bustiers” advertised for business. Young Thompson “decided to try the goods” and “felt a bit hollow afterwards”, fictionalising the experience in song years later.
Beeswing the book is fascinating and written in the man’s own voice, often dry and amusing, yet sombre when life turns that way; the section on the fatal van crash of 1969 shocks with its sober clarity. He also skirts the glory days and the difficult days of his duo with Linda.
At the end, Thompson wonders if Fairport have been an important band with their innovations in folk-rock. “We really did invent a genre of music, and not many can say that. We rattled a few windows without actually blowing the house down.”
As for Beeswing the song, he played that at the Barbican, of course he did, it’s always a favourite with fans, although no story, shameful or otherwise, was told.
Also played were favourites including Persuasion and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Thompson was joined by his partner Zara Phillips for a rousing version of I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, and they sang newer songs too, including the stomping When The Saints Rise Out Of Their Graves.
And, in a wry nod to what we’ve all been through, they rattled the rafters with Keep Your Distance. Thompson joked that he’d hoped that song might have become the pandemic anthem.
The book is a fascinating account of how a life in music took its baby steps; on that stage, Thompson was shown to be still striding vigorously down that long path.