The Empire Music Hall, Belfast
15th August 2018
Richard Thompson is variously regarded as the godfather of English folk-rock, one of the best acoustic and electric guitarists in the world, and the writer of some classic songs in any genre.
When news came of an intimate gig in The Empire Music Hall in Belfast, many discerning fans of great music quickly snapped up tickets expecting a quality show from the 69-year-old legend. Those expectations were hugely exceeded by a dazzling display of guitar playing and wondrous songs.
Dressed in a cutoff denim jacket, that most pensioners would balk at, and his trademark black beret, Richard Thompson strode confidently to the stage and began a two hour set of songs old and new. The quality rarely dipped and at times reached heights that most artists can only dream off.
Conscious of the make-up the fan base in the audience, he quipped about the venue making old people stand and announced he would play the songs we had come to hear. First, he had a few new songs to play. The crowd did not seem to mind and the good-natured banter continued throughout the night.
Thompson has been producing quality music since he first appeared on the folk scene as a prodigiously talented teenager and tonight we were treated to a brief resume of some of the highlights of his glittering career of over 50 years.
From Fairport Convention’s 1968 hit ‘Meet On The Ledge’ through solo classics like ‘Wall Of Death’ and ‘Tear-Stained Letter’ to new material off his soon to be released ’13 Rivers’ album, we were treated to a masterclass in stagecraft, guitar playing and song.
Superbly backed by longtime band members Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums, this was a concert that has set the bar for gigs this year.
‘Bones Of Gilead’ was his first opportunity to show hybrid picking skills on the Fender and this was quickly followed by another new song; ‘Her Love Was Meant For Me’. Two worthy additions to a canon of material from over 40 albums, both solo, group, and collaborations with others.
His voice remains as strong and nuanced as ever, with the rich baritone ringing around The Empire, which proved to be an ideal location for this special night. Effective when belting out rockers like ‘Tear-Stained Letter’ and a thing of beauty when delivering softer ballads like ‘Beeswing’ sang here as a gorgeous acoustic number.
The biggest cheer of the night was kept for another immaculately acoustic rendition of Richard’s English conception of Bonnie and Clyde, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. It was possibly the highlight of the night but there were no low points.
His playing remains a thing of delight and bewilderment in equal measures. One could only watch in amazement as his fluid fingers worked the fretboard, time after time, producing solo after solo of effortless brilliance that had the crowd in awed rapture.
Perhaps best exampled on his playing on ‘Guitar Heroes’ when as well as delivering the body of the song in his own distinctive style, we were treated to his impressions of the playing of his heroes and the playing styles of Reinhardt Django, Chuck Berry, Hank Marvin, and Les Paul.
Breathless runs through ‘Wall Of Death’ and ‘Put It There Pal’ brought the crowd to new heights.
There was no time for ‘Dimming Of The Day’, ‘Calvary’, ‘Persuasion’, ‘Bright Lights’, and many other classics, yet the crowd left fully satisfied, and debating when was the last gig they could remember to compare with the sheer quality on display tonight.
Electric or acoustic, loud or soft, rocker or ballad, Richard Thompson delivered on every level tonight. He continues to prove himself to be the consummate performer. If you think yourself a lover of great music, and you haven’t seen Richard Thompson live yet, you need to complete your education. Go see a true legend.