fri 11/07/2014

Richard Thompson, One Thousand Years, Royal Festival Hall | New music reviews, news & interviews

Richard Thompson, One Thousand Years, Royal Festival Hall

Meltdown curator turns cover band with his favourite songs from the last millennium

RT: Today the hoary maverick was everyone from Richard I to Britney Spears.Scott Penner

Richard Thompson’s appointment as curator of Meltdown 2010 split opinion at theartsdesk. I was one of those who hoped the hoary old maverick would exhilarate with daring new acts. Others feared it would just be a folk-in. In the end the program contained Iranian punk, some folk and a whole lot of Thompson himself. He's offered film scores, a new show, and a collaboration. And this afternoon he turned “cover band”, romping through 818 years of songwriting. If this were Stars in their Eyes, then last night Thompson was everyone from King Richard I to Britney Spears.

Thompson has occasionally been performing the “Thousand Years” concert since 2003. The oft-told story goes that he was asked by Playboy to give a list of his top 10 songs of the millennium, no doubt expecting him to give the usual candidates from the last 30 years. He couldn’t do it; he gave them 20 which they refused to publish. So he decided to take the songs on tour. The collection, a flavour of hummable short-format vocal music through the ages, isn’t necessarily suited to an album (although it is available as a live CD). The styles are too disparate, and sometimes the choices have as much novelty or interest value as musical. But it’s perfectly suited to this sort of event - as much “an afternoon with” as a straight concert - because Thompson the erudite troubadour has always had elements of Thompson the would-be Radio 4 host. And “A Thousand Years” is surely a taste of what you’d get if you went round to Thompson’s house on a Sunday afternoon. Be endlessly entertained, and informed.

And for the fans, used to Thompson playing either in his rock or folk idiom, hearing him effortlessly change styles seemed to be an unvarying pleasure. The rationale of the show is to make you think about the art of song-craft. Although the song selection has been refined since the live DVD was released, these songs are still a fairly arbitrary lot. In fact Thompson himself has probably written more moving or more observant songs than any. But that’s not the point. The point is a fun and frequently extraordinary celebration of well-crafted, immediately accessible music. And that’s what Thompson, Debra Dobkin (percussion, vocals) and Judith Owen (vocals, keyboards) gave.


I loved the show yesterday (and the one with Loudon later). For me, the highpoint was a stunning psychedelic version of The Kinks' See My Friends.

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