Saturday, November 18, 2006

I'm just a Richard Thompson groupie

I went to a Richard Thompson concert the other night.

Who's he? Just one of those old guys (in his fities!) still churning out the music and touring round the world. He's never become a household word despite a career that's lasted over thirty years.

But here's my small effort to promote one of the most electrifying and intense performers of all time. And I'm not even getting a fee, although a meeting with the guy, if anyone could arrange one, might be awfully nice (in this latter endeavor I'm inspired by The Anchoress's call for a similar rendezvous with Bryn Terfel. Each to his [her] own).

I discovered Thompson about fifteen years ago and the minute I heard him I knew I was hooked. I was idly listening to one of those FM stations that specialize in what's known as "folk" music nowadays, a genre that bears little or no resemblance to the folk music of my youth (I'm not complaining). Yes, every now and then Thompson, a Brit, does compose a ballad (although never a conventional one; see this) that harks back to traditional folk roots. But most of his music is indefinable, except that it partakes of his caustic, often bitter and yet poetic sensibility, and sometimes a biting humor.

And, to those of you who call me anti-Muslim, let it be said here and now that years ago Thompson converted to Sufism (not exactly mainstream Islam, of course). Which is irrelevant, except to him; he's no Cat Stevens. The main thing is the music and the lyrics.

Thompson writes both, and it's hard to say which is better. His recordings are good (listen to some of the cuts here, for example). But it's live that he shines--although "shines" isn't exactly the right word--he smoulders, and then explodes in a very controlled burn.

Thompson is an astounding guitar player; aficionados consider him the best or one of the best in the world. In person, he emanates a deceptive stillness that contains within it a coiled tension. He moves hardly at all when he plays and sings; all that energy is focused on his hands, face, and mouth. Every now and then a leg kicks out in a small karate-like action, potential energy transformed to kinetic. But within his control is an emotionality that can break the heart and reach the soul, especially through the remarkably expressive instrument that is Thompson's voice (listen, for example, to the cut "Persuasion," here).

I've seen Thompson in concert five or six times, and all of them have been extraordinary. He never flags and never gives less than his all, which is far more than most people's all. Go see him if you can--and oh, yeah; give him my love.

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