Monday, January 19, 2009

Thompson's millennium bug

Just before the turn of the last century, the great guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson was asked to contribute to a Playboy magazine listing of the best songs of the last millennium.  Being the sort of person he is, Thompson chose to take this literally and supplied them with a list of his favourite tunes of the previous 1000 years.  Being the kind of magazine it is, Playboy didn't bother to publish it.

Thompson, though, decided to use this as a springboard to launch a show in which he takes a journey, quite literally, through 1000 years of popular music, beginning in the 12th century and working his way up to the present day.  He's been performing the show off and on for a few years now, mainly in the US, but I was fortunate enough to catch one of his few previous UK performances of it in London three or four years back.  I thought it was stunning - entertaining, informative and with some quite terrific music.   It's difficult to think of anyone else in the world who could have pulled it off.   Thompson combines an enormously wide-ranging knowledge and love of popular music in its widest sense, with the apparent ability to play absolutely anything at all on the guitar.  The show is essentially just Thompson on acoustic guitar and vocals, backed by Debra Donkin on percussion and backing vocals and Judith Owen on vocals and occasional keyboard.  But between them they tackle everything from Henry Purcell to Nelly Furtado, quite brilliantly.

Thompson has finally brought the show properly to the UK, and I saw it last night at the Lowry in Salford.  The show has evolved since the previous version I saw, with a whole new selection of popular songs - everything from a song supposedly written by King Richard I in prison to the aforementioned Ms Furtado's Maneater (with a middle section sung, in Latin,  in the style of medieval church music).  Highlights included a note for note version of Abba's Money - possibly the most staggering guitar playing of the night - as well a quite wonderful version of the traditional The False Night on the Road.  And, to end the evening, the most exhilarating Beatles medley you can imagine.

The tour's not finished yet so if Thompson comes to a venue near you, don't miss it.  If you do, go and buy the DVD and CD (which are of the earlier show I saw rather than this one, but equally unmissable - especially Thompson singing Britney Spears).  You won't regret it. 

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