There’s a nice predictability to the stage times at Celtic Connections; the show start is always strictly adhered to, even when the crowd aren’t used to the main act arriving onstage at an eye-wateringly early 7.30pm. Are musicians even supposed to be awake at such times?
Well, Richard Thompson and his eminently capable band certainly were, anyway, no warm-up act needed for an artist with such a rich array of material to choose from. In this case he decided to dip first into the present and then back into the past, the first half of his two-hour-plus show focussing with intent on last year’s Dream Attic, before returning for a “selection of greatest hits with a small ‘h’”.
Given that Dream Attic has been nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Album at this year’s Grammy Awards, thankfully this introductory infusion of the new didn’t see Thompson treading water as he launched with gusto into opening track The Money Shuffle, his electric guitar having an initial opportunity to spark thrillingly into life.
Not for nothing is he known as one of the greatest axe men around, and the nimble utilisation of his talents culminated in a devastatingly coruscating extended guitar freak-out on If Love Whispers Your Name just before the interval, where he appeared geed on by the preceding violin solo of band-mate Joel Zifkin. At one point finger-tapping with his left hand allowing him to manipulate the tone of the guitar string with his right, veering wildly into various melodic passages before eventually easing into a gentle fadeout, this was quite an eye-opener for anyone who might have thought of him primarily as a good-natured and gentle folk figurehead. (Oh, and that was even before the dazzlingly frenetic drawn-out solo for Can’t Win, which thrust itself furiously upon the audience after the break…)
Not that those of a more delicate disposition need have worried too much: those raucous moments were interspersed with quieter but no less intriguing moments, such as One Door Opens and the recent A Brother Slips Away, which made more evocative by rich vocal harmonies courtesy of all five musicians onstage. Other highlights included an upbeat Wall of Death (perhaps something not hinted at by its title), and a similarly jaunty and deceptively named Tear Stained Letter, both of which sounded marvellous within the confines of the Concert Hall.
The encore included a sweetly tender Take Care The Road You Choose and a suitably stirring finale with Man in Need to leave everyone making for the exit doors with smiles on their faces. Of course, Richard Thompson certainly didn’t resemble a man in need last night, with more than enough critical and fan adulation at the moment to get by just fine without Celtic Connections. Which was part of what made last night’s show so much fun: at a point in his career when many peers are way past caring, Thompson still wants to be here. And my, how it showed.
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