New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
Richard Thompson, world-class guitarist / songwriter, has been awarded and honored many times. Quite a few of his songs like "Down Where the Drunkards Roll" or "1952 Vincent Black
Lightning" are classics by now and are interpreted by a number of artists of a variety of genres.
With Fairport Convention, he defined the English version of the term folk rock before he went on a solo path at the beginning of the 1970's, musically as well as spiritually a searcher. Together with his wife Linda, he devoted himself to Sufism and during the seventies, they both recorded several substantial albums with mediocre commercial success. The dark and cynical lyrics were not really a thing for the charts even despite the fantastic music. If there had not emerged Joe Boyd, a friend from the Fairport days, who founded his own label Hannibal and signed Richard Thompson, who knows what would have become of the musician Thompson. So at the end of 1981, Richard and Linda
went into the studio and recorded "Shoot Out the Lights". Linda
was pregnant and the Thompson marriage at an extremely critical stage. Not only had the ambiguous metaphors pointed to the problems. The cover made things clear for the whole world to see: A bashful grinning Richard Thompson is sitting in the corner of a rundown room, a naked light bulb dangles from the ceiling and on the wall a picture of Linda
Thompson. There was no pretending of unity and not a few fans were wondering how such a fantastic album could be created from a broken partnership, placed on 24 of the Rolling Stone Top 100 albums. When "Shoot Out the Lights" was released in March 1982, both the marriage and the artistic partnership ended despite a brave promotion tour. It did not spoil the strong sales. The finale of the Thompson collaboration was commercially and at the same time for a lot of critics artistically an absolute peak.
Despite the obvious restlessness in the life of Richard Thompson musically there were several important constants. In the studio or on tour for instance he could always rely on the old basis of Fairport Convention: Simon
Nicol, master of the solid rhythm guitar, Dave Pegg who also played the bass for long years for Jethro Tull and the stoic Dave Mattacks who always knew exactly why the real art of drumming lay in the restriction. He was able to trust in this personal when Thompson began to record a follow-up to his bestseller album in 1983. "Hand Of Kindness" is the exact opposite of his dark and depressive predecessor. The man who had just wanted to shoot out the lights now is friendly offering us his hand. Or in the striking words of his biograph Patrick Humphries "he left the darkness behind and stepped into the light."
Not that the songs would flow over with positive subjects now. "Tear-Stained Letter", "Both Ends Burning" or "A Poisoned Heart
and A Twisted Memory" speak a distinct language and seamlessly get into line with Thompson's songs about desolate situations and relations, even if he is in a functioning relationship meanwhile. Thompson is one of those artists who can't come out of their skin and have to work off personal or imaginary tragedies. But these messages were more often wrapped into optimistic sounding up tempo melodies now. The concertina and accordion virtuoso John Kirkpatrick gave a lot of tunes a certain danceable touch of Cajun and the one who dances has little time for depression. The studio crew was joined by the two saxophonists Pete Zorn and Pete Thomas
who live added visual verve to the songs. That, as matter of principle, was also the team that accompanied Richard Thompson on tour far more than one year whereas the extremely busy John Kirkpatrick was replaced by the experienced and stylistically secure accordionist Alan Dunn.
And that was the band Richard Thompson arrived with in Hamburg at the cozy "Markthalle" on the December 10th in 1983 and delivered a concert longer than one and a half hour for the Rockpalast which Thompson and his companions obviously relished. It is not surprising that the material of "Hand of Kindness" is prominently present. Thompson only went without the darkest track of the record: "Devonside". That hardly comes as a surprise because this track he rarely offers live in general. Also included are four tracks from "Shoot Out the Lights," not the least of which is the impressive title song. Here it seems that Thompson once again remembers his failed relationship. Added to the performance are several instrumentals i.e. some old English dance tunes as well as not Thompson classics like the encores "Great Balls Of Fire" or "Highschool Hop", always with Simon
Nicol at his extraordinary cornflakes guitar (Thompson: "I think it's a guitar"). Thompson for his part is working his Fender with his very own pick and pluck technique.
Only six weeks later, the Rockpalast recorded another concert of Richard Thompson on occasion of the MIDEM. The difference between Hamburg and the French Cannes was noticeable: A considerable spacious stage and the audience in plush armchairs but with an identical set list minus the encores. Also, the band was only nearly the same. An exception was the rhythm section which now consisted of the also Jethro Tull and much later experienced Fairport Gerry Conway (drums) and the young bass player Rory McFarlane who had his first big chance in Thompson's band. Nonetheless, two totally convincing performances in which interestingly enough the most unusual piece of the set, the Glenn
Miller classic "Pennsylvania 65000" was far better received in Hamburg than by the more dignified French audience whose reaction turned out a bit mixed. It is odd that in the exceedingly creative and productive 33 years since these Rockpalast recordings obviously no further invitations to Richard Thompson occurred. All the more valuable are the available documents of this magnificent artist.