Richard Thompson, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

 

Playful as ever, Richard Thompson has described his latest project as a “weedy power trio” that plays “folk-funk”. Fact is, tonight offers precious little folk, not much funk and his current, highly economical line-up sounds anything but puny.

In his fifth decade as a performer, this Fairport Convention founder continues to prove he is one of our most talented writers and guitar players. Such a formidable combination suits the thinking behind an album recorded 40 years after his solo debut, Henry The Human Fly. The title of Electric alludes to his favoured instrument, but also the energy he put into the Nashville, Tennessee, sessions.

Part of their verve comes from a loose recording process, based around this formidable trio that takes the stage with little fanfare. They begin with the closest the threesome get to folk-funk – the grungy riff of ‘Stuck On The Treadmill’, the first of several numbers from the current album. It is an engaging complaint about the 9-to-5 grind balanced by some engrossing Fairport-style guitar work. With his album entering the top 20 this month, Thompson happily jokes about old age, obscure time signatures and his less fashionable periods, yet such highlights from Electric allude to male angst, with seething intensity on the stymied lust of ‘Stony Ground’.

All this comes loaded with tense, involving guitar solos that display his virtuoso talents without sounding show-offish. Thompson’s guitar runs from Django Reinhardt vamping through country twang to bluesy trill, even adding a surf-rock vibrato to sea shanty ‘Little Sally Racket’. His bandmates match him every step of the way, with long-term drumming stalwart Michael Jerome adeptly adding some inventive fills, thundering in a Ginger Baker manner over a darkly sonorous ‘For Shame Of Doing Wrong’.

Bassist Taras Prodaniuk provides melodic backbone and the pair rarely over-egg what could have been a self-obsessed pudding, only adding solos together on forties jazz tribute ‘Al Bowlly’s In Heaven’. Such a pared-down structure adds greater immediacy to some Thompson favourites: his spin on ‘Wall Of Death’ comes with giddy exuberance, while ‘Tear-Stained Letter’, with three family members aboard, is rollicking good fun. There are gentler moments, as when he duets on ‘A Heart Needs A Home’ with daughter Kami, yet tonight is all about more visceral thrills, as when the trio take on ‘Hey Joe’.

They play the tune Jimi Hendrix made his own with wide grins, but their enthusiasm remains infectious.

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