Richard Thompson, The Barbican, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Almost 10 years ago, as everyone was gearing themselves up for a new millennium, magazines and newspapers were falling over themselves to produce the end-of-year list to beat all end-of-year lists.

When Richard Thompson, founder member of Fairport Convention and guitar hero, was asked by Playboy to produce such a list – his top 10 songs of the millennium – he decided to take the brief literally, and this show, 1,000 Years of Popular Music, is the result.

The idea of the show is simple: a selection of songs that span the centuries, some updated and some played faithful to the original. With previous sets containing medieval ballads and Britney Spears, it's undoubtedly a cute concept, but how does it work as a concert?

Very well, considering that of the 24 songs played tonight, no one in the audience could really have heard more than half before. Structured in chronological order, the evening starts with Thompson arriving on stage playing a hurdy-gurdy for "Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene", dating back to the 1200s.

From then on in, Thompson sticks to the acoustic guitar, and together with his band – Judith Owen on piano and Debra Dobkin on percussion – they manage to cover as wide an overview of a thousand years of music as can be managed in two hours.

The key to the night is that the songs are brought to life, adding new twists whilst rediscovering how they would have originally been played. As an example, the traditional ballad "The False Knight upon the Road" is made to sound contemporary – not by it being massively reworked, but by Thompson's voice and his feel for the song.

Some of the most striking moments come when all three sing together, and although Thompson is undoubtedly the main man, Owen manages to steal the show with a number of solos, including "When I Am Laid in Earth" from Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas.

In the second half, Owen produces another beautiful performance on Cole Porter's "Night and Day". Other standouts include "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" by The Korgis and "All Right (I'll Sign the Papers)". There's also a theatrical "Money, Money, Money" by Abba, and Nelly Furtado's "Maneater".

After the oldest song of the night (a lament written – supposedly – by Richard I) and Julie London's "Cry Me a River", the night ends with a Beatles medley. The audience leave with their cultural horizons undoubtedly expanded, but Thompson's charisma and the trio's enthusiasm for performing meant this was no dry music lesson.