Richard Thompson, Royal Festival Hall, London

Andy Gill
Friday 21 January 2011 01:00
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Striding onstage in his trademark Wolfie Smith black beret, jeans and shirt, Richard Thompson grins sheepishly at the applause, hefts his powder-blue Stratocaster and makes a few self-deprecating noises about being here at the Festival Hall yet again. It's now almost a second home for Tommo, who curated last year's Meltdown Festival here – and if the place ever needed a house band, they could do far worse than Thompson's current unit, whose members seem able to turn their hands to just about any style, in any metre required.

Tonight's show is in two halves, the first dedicated to playing almost all of the recent Dream Attic album in sequence and the second given over to a selection of the guitarist's greatest hits. "With a small 'h'," he emphasises, chart success not having overly troubled this troubadour during his four-decade-plus career; though it's more the way that Thompson's songs hit you that matters, rather than their sales. As a songwriter, he has a way of sketching scenes and analysing motives that cuts to the quick, while his guitar playing punches the message home with a further perfectly co-ordinated flurry of darts.

The first targets to hit the canvas tonight are our brave financiers, skewered in the mordant "The Money Shuffle". Thompson bites off the lines with bitter relish, before executing a typically pungent guitar break over sax and violin riffing so furious that Joel Zifkin's bow, by the song's conclusion, is trailing wayward strands like a failing comb-over.

Thompson is an extraordinary guitar player, probably the best this country has produced, an utterly sui generis talent whose style is rooted not in standard blues clichés but in the wealth of influences coursing through the British Isles.

The show seems to float towards its conclusion. "Wall of Death" and the redoubtable singalong "Tear-Stained Letter" leaves the audience begging for more from our most recent, and most deserving, OBE.

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