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Richard Thompson

It's been at least a couple of years since Richard Thompson last toured the UK and tonight he returned in full throttle with his 'Electric' trio, featuring Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums. There was an almost tangible buzz circulating the City Hall in Sheffield tonight in anticipation of the return of a musician that really does deserve the 'national treasure' tag, with a large gathering of friends and fans congregating in the theatre bar. From the blue skies of LA to the tail end of a typical British winter, this seasoned musician returned to the north of England with a brand new album and a brand new touring band eager to demonstrate the fruits of their recent labours, easing in the new material together with one or two familiar songs from a now almost legendary and prolific repertoire.

The stage was set with a cluster of guitar stands surrounding a raised drum kit all seemingly huddled together centre stage as tonight's support act Texan singer/songwriter Robert Ellis warmed the audience up with a handful of self-penned songs, with a discernible country twang in both his speaking and singing voice. Just the mention of Lefty Frizzell and George Jones and we instantly knew which musical territory we were in.
 
After a short break the former Fairport Convention guitarist led his trio out to receive a warm Sheffield reception, launching immediately into Stuck on a Treadmill from his new record ELECTRIC. With customary black shirt and matching beret, the guitarist aimed to deliver a handful of new songs immediately, including Sally B and Salford Sunday before "getting to the classics you've all come for". Connecting with the audience on an entirely different level, Thompson joked about everything from glam rock, pub rock and prog rock, even threatening to play a Sweet hit next, but fortunately choosing the much more conducive For Shame of Doing Wrong, originally from Richard and Linda's Pour Down Like Silver period, bringing a taste of 1970s folk rock back to Sheffield.
 
The Irvin Mitchell Oval Hall has played host to an almost endless list of high profile performers over the decades from artists covering almost all genres of music, but tonight there seemed to be a strong sense that this historic City Hall was the ideal venue for Thompson's new band, Thompson himself vaguely recalling playing here in the late 1960s with his former pioneering folk rock outfit. Returning to the new material, the band performed a stunning version of My Enemy, probably the stand out song from the new album, before treating the audience to a show-stopping performance of Hard On Me, featuring probably the most blistering guitar solo of the night. 
 
For those chomping at the bit for an acoustic number, their moment came just seven songs in with Thompson swapping guitars in order to perform the acoustic Easy There, Steady Now, the intro featuring a snippet of Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Swans before the band drifted into Jazz territory with a pretty laid back Al Bowlley's in Heaven. Thompson returned to the acoustic guitar later in the show, which prompted the call of 'Judas' from the audience to which a broad-grinned Thompson playfully responded "fair enough" with a shrug. This time the band vacated the stage allowing their frontman to perform a couple of solo crowd pleasers, Vincent Black Lightning and the old Fairport classic Genesis Hall, but not before the audience made several suggestions ranging from Beeswing to Freebird. "Who's that by again?" enquired the guitarist. "Lynyrd Skynyrd" came the reply. "Oh, if they didn't play Hitching Folk Club I probably missed 'em" responded Thompson.

"It's fun being a power trio" remarked Thompson before taking the term literally, launching into a pretty incendiary take on Hey Joe, with full-on Hendrix solo, venturing perilously close to the most dusty end of the guitar neck. The power trio theme continued into a grungy Puff the Magic Dragon, which was fortunately brought to an abrupt end before the first chorus was through.
 
I sincerely doubt that anyone came away from tonight's concert disappointed, even those craving their biennial dose of Beeswing. With outstanding musicianship from all three musicians, the concert concluded with Stony Ground the song that opens the new album, before the band returned for the final encore of Tear Stained Letter.
  
Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky