Malcolm Guite reports on The Richard Thompson Band – Corn Exchange, 25 Oct 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Richard Thompson was in staggeringly good form when he took control of the Corn Exchange at the end of October. From the moment he bounded on stage he had exuberance written all over him.

Riding high on the success of Sweet Warrior, one of his best albums in years, and at the head of a brilliant band who played as one, he had every reason to smile. But rarely has such an apparently happy man expressed such sorrow so well. It was a great set, but also a harrowing one: Dad's Gonna Kill Me, a standout track from Sweet Warrior, took us to the streets of Baghdad, with a soldier's story that has no happy ending. Thompson once told us 'there's nothing at the end of the rainbow', in Dad's Gonna Kill Me there's just no rainbow at all. Except, of course, for the music.

And that was the paradox we experienced all night; Thompson touches us where it hurts and deals with some of the darkest things in life; broken hearts (Needle And Thread), a dysfunctional lover (Bad Monkey) missed opportunities and might-have beens (Take Care The Road You Choose), suicidal terrorism (Guns Are The Tongues) and maybe worst of all, the damage we do to our children in spite of ourselves (Hard On Me) and yet the worse it gets, the stronger the music and the poetry become. It's as though Thompson's bleak head always summons something supportive, sustaining and healing in his musical heart. Hard On Me was a case in point. The heavy riff in that song comes down like a patriarchal beating on the back of a child, and Thompson's guitar squeals and splutters a painful response each time, but each time out of the bent notes come flurries of beautiful, defiant melody, the lyrics are full of darkness the supporting music is shot through with light; a great combination.

I have sometimes felt that Thompson is so awesomely good a guitarist that he can distract us from his own songs. There is so much going on, and you're wondering how he does it, that you miss the lyrical moment, like seeing a simple picture in an over-elaborate frame. But not at this gig. All night music and lyrics were striking sparks and insights from one another. Al Bowley's In Heaven said more than anything I subsequently heard on Armistice Day, and Tear-stained Letter, the last of three great encores, summed it all up; private sorrow redeemed by gloriously public rock'n'roll.

Cambridge set list:
Needle and Thread
Bad Monkey
Take Care The Road You Choose
Dad's Gonna Kill Me
I Still Dream
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
Al Bowlly's in Heaven
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
One Door Opens
I'll Never Give It Up
Hard on me
Mingulay Boat Song
A Man in Need
Guns Are The Tongues
A Bone Through Her Nose
Wall of Death
Read About Love

Sunset Song
Mr. Stupid
Tear Stained Letter

Writer: Malcolm Guite