Richard Thompson, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham 12.9.15

September 13th, 2015


For RT geeks, here’s an extended version of my review in the Nottingham Post, whose Kevin Cooper took the photo above.

He’s our greatest living guitarist and one of our very finest songwriters, yet it’s easy to take Richard Thompson for granted. He tours most years, puts out strong albums as frequently and never charges a fortune for tickets. Last year I travelled to Buxton, where he did a terrific solo show in support of Acoustic Classics at the intimate Opera House – it’s a long while since Nottingham got an acoustic show. Strong new album, Still, has a title that mocks this consistency. The audience arrives never knowing quite what to expect.

The first three snappy songs, All Buttoned Up, Sally B and Broken Doll act as throat clearing, then it’s into a favourite from the Richard and Linda years, the guilt ridden For Shame Of Doing Wrong, with the first solo of the evening. After a tight Hard On Me, an acoustic section begins with two from the Fairport Convention era: a lovely Genesis Hall. Then ‘um, um… oh, why not?’ and it’s a gorgeous Meet On The Ledge, a lament for lost loved ones that only becomes more poignant the older you get. And, of course, he plays the crowd’s favourite, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. It’s a great song, but I do wish he’d revisit some of the equally good ones from the ’90s, like King of Bohemia or, even better, The Ghost Of You Walks.

A lovely new Beatnik Walking and old chestnut Al Bowlly’s In Heaven bring back his electric trio. They’re augmented by guitar tech Bobby for the playful new Guitar Heroes, where RT shows off the technique of a handful of his ‘fifty or more’ heroes, like Hank Marvin and Les Paul, using just one guitar with occasional effect pedal. A terrific Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed goes into Never Gonna Give It Up. A rousing Wall of Death and an epic version of the recent When Love Whispers Your Name conclude the ninety minute main set.

This band has been together for a few years. Michael Jerome on drums can handle anything Thompson throws at him, while, with Davey Faragher on bass, he shares the same kind of rapport he had with Danny Thompson. Even so, Davey’s a little thrown by the first encore. Richard has to shout the chords. Can it be? Yes, it’s a brilliant Calvary Cross, from the breakthrough I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight. Things conclude, as they used to for many years, with 1986’s Tear Stained Letter and a second standing ovation.

Odd, I was thinking, that he didn’t play the best song on the new album, but I later discover that he has yet to do it on this tour. Anyway, the show isn’t over. Here he is with the live debut of the gorgeous album opener. She Never Could Resist A Winding Road is a companion piece to his classic Beeswing. Then, another new song I’d been hoping for, Fork In The Road, a corking, catchy rocker that only buyers of Still’s bonus Variations EP will know. The two go well together and it’s a great set closer. He’s normally finished by now, yet doesn’t leave the stage. ‘There might be more’ he says, and issues instructions to Michael and Davey. He finishes with a potent, bluesy new song, or maybe it’s an obscure cover. The title may be something like ‘Walking the floor, thinking of you’. It had a soulful, rockabilly feel but it wasn’t the Ernest Tubb song that he covered with Sandy Denny. Whatever it was, it brought a brilliant end to a three-song-encore that transformed a really good show into a great one. Come back soon.

Post script. Last night, at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, RT played the same final encore sequence (the whole show was similar, but shorter & missed both ‘Genesis Hall’ & ‘Calvary Cross). soledriver, who recorded it kindly identified the final encore: The Sorrows’ 1965 hit ‘Take A Heart’. So, below, find MP3s of the original and RT’s cover of it from last night. Great stuff.

Take A Heart (Sorrows cover) – Richard Thompson

Take a Heart – The Sorrows

She Never Could Resist A Winding Road – Richard Thompson

Fork In The Road – Richard Thompson



ALVVAYS – Rescue Rooms, September 3, 2015

September 6th, 2015

Alvvays 39 1500

‘Was that the sound of an exploding amp?’ Perky lead singer Molly Rankin asks, two numbers into the show. Thankfully, it isn’t, and the band launch into their breakthrough song, Next of Kin, with its jingle-jangle intro and incredibly catchy chorus.

This young Toronto five piece have a name that sounds Scandinavian, but Alvvays is pronounced ‘always’. Their songs sound a little Scandinavian too, a slight accent suggesting that English isn’t their first language. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Their sound is hard to pin down. Some songs are droney, a little tuneless, but full of energy. Others sound like pop classics. There are elements of bands who peaked before they were born: Belly, 10,000 Maniacs, The Sundays. Most of all, they remind me of a more recent Scottish band, Camera Obscura, especially when the set climaxes with their biggest number, Archie, Marry Me, to a rapturous reception.

The main set has eleven numbers. Seven are from their promising, self-titled debut album, a college radio number one, including a lovely Ones Who Love You and the yearning Party Police. We’re told that bassist Brian Murphy is the only remaining single member of the band. He’s nineteen, likes to cook and ‘will agree with anything you say’. Yes, Alvvays are eager to please, and Rankin is a fun front-woman, with riffs on The Trip To Jerusalem and hedgehogs.

This is their second Nottingham visit of the year and many in the crowd have followed them from the Bodega Social, including the Post’s Shaun Gordon, who took the photo above. We get four new songs that sound punchier than the first album. For the encore, best of all, is a lovely cover of Kirsty McColl’s 1985 pop classic, He’s On The Beach. A catchy portent of thing to come, perhaps, concluding a splendid 50 minute set. Catch them on the way up.

Next of Kin – Alvvays

He’s On The Beach – Kirsty MacColl

Nottingham, City of Literature

July 7th, 2015



As I’m typing this, Nottingham’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature is being electronically submitted to UNESCO UK, who, if they decide to support it, will send the bid to UNESCO’s director-general next week. On our City of Literature website we’ve published a long letter from the city’s great and good (University Vice-Chancellors, MPs, a rich array of civic and business leaders), demonstrating their support of the bid. It’s been a busy year, and a particularly hectic last few days, in which we rewrote the bid in the light of a helpful review of the initial draft from UNESCO UK. I’m proud of the the bid we’ve written, which, I believe, represents the city’s thriving literature scene and creative infrastructure in an honest, exciting way. In the process of getting the bid together, the company that we’ve formed to write the bid has started to make things happen, and has already made our literary, literacy and Creative Writing organisations more joined up, capable of even greater things.

So, tomorrow, for instance, a bunch of us meet to discuss next year’s biennial Festival of Words – I don’t want to pre-empt that discussion, but it’s likely to have an even more international flavour. And, a week on Friday, at the Council House, we formally launch the biggest project that has come from the City of Literature company so far. The These Seven stories anthology, a quarter of whose print run will be given away, and the Big City Read, where numerous groups – most of them young people – will read the anthology, meet the writers and do some writing themselves.

I’d like to thank everybody who’s helped with the bid: our Project Director, Pippa Hennessy, of course, and Matt Turpin, both of whom did far more work than they were paid for, our researcher, Jay Arnold, Paul Fillingham, Sharon Scaniglia, Sally Bowden, Jo Guy, Pat Thomson, all of the board members and working group, our student helpers Phoelyx Delany, Chris Jelfs and Ula Wronska, Danny Hahn of the Society of Authors, Bernie Corbett of the Writers’ Guild, all of our patrons, the new Lord Mayor, Jackie Morris and everybody who contributed to the review of the bid first draft. Lastly, Stephen Lowe, pictured above. Steve kicked the whole thing off at the first Festival of Words, in a Writers Guild discussion that I attended. A fine playwright and scriptwriter with a long record of voluntary public service, he’s President of Bromley House Library who funded the initial bid exploration. Despite serious illness that prevented him from chairing the bid company, a job I took on, Stephen accepted the role of being our honorary president. Last week the city honoured Stephen by naming one of our new trams after him. It was a lovely occasion and I can’t think of anybody who deserves it more. The new trams roll out any day now but can’t be used yet. Serendipitiously, however, a big crowd of us rode back into the city centre on the tram that we named on the night our bid was launched, eight long months ago. Alan Sillitoe’s tram.

I’ve named lots of people above, but want to stress that our City Of Literature bid is not the work of a small committee or some elite drawn from one section of the community. Rather, it represents a rich, diverse range of talented people, all involved in the flourishing city of literature we live in. It belongs to everybody. For that reason, presuming that UNESCO are OK with it, we plan to put the full bid and supporting letters on our website next week, for everybody to see, discuss and celebrate. If we get through the next stage, the result will be announced on December 11th.

Update: I’m pleased to report that UNESCO UK have endorsed our bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature and our bid has now been formally submitted. In the coming five months, we plan to act as though we’re already a city of literature – because, in every sense except the official accreditation, we already are – which means we’ll work at making the city’s literary scene even more joined up, promoting literacy, planning a festival and developing loads of new projects. For more information, visit our website.


Burt Bacharach – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, July 3rd 2015

July 5th, 2015

X030715KC1-2 Copyright Nottingham Post/Kevin Cooper

Burt Bacharach is a legend, with over fifty UK top forty hits. His ensemble’s performance on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage last Saturday received raves. No surprise that he drew a packed house for his first visit to Nottingham. Only question is, with over 600 songs to his name, how many could he fit in? Answer: just about all the ones you’d want to hear – excluding only his 1999 collaboration with Elvis Costello, Painted From Memory.

He enters to a standing ovation, a frail figure in the trademark that seems too big for him. He plays a single note on his piano. Each of his three singers sings a line of What The World Needs Now (is Love). Bacharach plays delicate piano with jazz progressions while leading his superb, seven piece band like a general. At 87, Burt is the oldest act I’ve ever seen, but he looks younger with every song.

Those exquisite songs, mostly with lyrics by Hal David, are a real memento mori for the sixties, when our parents were young and many of us were very young. They are best when performed by Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Karen Carpenter or, recently, Rumer. Yet, as Burt pays tribute to David and begins a medley with Don’t Make Me Over, it’s clear that tonight’s singers are great and the songs are the stars. Just when I’m starting to miss middle eights, Josie James gives us a superb, full Anyone Who Has A Heart. Burt explains that he only found out about Northern Soul recently (in a Nottingham Post interview with Kevin Cooper, whose photo is above – hope you enjoyed the show, Kevin!) and how his songs were the source of several classics. The encores will include the terrific John Pagano singing the Chuck Jackson classic Any Day Now (My Beautiful Bird). Donna Taylor does a cracking version of Etta James’ Waiting For Charlie (To Come Home).

As well as telling stories, Burt quizzes us: who had the UK hit with this song?  ‘Frankie Vaughan? He always sounded like a baseball player to me.’ ‘These Magic Moments’? Yep, Perry Como. So many hits, it must be hard to keep up, but he’s particularly proud that The Beatles recorded Baby It’s You, a personal favourite. We also get a lovely Close To You and lots of songs from movies like My Little Red Book, The Look Of Love, Arthur’s theme and so many more.

I’ve seen countless shows at the Concert Hall in its 33 years, but I have never felt so much love in the room as was there tonight. Evidently lots of people were in tears throughout, but I was mostly smiling. Towards the end, Burt sings a little himself, his voice a fragile but moving thing, especially on finale A House Is Not A Home.

Another standing ovation and he concludes the 130 minute set with a four song encore, climaxing in a sing-along of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. A pure joy.

(Footnote: the above is a slightly extended version of my review for the Nottingham Post. I had to miss out far more songs than I mentioned: There’s Always Something There To Remind Me, Windows On The World, Trains & Boats & Planes, loads more. The one song I really missed was a favourite that Dionne Warwick only sang a snatch of when I saw her here two years ago. Here’s the full version).

You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)



June 7th, 2015


Nottingham’s free monthly listings and culture magazine, Leftlion, has been unfailingly supportive of the city’s UNESCO City of Literature bid, and this month’s issue carries a long interview with me about the bid. If you live in Nottingham, you can pick up a copy all over the place, from my local greengrocer, Thompsons, through to Broadway, Five Leaves Bookshop and Rough Trade. But if you’re not, and want to read it online, click here. Oh, and, the online version has an extra question, towards the end, where I talk about the next Bone and Cane novel, due this autumn. More on that anon.

A week tonight, I’m off to see Elvis Costello for the umpteenth time over the last 35 years. Solo, for, I think, the third time. Here’s a recent appearance he made on David Letterman’s farewell series of shows, performing a medley of his own ‘Everyday I Write the Book’ and Nick Lowe’s ‘When I Write the Book.’ Wonder if we can get him to endorse the bid?

When I Write the Book & Everyday I Write the Book (Medley)

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Richard Thompson, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham 12.9.15
For RT geeks, here's an extended version of my review in the Nottingham Post, whose Kevin Cooper took the photo above. He’s our greatest living guitari...

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