WITH his trademark beret and red stratocaster in place, Richard Thompson cuts a revolutionary dash as he strides onto the Philharmonic stage with his trimmed- down three-piece band.
It’s a good look and one which sums up the 63-year-old’s status among the immortals of British folk music.
As part of Fairport Convention, Thompson reinvented the genre with the classic 1969 album Liege and Leaf, adding electric guitars to traditional songs like Tam Lin and Matty Groves, and virtually creating British folk rock in the process.
Now, 23 albums since he left the Fairports, and as the title of his LP Electric suggests, Thompson has plugged his guitar in and is ready to make some noise.
The results were surprising: Thompson spitting out riff after riff with seasoned band mates, bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome providing a suitably energetic backing. Stuck on the Treadmill and Hard Times even go as far as inventing another Thompson-derived genre: folk-funk.
Such was the skill of Thompson’s superb guitar playing, the devoted audience were quite happy to be carried along on the wave of this new direction.
With his desire to rock sated, Thompson began revisiting his back catalogue to glorious effect – 1982’s classic Wall of Death was belted out by singer and audience while 1994’s beautiful Beeswing featured some astonishing finger picking and one of Thompson’s finest lyrics: “She was a rare thing / fine as a bee’s wing”.
New song Salford Sunday saw the bearded frontman recalling a youthful unrequited love affair with nostalgic sorrow. It was a stunning moment and provoked a huge ovation to which Thompson remarked: “You’re not supposed to cheer a song about Manchester”.
The eclecticism continued as Thompson dipped his toe in all manner of genres from blues to folk-rock, jazz to country.
Occasionally it all got a little too much muso friendly with Thompson happy to indulge the odd bass solo from the gurning Prodaniuk or some admittedly dexterous cymbal work from Jerome.
Proclaiming the 1980s as his best decade while dismissing the 70s as his worst was a strange self-assessment of Thompson’s career curve but perhaps explained the lack of any longed-for Fairport material.
Still, his treasure chest contains more than enough gems and when they were spent there was always a cover or two.
An encore homage to the original rock power trio Cream came in the shape of Jack Bruce’s classic White Room as Thompson wah-wahed his way back into form in exhilarating fashion.