In these days of Record Company panic over future revenues, one customer base can always be relied on – ‘fifty quid bloke’. This is the forty or fifty something male with money to burn who reads Mojo, and buys CDs by the shed-load. Sensing a cash cow, the companies sure know how to milk it. Fairport Convention’s Liege And Lief has just been reissued in a ‘deluxe’ double CD version with various session tracks and demos. This is a mere three years since it was last out in a remastered version with bonus tracks. There will be folk who have bought the album four times now – each edition having more than its predecessor to entice owners to upgrade. Another favourite ploy is to start dusting off loads of old live sets. So, rant over, we come to the latest Richard Thompson set – a 32 year old recording of shows recorded in Oxford, Swindon and Norwich on the 1975 tour with his then wife Linda. Is there any point in buying it? Well, yes actually.
The Thompsons were joined on the tour by a rhythm section of Daves Pegg and Mattacks and John Kirkpatrick on accordion and concertina. The recordings are superbly mastered and of soundboard quality and are structured to give the illusion of a single show from opening to encores. The majority of the songs are taken from I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Hokey Pokey and Pour Down like Silver, but there is also a medley of Morris tunes, an old Fairport classic and some fun covers.
First the down points. The Morris medley is pretty lumpen, and seems twice as long as its 5’20” duration. Also, there are times when you really wish that Kirkpatrick would nip off for a fag break, go for a pint, or even bugger off home. The accordion and concertina add colour to some of the songs, but on others they’re an irritant and just get in the way. They are minor points. Some of the performances here are stunning. Linda Thompson always sounded more like a country singer singing English folk than a dyed in the wool folkie, and this is one of her great strengths. She is amazing on “A Heart Needs A Home”, Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me” and the Fairport staple “Now Be Thankful”.
The core three tracks, though, are “Night Comes In”, “For Shame Of Doing Wrong” and (especially) “Calvary Cross” – together they have a running time of something like 33 minutes! Richard Thompson is not just one of the best songwriters that these islands have produced, but one of the greatest guitarists alive. These three tracks show why. Flash isn’t a word in his vocabulary. The playing is subtle, emotional, but with a breadth and depth simply beyond most players. “Calvary Cross” is simply stunning and worth the CD price on its own. This trio may dominate the CD, but the “Morris Medley” aside, there isn’t a weak track on this set. I’ve never been a massive fan of live albums – more often than not the tracks are inferior to their studio counterparts, and add little. I could count the live albums that I listen to regularly on the fingers of one hand. I think this set may mean that I require an extra finger.