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RICHARD THOMPSON’S 70TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION - Royal Albert Hall, London - 30 September 2019

It’s exactly 50 years since Liege & Lief cemented Richard Thompson and the rest of Fairport Convention’s place in folk music. Naturally, folk was well represented at the all-star gathering to mark his seventieth year. In the course of the three-and-a-half-hour gig, Britain’s most famous folkies shared the stage with rock stars from the ridiculous to the sublime.

It was standing room only (and precious little of that) as we waited for the concert to start. The stage was impeccably lit and dressed in an appropriately no-frills functionality. As we were invited to welcome The Richard Thompson Trio, five people walked on; “The trio’s getting bigger,” quipped Richard. After one song, our MC for the night, Jack Thompson, welcomed us to an “evening of music, memories and nepotism”. Sure enough, in the course of the evening, Teddy and Kami joined their dad; and a whoop of delight echoed through the edifice when Kami said, “Let’s complete the set: come on, Mum.”

Before that, though, Richard put together what he described as “a proto Fairport” to play Blues In The Bottle; it should have been Richard, Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol, but Simon, holidaying on a Greek island, had been “Thomas Cooked” (Richard inventing new rhyming slang!) and Blair Dunlop, here and throughout the evening, did a sterling job of standing in for one of Richard’s oldest friends.

Before Fairport, however, Richard was in a school band; he brought on another member as his first guest – Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers - for three songs including Tobacco Road and Peaches. He took his story all the way up to the first Fairport album before abandoning chronology. With impeccable precision, guest followed guest, always ready to play as soon as Jack’s intro was finished: Dave Mattacks was first; then came Dave Pegg to sing a delicate version of Down Where The Drunkards Roll. Usually guests did two songs, one of their own and one which was either an RT cover or a traditional song. In sequence: Kate Rusby with Damien O’Kane, Danny Thompson & Alastair Anderson (who kept popping up unannounced, finally getting his own spot accompanying Beeswing at the start of part II); Marc Ellington; Martin Carthy; Marry Waterson (Fine Horseman, accompanied, as was her mother Lal’s original, by Martin and RT on acoustic guitars); Eliza Carthy (solo, a cappella Great Valerio); Christine Collister; Olivia Chaney (Who Knows Where The Time Goes with RT, Ashley, DM and Blair); Maddy Prior (including Grey Funnel Line with Richard and Teddy on harmony vocals); and Loudon Wainwright (Swimming Song and Bright Lights Tonight).
Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmore was the last guest, with a spell-binding version of Dimming Of The Day.

The inevitable tour ensemble encore – Meet On The Ledge – was greeted with an audible whisper of “Simon’s made it” around the room. (Later he told the tale of days hoping for a plane, getting his name on a list for the day of the gig, discovering the flight was now going to Manchester, just catching the London train, taxi to the Albert Hall.) Like so many RT fans, friends, family and fellow travellers, he just had to be there.

Nigel Schofield