Comment | Facebook Live Stream | by Allan Wilkinson
When the world is in virtual lockdown, with a deadly virus on the rampage and everyone is doing their very best to contain it, strange things begin to happen all around us. Festivals, concerts and gigs are forced into a Plan B situation where a Plan B doesn’t actually exist. Dates are cancelled or postponed wholesale and many artists, just like the rest of us, endeavour to make things appear as normal as possible, an almost impossible task under the circumstances. Tonight, the noted British singer, songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson invited an unprecedented number of fans into his home in New Jersey, via their various devices, where from his sofa, the musician delivered an intimate acoustic concert.
The former Fairport Convention guitarist, dressed in a black leather jacket and trademark beret, awkwardly reached for his guitar, then awkwardly reached out to his audience, an audience he could neither see nor hear. “I can’t see you, I can’t hear you, but I feel your warmth” he began. “Oh no I’m mistaken, that’s my electrically heated underwear” the singer quipped. From this side of the screen however, as the 12,000 or so fans watched the continual scrolling of messages whizz by, there was a definite feel of community, love and empathy throughout the world.
Advertised under the heading ‘Richard Thompson Facebook Live Concert’ with the sub-heading ‘for parents and grandparents who are staying home’, the hour-long set featured a dozen songs including a couple of brand new ones “If I Could Live My Life Again” and “Soon As You Hear the Bell”, a few regulars from his recent live repertoire, “I Misunderstood” and “Oh Cinderella” and a handful of familiar classics, “Now Be Thankful”, “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” and the song often referred to as his ‘hit’, “a happy go lucky song”, “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight”.
For comic relief Richard momentarily considered a request to do the Cliff Richard hit “Congratulations”, whilst partner Zara Phillips suddenly ran a hoover under his feet midway through, giving us the unexpected opportunity to see the soles of our hero’s stocking feet as he dutifully lifted his legs. “What are you doing?” he shouted over the din, “…I’m doing a live broadcast here”. Zara, wearing a face mask, mob cap and gloves, joined Richard on the sofa, firstly to take his temperature, sticking a thermometer in his gob and then joining him on possibly the most requested and predictable song of the set, “Keep Your Distance” from his 1991 album Rumor and Sigh. Zara stuck around for the remainder of the set, which included “The Rattle Within”, “Never Could Resist a Winding Road”, “Jet Plane in a Rocking Chair” and concluding with “Bright Lights”.
Throughout the hour-long set, fans posted a continual stream of compliments, comments and song requests, reaching the 10,000 mark before the end of the set, curiously, the most oft repeated request was for Richard to move into a position where his audience could see his hands, presumably for all the hungry guitarists eagerly watching in order to fruitlessly imitate, whilst most were just happy to listen. “My head’s more important than my hands” the guitarist quipped, before talking a little about his forthcoming plans. “Who knows when my next gig will be”.
Between the songs, Richard demonstrated his characteristic wit and is generous with his memories, of going to see The Who on school nights and having to walk the fifteen miles home, of his early days with Fairport and even a brief nod towards his ex-wife Linda Thompson, “hunkered down in Los Angeles I believe, in fact we’re all hunkered down somewhere”, as well as little snippets from his extraordinary working life; “I’ve done about 5,000 gigs in my lifetime and I can’t remember any of them”, a statement which probably emphasises more than anything the extraordinary position he and so many of his peers and fellow musicians now find themselves in. Richard concluded with a plea for everyone to help their local musicians who are not in the fortunate position of being able to survive this crisis with no income to speak of.
“Well thank you all so much, see you soon, how do you switch this thing off?”