This is a resplendent 3-CD+2-DVD set that presents two companion concerts from the Richard Thompson Band’s European tour in the depths of winter 1983/84 – these being at Hamburg on 10th December 1983 and at MIDEM, Cannes some six weeks later on 26th January 1984. The set-lists are built around RT’s then-latest album release, Hand Of Kindness, with all of its tracks bar the gorgeous Devonside (and Where The Wind Don’t Whine, which only appeared on the cd version of the album) being showcased at these gigs. The sets also contained four songs from the epic final Richard & Linda album Shoot Out The Lights, the jolly Albion-esque dance instrumental Amarylus, and two wildcard covers (the delta blues stomper Alberta – notably covered by Clapton – and the Glenn Miller chestnut Pennsylvania 6-5000). The set-list (and indeed, the actual running order) is identical on both concerts, right through to item 14 (Two Left Feet), following which the Hamburg gig gives us something of an encore sequence in the form of six more tracks (including an additional Shoot Out The Lights number, Back Street Slide, followed by a rip-roaring Danny Boy and three storming rock’n’roll covers). The pair of DVDs are simply a visual record of the two gigs, with running times of 116 and 73 minutes respectively (the first two of the three audio CDs present the Hamburg gig, the third gives us Cannes).
The Hamburg date in particular certainly finds the RT Band on cracking form. Yeah, this band could really rock! Though interestingly, on that occasion it wasn’t quite the same lineup that had appeared on the actual LP, for accordionist Alan Dunn had had to take John Kirkpatrick’s place on the tour alongside Messrs. Nicol, Pegg and Mattacks and sax-honking Petes Thomas and Zorn (John K being busy with other commitments at the time). As far as the set-list is concerned, I was a touch surprised to find RT opening with the ska-rhythm of The Wrong Heartbeat, which isn’t really typical, but it’s fierily dispatched for sure, and things soon get going in style with the frantic piledriving charge of Tear Stained Letter (at a mere 6:53 not yet the mighty juggernaut it was later to develop into). The energy level never lets up, though – not even at the more sedate brooding pace of Night Comes In (which clocks in at a mere 11 minutes here). The savage fire in Shoot Out The Lights is noteworthy too. I could quibble about odd matters such as Both Ends Burning following so closely on the heels of the musically rather similar Back Street Slide; but, curios and wildcards notwithstanding, it’s still one of those shows that you feel could’ve gone on for ever… The sheer raw energy of the gig is tangible.
By the time of the Cannes date, the rhythm section had been replaced by a young Rory McFarlane on bass (at that point just making his debut with Richard’s band) and Gerry Conway on drums. This circumstance aside, it’s instructive to compare this with the Hamburg date. Cannes sounds altogether better balanced, with Richard’s guitar especially well focused and possessing much more presence. The actual performances also come across as more obviously polished at times, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some of the audience reactions feel slightly stilted and self-conscious compared to the more spontaneous atmosphere of the Hamburg date.
As regards the presentation of this release, the package housing is nice and sturdy, library-case-style, but the accompanying booklet is let down by some careless and (to my mind) wholly avoidable typos – for instance, Gerry Conway is listed as Gary, and How I Wanted To as How I Wanted You. You’ll doubtless discover more…
Finally, given the quality and success of both gigs, it’s strange that Richard Thompson never played Rockpalast again after these dates (at least, “no further invitations occurred”, says the cryptic, or else awkwardly translated, liner note), so these recordings can definitely be considered a valuable record.
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