Getting baptised by your daddy

IMG_1765Live music is a wondrous thing, no?

You think you know a record, you have it neatly bundled up and categorised, you no longer spend a lot of time considering it, and then the hum of a cannily-plucked bass string, a clever little guitar run, or the expression on a player’s face as he does his thing… All of a sudden, all bets are off, and you’re somewhere you didn’t expect to be.

Ryley Walker & Danny Thompson, The Bullingdon

The fact that I was going at all was the subject of the odd eye-roll and raised eyebrow amongst my friends, as I’ve been somewhat luke-warm about Walker’s debut Primrose Green, a record that’s had usually-composed punters losing their cool. I do like it, but I can’t help hearing each track and saying to myself “This is him doing Tim Buckley. This one’s his Nick Drake song…” (This, of course, is not something you hear me say when the latest White Fence or Allah-Lahs record appears, oh no – consistency, pah!)

The truly massive figure of the great Danny Thompson clearly doesn’t have any authenticity issues, though, agreeing as he has to go on tour with Walker. And if that wasn’t reason enough to hoover up one of the last tickets at The Bullingdon, well…

I’d missed my chance to see the pair the night before at Bristol’s venerable old St George’s (also something of an
experience, I gather), so a maiden trip to Oxford’s number one venue was called for. It’s a decent enough spot too, although it was a little disconcerting to see it almost empty when we arrived just before the support act was due on.

IMG_1757We needn’t have worried. As soon as Meg Baird had finished her earnest (if flagging) set, a swell of old lags of Severn Bore proportions surged across the hall, and suddenly the room was abuzz with expectation. They were on pretty quickly after and once the introductions were over (“This is Danny Thompson, he’s just getting his start, so I thought it’d be nice to bring him along…”, followed by “I could’ve been at home watching ‘Flog it!’”), we were off.

It’s probably stating the bleedin’ obvious but Walker’s a helluva guitarist and almost immediately his impossibly deft guitar runs were filling the hall and mesmerizing a knowing but expectant audience. I cannot imagine how much you need to practice to be able to skip your way around a fret board as lightly and faultlessly as he does – I suspect no amount of practice supplants the sheer instinctive ability to articulate an idea in music. He was quite good.

Actually, I had to remind myself to switch my attention to the guitarist after about fifteen minutes once I realised that the equally nimble fingers and intense expressions of Danny Thompson had monopolised my attention almost entirely up until then. (Walker referred to him as “Mr Thompson” or “Sir”, so I guess maybe I should too…) His own description of his style (in this interview I read this morning) as being someone who just plays intricate bass solos is characteristically modest but was spot on for the evening. He scampered up and down the bass for intense seconds of activity then stopped and listened, looking for the next space, like some sort of woodland animal. He was massively captivating and yet never at any point hogged the stage. A dream to play with I’d imagine… (It’s perhaps worth
pointing out at this stage that his huge list of credits include being a founding member of Pentangle and playing on Five Leaves Left; Solid Air & Bless the Weather; Folk, Blues and Beyond and Dream Letter, not to mention Cliff’s “Congratulations” and also the Thunderbirds theme tune. What a guy.)

IMG_1769The pair of them showed a terrific understanding and a sensitivity to each other’s direction, which belied the fact that they can only have been playing together a matter of weeks. They ran through a number of songs unfamiliar to me which sounded fresh and above all original (making a mockery of all my prejudices), before finishing with two songs from Primrose Green. The evening ended (too soon) with an encore that included a dazzling “On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee” and a beautiful new song that according to the setlist doesn’t yet have a name. Neither man bothered to leave the stage for the encore which I kind of like, and as the seventy-six-year-old (Mr) Thompson pointed out “when we go off, we’re hunting crumpet!”

Here are some of the highlights of a great, great evening.

Funny Thing She Said

On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee

“New”

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