Simple yet impressively effective, Teddy Thompson delights at the Masque Theatre, Getintothis‘ Tom George captures the action.
Living as we do in the era of high profile unit-shifters like Mumford and Sons (‘the Coldplay of folk’ as a friend of mine described them the other day), it’s good to see an acoustic-based artist that, despite his good looks, isn’t appearing in that many hysteria columns.
I suppose you could say that means he isn’t that successful, not a ‘star’, but then, roots music isn’t really about that.
Teddy Thompson is a country influenced folk-rock songwriter who has just released his fourth album. Cutting his teeth through the nineties with his dad’s band (the folk-rock icon Richard Thompson), he has also recorded and toured with Rufus and Martha Wainwright.
Appearing with a four-piece band tonight, Thompson, playing acoustic and electric guitars, played several tunes from the new album, Bella. And after some initial irksome squeaks of feedback were ironed out he relaxed into a confident and informal performer.
An early highlight was Over And Over, a hypnotic number with a minor-key feel redolent of Rufus Wainwright. This tune morphed into an Arabic-flavoured instrumental with improvising from a female violinist.
Overwhelmingly however, the shining virtue of Thompson’s music is it’s simplicity. Tunes such as Everybody Move It and In My Arms don’t push with false drama, they just roll along, with melodies that are strong but not self-important.
Thompson’s voice has a rich mid-range timbre with a bit of a yelp at the top end.
It’s not an expansive vocal style – it says more by saying less, as the music swells behind it – it’s something like the sound of someone keeping themselves together against the odds, while letting their lyrics tell the (often heartbreaking) story. It’s an approach straight out of Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakham and all of those guys – the bootlace tie troubadours.
By contrast, Mumford and Sons, Newton Faulkner, Laura Marling etc. all have an attention-seeking vanity in their voices that has nothing to do with telling a story. They are not roots artists, as Thompson is. They are acoustic indie acts (in the new meaningless sense of indie), and are marketed accordingly.
It has to be said that Teddy Thompson is by no means as remarkable an artist as his father. When he takes lead guitar breaks there are no thrills to be had, it’s a simplified, stunted version of dad’s cut-chrystal modulations. But one thing he has clearly inherited is a knack for pithy lyrics, such as: ‘I’m looking for a girl who’s good in bed/but knows when it’s time to knock it on the head‘ – Looking For A Girl
In general, Teddy is cooking with simple ingredients, but the music he makes is nutricious because it doesn’t reek of self-conscious originality like that of so many acoustic artists (and indie/rock artists for that matter). He works in a tradition. His songs are just new combinations of timeless musical DNA, and they ring out clear and true.
After the band leave the stage, Thompson returns alone for an encore. His voice on Home, a song he dedicates to his mother, is as affecting as Ron Sexsmith. And then the other musicians return to join him for – and how about this for a curveball – a cover of Abba‘s Super Trooper! – with extra choruses for unison singing.
Sure, he may like to keep things simple, but Teddy Thompson is no musical puritan.
Pictures Sakura Zilla.