Tribe readers beware! The following concert review features an evaluation of contemporary English folk music! But if you haven’t run away scared yet let me indulge you with an explanation of a fascinating musical legacy. Teddy Thompson’s performance at the Queen’s hall in Edinburgh at the start of this year was the homecoming of a particular branch of traditional music. Thompson, the son of folk legend Richard Thompson, has now made five albums with his latest effort Bella reaching the dizzying heights of 42 in the UK charts.
Folk music has now become awkwardly cool because of bands like The Mumford and Sons and The Fleet Foxes writing refreshingly melodic songs with catchy lyrics as part of well put together albums. Their music puts a young listener in touch with their roots, something that is welcomed in an increasingly alienating corporate world. However, haven’t we seen this before? In 1969 a band called Fairport Convention rewrote the rules of traditional music and defined the “Folk Revival” of their age with their classic album Liege and Leaf. One of the key figures in that band was guitarist Richard Thompson (named the 19th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.) Now his son, Teddy, is making albums of his own and surely there is no better time than now, with Folk in fashion, for him to emulate his famous father.
His new album Bella however does not draw upon English folk music as much as purists might hope. As can be heard from Teddy’s first prominent album Separate Ways and his UK top 10 hit album A Piece of What You Need, he is influenced much more obviously by the roots music of his adopted home the U.S. This was immediately clear when he took the stage in the Queen’s Hall, a converted church in the centre of Scotland’s capital. His opening acoustic solo set showed an immediate Everly Brothers influence with his songs “That’s Enough Out of You” and “Over and Over” from the new LP. As the set progressed it seemed that Teddy decided he wanted to be Roy Orbison with other new songs like “Tell Me What You Want” and “I Feel”. It appeared that living in New York for most of his life had turned him into a U.S. fifties throwback.
However, although Teddy is a great country-pop song artist, the vocal performances that define his music are undoubtedly English. By the time he had played his older songs “Separate Ways” and “The Things I Do” it was obvious that a very British sense of self-loathing was a key to his song writing process. He sang of his own faults in an honest “I really couldn’t give a shit” kind of way as if his undeniable talent was a bemusing burden to him.
In truth, the blends of musical styles that make up Teddy’s sound derive from a diverse family heritage. His Glasgow born grandfather passed on the Celtic melodies of Scotland and Ireland to his father via Jimmy Shand records. His father then moved to England where he became the guitar God of English Folk-Rock. Teddy then took this to the U.S. with his own ideas of what traditional music should like. Now he finally returns to Scotland with his version of the genre; English-Folk-Country-Twang! (Or some hyphenated thing like that.)
Nothing showed this blend more than Teddy’s encore; “Super trouper” by ABBA and Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight’s Will Be Fine”. Two more opposing songs you could not find but they came together beautifully through Teddy’s “folky” delivery. Does this in fact prove that Folk is at the root of all music? Quite possibly.