Teddy Thompson and David Ford - Holmfirth Picturedrome
An indecently tasty two-fer. David Ford, equipped with his solid gold song bag and a live presence defined by intensity and charm, slips the good people of Holmfirth in his bag pocket from the off. His ramshackle one man band is as diverting as ever and the methodology – start a song on guitar, record, loop, move on to next instrument and repeat – builds a sound collage as effective as any live band. Whether he’s simply strumming the acoustic, sat at the piano or employing the full effects of this multiple layering, Ford invigorates. His love songs come pre-bruised; mess with his tender heart at your peril. I still melt for the bit in ‘Song for the Road’ where he sings: “And while poets try to engineer definitions of love / Oh you know that all I can think of is you.”
He pulls rarities and oddities from the back catalogue after accusations of playing the same songs every night. He mixes self-deprecation and laser-guided piss-taking in equal measure. “I’m David Ford and I’ll be your warm-up man,” he announces. “Here to give you a musical hug on this cold, cold night … let’s just make sure I don’t give you a musical squeeze of the arse.” He plays ‘She’s Not the One’, the world’s only love song written about Margaret Thatcher. Towards the end of a scabrous ‘State of the Nation’, he ups the ante and ends up stood on his piano stool, playing it with his feet. His epic call to arms and hearts is as prescient in the current chilled climate as it ever was. “Watch your step by the crowd of fanatics / While they kill in the name of applied mathematics” indeed.
Teddy Thompson takes to the stage with just an acoustic guitar (take note, musos, he plays the same one all night), the stage freed of Ford’s mad professor clutter. No band. Previous gigs have featured his crack three piece so the prospect of an unaccompanied performance raises eyebrows and lowers hopes, it has to be said. An hour and a half later, all worries are forgotten. In town as part of a UK tour to support new album Bella, gradually emerging as a career best, Thompson’s performance is brave and winning.
“Whoa. Good evening. There’s quite a few of you ...” If Thompson is surprised by the turnout, this lovely old theatre attracting a good four or five hundred out of t’hills (despite earlier gigs locally, in both Manchester and Bury – what a trooper), he wastes little time in getting them onside. He jokes about his record sales (“That was a track from my album A Little Bit of What You Need, which turned out to be a little bit of what most people didn’t need.”) and pokes gentle fun at the locale and the weather (“Make sure that we play the Peak District in February – that’s all I asked.”) The audience, partisan and in good voice, is captured early.
I’ve dabbled with joining team Thompson so many times over the past few years but young pretenders (Fretwell, yer man Ford) and reinvigorated vets (Diamond, Springsteen) shouted just that little bit louder. Time to atone. Bella, even at this stage, is heading for a lofty perch on the year end lists. It marries a genuine feel for the country roots that fire its creator with a deftly orchestrated line in Orbison-influenced soul. We get more of the former tonight and, even though he dares to leave out single ‘Looking For a Girl’, the likes of ‘I Feel’ and ‘Tell Me What You Want’ reveal sharper edges and deeper hollows in their stripped down versions. The opening ‘Delilah’ is an apposite lesson in how to grab the componentry of a country love song and fashion a result so far from cliché and yet so undeniably close to the heart of the genre. Solo performance tests these songs to the hilt and they respond with verve and wit and colour.
Of course, cast into such sharp relief, the voice is a marvel, the smoothest cowboy tenor, urbane but iron-clad. It hits the mark over and over. With songs so rich and yet, weirdly, largely free of obvious hooks, Thompson forestalls mid-set slump with a smart editing of his back catalogue. He brings Ford back on to join him in “a new song”, eventually heeds calls for a fiery ‘Separate Ways’ and steps out for a thunderous encore of ABBA’s ‘Super Trooper’. If there was ever a song that detailed the narrow divide between the groundhog day drudgery of the road and the adrenaline injection of the spotlights … While most get it, some grin too much, indicating that, yeah, they get the joke. But it’s no joke. Benny and Bjorn were too savvy for mere piss-taking and Thompson is far too canny to sour a performance so heroic with cheap laughs. It’s when he strokes the song’s sharpest edge – “But I won’t feel blue / Like I always do …” – that you see just how well an apparently upbeat karaoke track fits so well into the Teddy Thompson songbook. That thin line between laughter and tears is writ large tonight. As he leaves the stage, he bows and pats his heart, moved and humbled by the response. He jokes about how he nearly didn’t bother with an encore, was going to just run for the car. Yeah, right. Don’t be cruel and don’t be cool, Teddy. You know we love you, too.