Meeting up with Teddy Thompson backstage at King’s Place, he seems keen to down play expectations for the evening’s entertainment, “It’s not going to be a slick rock ‘n’ roll show for sure,” he tells me. Part of the difficulty of the Thompson Family project is that the various family members are all so busy. As Teddy explains, “Everybody’s schedules have made it really difficult to book these shows. It was either going to be now or a year from now, because everyone, especially my dad, has so many other things going on.”
Two nights in Hall1 at Kings Place have none the less been booked and by all accounts sold out. Indeed when the extended family band take the stage they take a moment or two looking around the room, as even the seats on the balcony behind the stage are full, provoking both surprise and delight amongst the various musicians, while the audience offers a warm greeting.
In our conversations pre-show Teddy has explained the difficulty of pulling everyone together for rehearsal, simply because of geography. The same was true of the album, as he says, “I suppose a lot of people will expect us to have all been in one studio together, but that simply wasn’t possible. With everyone in different places, we had to get the basics recorded locally and then add stuff in various different studios. In the end the challenge was to weave it all together.” He admits, “I suppose it’s a perfect allegory for our family dynamic.”
The same has been true of their preparation for the night, with travelling and other commitments limiting their time together. As Teddy explains, however, “A lot of stuff was sorted out via email, so we had the practical details of who was playing what on each song. Also the two sets that we’re doing mean that we’re dipping into everyone’s back catalogue, so we’ve tried to get the right balance of material to ensure that the audience get the most out of the performance.”
If he’s cautious in suggesting that, “We’re relying on the audiences good will,” he needn’t worry and both sets are greeted with great enthusiasm. Given the fact that these are people who don’t regularly share the same stage and all of the various permutations of players and instruments that make up the show, it all works amazingly well.
Richard, Kami and Teddy take the lions share of the lead vocals, although Kami’s partner James Walbourne makes the most of his duets with her and Zak Hobbs, the third generation of Thompsons, also sings a couple. The rest of the band comprises Jack Thompson on bass and James’ brother Rob on drums.
James is the most obviously versatile multi-instrumentalist, playing keys and accordion as well as acoustic and electric guitar, although Teddy also swaps to bass for a few songs. But apart from a cracking set of songs, the excellent lead guitars of Richard and James find an equal in Zak, who demonstrates both flair and imagination and is unquestionably both the surprise of the night and also suggests a natural continuation of the family tradition of musical excellence.
Although it’s probably fair to say that the majority are either here for the privilege of seeing Richard at notably closer quarters than usual, or are perhaps more simply taken by this gathering of the clan, that for so long has seemed unlikely, everyone gets their chance to shine and both Teddy and Kami are in their own way absolutely superb.
It’s Teddy’s Family that opens the show, earlier he’d revealed, “The song is deadly serious and it’s strange the reaction it gets. At first people want to laugh, and you can’t blame them, but then it takes on a different tone and people are kind of embarrassed for finding it funny. It’s a bit like Loudon Wainwright III in that way.”
It’s also a bold starting statement and although all of the musicians have appeared on stage, Teddy takes it solo, with the last verse in particular suggesting the singer has had his share of recent woes and then some.If there is any awkwardness in the audience reaction, then it’s not obvious and there’s no time to dwell on it anyway as Richard’s One Life At A Time gets the band revved up. Chances for each of the family members to take the spotlight follow on through the first set, with Kami and James delivering Breakneck Speed form the Rails album, Fair Warning next and also closing the set with Habit. There’s Richard’s crowd pleasing Down Where The Drunkards Roll and a cracking version of I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, which brings the biggest cheer, while Zak sings his contribution to the Family album Root So Bitter, and Jack also gets to play the curious, experimental instrumental on the record, At The Feet Of The Emperor.
In our chat pre-gig Teddy had talked about his own career being on hold as he simply wasn’t ready to make another record. His hope was that the Thompson Family album would re-kindle his creativity. On the evidence of his excellent Don’t Know and especially Separate Ways, it’s a wish that we should all share.
After an intermission, Jack sets a gentle pace with another bass instrumental, before a duo of Rails songs, Panic Attack Blues and the title track from Fair Warning give things a lift. There are a couple of absolute belters from Richard with Tear Stained Letter and the Family album’s angry That’s Enough, both giving plenty of scope for some baton passing guitar solos.
The encores have the room on their feet for a standing ovation, perhaps the most memorable being Teddy reprising his duet with Richard for the song Persuasion and Kami’s bittersweet I Long For Lonely, another of the Family album’s highlights. Sadly we’re not to hear from Linda on the night, the stress of live performance being too much, but Teddy’s dedication of Home to his mum was telling.
Referring back to the conversation with Teddy, he talked about knitting the family back together with this album and also the way it enabled his creativity to survive in what has clearly been a difficult time. He none the less count’s himself privileged to have had the inspiration, encouragement and support that created the opportunities he has had. On the nature / nurture debate, he thinks, “It’s a bit of both, but the latter is so important. I’ve personally been lucky, but if you could identify the music gene and trace it all around the world, there would probably be hundreds of thousands of people for whom the chance to express it simply is never an option.”
On a positive note, there are signs of light at the end of Teddy’s tunnel and he tells me, “The only way I can think of the music business is to not worry about it and to take care of my own back yard. These days you just find your own scene, make or buy the music you like and don’t worry about the bigger picture.” There are projects on the go too and he sows the seeds of temptation revealing, “I’ve just started making a record in Nashville, although it’s more of a side project with a female singer called Kelly Jones. We’ve written a bunch of duets together and Jerry Douglas is producing. Then I’m going to be producing an album for a singer from Virginia called Dory Freeman who’s just amazing. After that maybe I’ll start my own record. We’ll see.”
If Teddy needs any further encouragement, then hopefully the rousing reception tonight’s show has enjoyed will provide the spur. Despite Teddy’s caution, it’s been a triumph.
Review / Interview by: Simon Holland