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Richard Thompson - 1000 Years of Popular Music (2006 DVD version)

I really thought I was going to go a whole month without buying music, but here I am. Yesterday I got two DVDs: 1000 Years of Popular Music by Richard Thompson and Pulse by Pink Floyd *). I haven't watched the Floyd DVD yet, partly because I think it'd be a crime to watch it on a tiny laptop screen and partly because it's very long and I want to watch it from beginnning to end at least once, but I have seen the Thompson one. It's great!

1000 Years of Popular Music was previously released as a mail-order only single CD recorded live in 2002. This new version is based on a new concert, with a new setlist and a new line-up of musicians. If you already have the original, there's still plenty that's new on this version. But for the most part, what makes it worth buying is being able to see Thompson, singer Judith Owen and drummer Debra Dobkin tear through some of the classic songs from the Middle Ages onwards. Especially the money shots — by which of course I mean the close-ups of Thompson picking his guitar and fingering the chords. Oh, and the interview and between-song banter from Thompson.
Musically it's all very strong stuff. Lovely guitar work, great vocal support from Owen in particular. Thompson's own voice may be limited but he uses it to great effect and he sings these songs better, overall, than he did on the first version of the album. I did think that the three-part harmonies in some of the songs (especially the madrigal "O Sleep Fond Fancy") didn't work too well, with Dobkin's voice in particular not quite gelling. She did fit in on the more rock-oriented songs towards the end though.

There's something odd about Dobkin's drum kit setup, by the way. She uses a left-handed kit, but has the bass drum where you'd expect the floor tom to be, positioned horizontally to be hit with a stick instead of placed vertically on the floor to be kicked with a pedal. This is a bit of a handicap when providing the driving rhythms for songs like the Easybeats' "Friday On My Mind"; Dobkin simply has one appendage less than other rock drummers (well, most of them) to play the rhythm with, and as a result, the beats occasionally sound a bit strange to my ears. "Friday On My Mind" still sounds blistering, though, thanks to Thompson's rhythm guitar skills.

Dobkin is also the only rock musician whose online biography was written by Cicero. How's that for credibility with the intellectual elites?

While I enjoyed Judith Owen's vocals on this and other Richard Thompson albums (Adam, by the way, insists that she is miscast for the Gilbert and Sullivan number "There Is Beauty In The Bellow of The Blast" but I've grown quite fond of her interpretation), her stage presence gets a bit irritating here and there. I think the problem is that she's used to being a solo performer - her arm movements and facial expressions would work in the sort of show where the attention is on her anyway, but are distracting when someone else is supposed to be the star of the show. Thompson himself, of course, is not a very animated performer, so Owen's movements become extra distracting in this particular combination.

One nice thing about the DVD is that the first printing comes with two extra audio CDs containing the full concert, albeit without Thompson's banter. This is really convenient if you want to just have the tracks in your MP3 player or don't have a DVD player handy. I wish more DVD releases had this extra feature.

*) Links go to Amazon UK. Readers in the US may want to use their local Amazon store.


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