GREAT BRITAIN'S AMBASSADOR OF TALENT: RICHARD THOMPSON AT PHOENIX HILL

By Tim Roberts

I've been sent to America by Prime Minister Tony Blair as a Roving Ambassador of British Culture," said Scottish singer/songwriter Richard Thompson. "along with Benny Hill and Mr. Bean."

That was only one of the high moments Thompson had during his hour-and-a-half solo performance in front of a large, appreciative audience at the Phoenix Hill Tavern on July 12. Alone with his guitar, Thompson played many of his most famous songs to an audience that was mesmerized by every word and sound that came from the stage. These folks were devout fans who laughed with him, stayed still and quiet while he sang, and simply gave him room to perform.

Based on the turnout, his fan base is strong in Louisville, but his work receives airplay only on WFPK FM 91.9. He apparently knows about his status as a minor star in the US and joked about it. "I've got a bet with Celine Dion that my next album is going to outsell hers."

Thompson alternated his songs between the slow and soft including the sensuous "Ghost of You" and "Hide it Away," which comes from his most recent release You? Me? Us? - and the brighter, witty ones like "Two Left Feet" and "Hamlet," which boils the famous play down to a three-minute summary. His guitar technique features dead-on tight, highly melodic picking. Every note counts in a Richard Thompson song.

A few times throughout his set, Thompson would get one verse or just a few bars into a song and abruptly forget it. He would apologize and someone in the audience would prompt him for the next line. He laughed easily as his forgetfulness, which did not spoil the performance. Thompson's excuse? "That's what happens when you have so many classics." That charm and talent won him two encores and a standing ovation.

Paul K opened the show, and the audience was just as attentive for him. He performed many selections from his list of songs, some of them from his recent release A Wilderness of Mirrors, reviewed in the LMN last month. One of them, "Imperial Statues," was greeted with warm applause when he began playing it. He showed a more romantic side of his capabilities when he closed his set with the Hoagy Carmichael standard "Stardust."