Saturday, July 13, 2013

Twelfth Night with Richard Thompson, in Kent

In mediaeval and Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival. The Lord of Misrule symbolizes the world turning upside-down. On Twelfth Night, the King and all royalty became peasants, and vice versa. (from Wikipedia).

Richard Thompson’s Electric Trio left the stage after their second encore and the house lights came up. The audience buzzed and milled around, preparing to go forth into the world, newly charged with energy and full of excitement from a rollicking show. 

All around my date and I, people chattered about what a fantastic show it was, how Richard just gets better and better every year, how versatile and talented he is, what great performers the bassist and drummer were, what a fun experience they provided. The consensus was that RT provides value far and beyond most other entertainers, and how lucky we all were for having witnessed this show tonight.

The two ushers my date Vern and I spoke with had no information on where we were to go for the VIP meet-and-greet with Richard Thompson. We remained seated and let the crowd thin. Hopefully, the room temperature would decrease and, with luck, someone who knew where we needed to go would spot our prominent VIP passes and guide us to the Promised Land where we would be transformed from commoners to Very Important People.

Eventually, we fretted that the meet-and-greet may have begun without us, so we walked to the back of the theater. Consulting once more with ushers revealed no new information and as despair began to set in, a jovial man approached. He wore shorts and athletic shoes, a tropical shirt, and sported a ball cap from beneath which a shimmery ponytail saucily protruded.  His face split into a genuine smile, and with quiet authority he instructed us to walk with him toward the stage.

Our guide turned out to be Simon Tassano, Richard’s “tour mother and front-of-house audio engineer,” as Thompson’s official site, BeesWeb, labels him. I had the sense he is RT’s right-hand man. Efficient, professional, congenial, with great attention to detail, it is perfectly understandable how their working relationship has spanned thirty years so far.

Simon directed that portable steps be brought to the edge of the stage, and helped me ascend. He pointed out the cords taped (and untaped, if there were any but I noticed none) to the stage floor so I wouldn’t trip. If there’s anything I admire, it’s a man who anticipates and avoids problems, and Simon Tassano demonstrated his skill at staving off unpleasantness. I felt wholly at ease in his hands.

Our Pied Piper parade consisted of, in order, Simon, me, Vern, and the two brothers who rounded out the lucky quartet headed to meet Mr. Thompson.
Within seconds, the five of us entered a tiny green room, stage left. Two black love seats flanked the walls, and a low coffee table filled most of the space between. 

The food had obviously suffered as much as we had from the oppressive heat inside the theater Рwilted cheese slices, limp lettuce leaves and luke-warm shaved meat sprawled on trays surrounded by two types of mustard, crudit̩, and some sliced fruit. If you refer back to how flushed my face is in the photo above, you understand that I was unable to eat due to how sick I was from the heat.

Richard entered the room silently, but the energy level exponentiated with his presence. I am keenly attuned to physical electricity, and RT’s exudes a wonderfully comforting, powerful quality. The energy exchange dynamic fascinated me. Where Thompson’s energy field seemed to soothe and perhaps even appease the three men, lowering the tone a bit, something in his aura connected differently with me.

Think of how you feel right before a thunderstorm, when the air is crackly with electricity. The temperature suddenly dips, the wind picks up, the heavens seem to scurry to get every cloud in place so the show can begin. That is how I felt when Richard entered our tiny room and made eye contact with me. I don’t know if it would have felt different had there been another female in the room, or not. I feel fortunate to have had this unique experience.

Richard is slender and athletic in build. I love the way he navigates his own space. He is lithe and smooth, sure of himself, aware of his surroundings, relaxed, balanced. He wore his trademark Balmoral bonnet with a red badge edged in a silver sunburst. His shoulders are broad, hips narrow;  his limbs are long. He has large strong hands. 

He wore a black collared shirt, a black scarf splashed with clouds of color which was loosely wrapped and draped around his neck, and black denims. On his left wrist was a heavy wristwatch. He still has plenty of color in his beard, the color tapers into salt and pepper but he is far from being categorized as a silver fox.

The six of us literally filled the room to standing-only capacity. I sat – or rather, plopped down on the love seat facing the doorway. The springs had long since given up the ghost and my knees almost met my chest, I sank so far down. Vern initially sat beside me, but it was uncomfortable (and hot – the love seat forced us to cram against each other, hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder), he soon stood up and remained standing.

Richard immediately asked if he could bring us some cold water. What a lovely experience, being served a refreshing beverage by such a genuine rare talent and musical genius! It is said that the true leader serves. Richard Thompson demonstrated his true leadership by his humble concern for our comfort. In a split instant, we became players in a Twelfth Night production where the King serves his people, and his people assume the throne.

He seemed relaxed and poised. I’m sure I babbled on – I am not one to cork up what’s on my mind, particularly in a time-compromised situation. The two brothers complimented RT and inquired how he keeps his voice in condition. He bantered about Pavarotti and some other vocal virtuosos and how they performed demanding schedules and always delivered.

Richard Thompson and I are about as different as two human beings can be -- he raised in London, me in Appalachia; he male, me female; he a musical genius and world traveler, my musical abilities extend to operating YouTube videos (poorly) and my exotic travels extend only as far as seeing zebra-painted donkeys on the streets of Tijuana just over the California-Mexican border – but in reality, we share some common ground.

In an interview he once gave, he stated “As a songwriter, I think what you are aiming for is slightly to discomfort the audience, to get just below the normal consciousness at the things that are not quite talked about – to the feelings that the audience doesn’t know it has yet.” The biography blurb on my blog says “I write about what most people refuse to even think about. I touch the bottom line of the spirit. I peel back the curtain and gaze at what hides behind it. I am the child from the Emperor’s New Clothes. I believe we fill in each other’s gaps and thus regain wholeness.”

We were both raised Presbyterian, knew it wasn’t a good fit for either of us, and settled on a personal philosophy that is heavily nuanced with Sufi mysticism. I won’t presume to define Mr. Thompson’s belief system, nor will I trouble you with trying to explain my own. Both of us have Scots-Irish fathers. Both of us love Celtic music.

I just wish I had had the presence of mind to bring up any one of those topics while we shared the same air! As it was, I am ashamed to admit the heat was so extreme, I enjoyed the sensation of cold water running down my esophagus nearly as much as I appreciated being in Richard Thompson’s company. But in a sense, it was physical relief delivered personally by the man himself, so there was that additional pleasure.

After fielding most and adroitly parrying one or two of my questions, I felt a camaraderie with Mr. Thompson that I shall enjoy reminiscing about for the rest of my life. He is, as are so many of  my Scots clansmen, a man who speaks volumes in what he leaves unsaid. 

A great deal of his communication is accomplished with body language: a subtle eyelid positioning, a purposeful leveling of his gaze, an eyebrow shift. He was great fun to spend time with, and how rapidly those precious few moments spent.

Before we knew it, it was time for photos. I have a good many candids which are not especially flattering (this is a knack I possess. I capture moments that are meaningful to me but not necessarily images the subjects wish shared. So I keep them for myself. Far be it that I embarrass someone who shared his humanity with me). 

Simon took photos of each of us with Richard. My only regret is I didn’t think to ask for a photo of Vern and I, and Richard, together. That would have been a wonderful keepsake to add to our artifact collection from the evening.

The cherry on the Dream Richard Thompson Evening Sundae was hand-lettered lyric sheets, inscribed to each of us personally by RT. The lyrics are from “Snow Goose,” a song personally meaningful to me, and whose lyrics influenced the opening scene in my newest novel.

When my turn came, he met my gaze with his mischievous baby blues and asked who to make it out to.

I was prepared for this question.

“’To the one I love,’” I mugged.

Richard canted his head and looked at Simon. Simon tilted his head and looked back at Richard. They both grinned hugely. They laughed, nodded, and silently acknowledged the coup I’d counted.

He bowed his head. I beamed. He took an exaggerated deep breath. “What *name* do I make this out to, then,” he asked.

I smiled. “Ginger,” I answered.

Thompson crowed. “I *knew* it would be a feisty name!”

He wrote "To Ginger, Love, Richard Thompson" and handed it to me with a flourish.

Simon rolled up my lyric sheet and carefully wrapped a rubber band around it so it wouldn’t crease. My keepsake was safe and sound.

Well cared for, feted and served by the King and his court, our own special Twelfth Night came to a close and Vern and I became peasants once more -- peasants who will never forget our special evening with Richard Thompson.                  ~~Ginger Hamilton

Postscript: Here is the man who made it all possible, Mr. Vern Morrison. I just want to offer kudos for putting together the best first date -- possibly the best date, period -- ever! Although a goodly part of this fell into Vern's lap, he planned the entire weekend with consideration and forethought and the utmost concern for my comfort and enjoyment. He is a mensch of a human being, and a grand companion. Thank you, Vern, for making my foray into the dating world such a terrific experience. *Curtsy* ~~Ginger

Click here to go to my column about the Richard Thompson concert itself.

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