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Ryley Walker with Danny Thompson

The Ropewalk, Barton upon Humber
Sunday 21 February 2016

The unfeasibly long single-storey Ropewalk Arts building is set amongst a cluster of river cottages in the shadow of the imposing suspension bridge on the south bank of the Humber, on the outskirts of the small community of Barton upon Humber. Arriving early in the hope of catching Ryley Walker and Danny Thompson for a brief and informal pre-gig chat, I soon discovered that the two musicians were running a little late due to traffic problems on the motorway and so I took the opportunity to walk along the riverbank taking in the extraordinary views of one of Britain's great architectural feats, the Humber Bridge. With no sign of either Ryley Walker or Danny Thompson, or indeed tonight's support singer Meg Baird, I settled for a pint of Guinness in the nearby White Swan, where The Carpenters dominated the juke box. "I love the Carpenters" confessed the woman behind the bar as she cleaned glasses. I decided not to get into that particular conversation no matter how inviting it may have been.

The pleasant February afternoon soon turned into drizzly evening as dusk approached over the Humber. Shortly afterwards every seat in the house was taken for this much anticipated appearance by an undisputed legend of the British music scene, together with the new kid on the block. I dare say much of the audience arrived with Primrose Green whirling around in their heads, serving their anticipation. In my case it was Walker's earlier album ALL KINDS OF YOU that accompanied my drive along the M180, yet there was something rather exciting about having Danny Thompson along that increased that anticipation level further.

I'm not sure whether Danny Thompson felt a slight tinge of nostalgia as he walked into the Ropery Hall tonight, with the familiar sound of Nick Drake's FIVE LEAVES LEFT playing over the PA system. The musician was himself involved in that particular project back in 1969, his contribution being his distinctive double bass playing on no less than four of those timeless songs. The choice of this pre-show music seemed to be fitting, not least for the opening singer, Meg Baird, known to many as the voice of Espers and Heron Oblivion, whose ethereal voice and sensitive songs mirrored some of Drake's finer moments. Casually attired in jeans and jumper, the singer settled the audience into the music with half an hour of sublime and enchanting songs, augmented by one or two Drakeian open tunings.

It seemed only natural for Danny Thompson to accompany Ryley Walker on this tour, many of the guitar player's musical influences the bassist has worked with, most of whom are now sadly absent friends; Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, John Martyn and the aforementioned Nick Drake. Their music has been enhanced by the presence of Thompson over the years, and tonight, Walker's songs were likewise enhanced by Thompson's empathetic musicianship. Whilst Walker was casually dressed with loose fitting shirt and jeans, Thompson looked rather stiff in his black suit, always straight-backed and carefully poised throughout. He's no spring chicken it has to be said.

Opening with Sullen Mind, the two musicians soon settled into their stride, with little banter other than the odd quip from the Devon-born bassist "Thank you for doing a job on Arsenal" was one, referring to the club's 0-0 performance with Hull City the day before, or "beats Flog It" on his current musical situation and then "oh you young fellahs" as the guitarist took a swig of Scotch direct from the bottle at his feet. It was mainly about the music though, with one or two familiar songs such as the exhilarating Summer Dress and the expected Primrose Green, amongst a set of predominantly newer material. In closing, the joy of working with Danny Thompson was apparent not only in the smile upon the guitarist's face but also with the acknowledgement "who would've thought that someday I'd be eating sandwiches for two weeks straight with this man?" Hope the sarnies were as good as the gig tonight.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky