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Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones

Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
Thursday 12 May 2016

It was rather a nice touch having Eliza Carthy singing over the PA system as I settled down for tonight's concert at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds. After experiencing something of an ordeal fighting my way through the massed assembly of women on the Grand Theatre's staircase, each eagerly queuing to take their seats for a performance of The Bodyguard in the neighbouring Opera House, the sound of the Thirty-Foot Trailer brought to me a sense of normality once again. In fact, Eliza's voice brought to mind the very first time I saw tonight's featured artist Teddy Thompson, which was at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2006 when two representatives of two prominent folk dynasties came together on stage.

Tonight I was fortunate to find myself in the centre of the gallery, which provides a perfect view of the stage and quite possibly the best sound in the house, with the balcony hovering directly above the sound desk, usually by definition the prime spot. The support was provided by Sunny Odell, an American singer eager to bond with her Yorkshire audience, albeit through a classic faux pas, declaring that "it feels like I'm in the middle of nowhere." After one or two Yorkshire dialect impressions, such as an hilarious "where's there's muck there's brass", the singer-songwriter and incidentally the wife of stage and screen actor Patrick Stewart (I Claudius for my generation, Star Trek for next generations), soon won back the audience with her sense of fun as well as her soulful songs; in fact the song that followed, Family Tree, wasn't only the best song of the set, it was one of the best songs of the night.

There was little change to the stage arrangement between sets due to both Teddy Thompson and Sunny Ozell sharing the same band. The only real visual difference came with the band swapping their uniformly black attire, for vivid red t shirts, adding a smattering of colour to the stage. Before the band actually joined the singer though, Teddy opened with a couple of solo songs from his most recent album BELLA, I Feel and Delilah, together with a Leonard Cohen cover, Tonight Will Be Fine, before the band returned to the stage for the main part of the show.

There appeared to be a physical jump and an audible female squeal, which didn't come from The Bodyguard next door, but from this audience, when Teddy launched into I Should Get Up, a song most people associate with the singer. With some tasty guitar licks courtesy of Zach Hobbs, borrowing from his grandad Richard's distinctive technique, the song was pretty much faithfully performed from the album version, together with the title song from that album SEPARATE WAYS. It was a good move to get the well-known popular songs out of the way before focussing on the main business of the night, the songs from the outstanding LITTLE WINDOWS project, in collaboration with LA-based singer-songwriter Kelly Jones.

Stylistically borrowing from the likes of Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, the songs from LITTLE WINDOWS inevitably have a nostalgic feel, employing beautiful harmonies throughout together with an almost tangible sense of a certain time and place. It's late 1950s, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, country pop with the occasional twangy guitar. If Teddy found himself momentarily bereft of a guitar pick, the audience was keen to help with a suitable accessory tossed down from the balcony. For those who had come along specifically to hear the songs form the new record, then satisfied they surely must have felt when every single one of the songs were performed as perfectly as could be both imagined or expected.

With the Carthy, Thompson and Wainwright dynasties, there is always a sense of family in the air and speaking after the show to guitarist Zack Hobbs, the son of Teddy's oldest sister Muna, he was quick to confirm "it's just what we do." There is a tendency to think that it is all pretty much to do with family, which is probably why we like them so much. In the spirit of family unity, Sunny Ozell joined the rest of the singers and musicians on stage towards the end, for a rendition of In My Arms, before a final encore which saw Teddy and Kelly duetting on I Thought We'd Said Goodbye. Once again the Howard Assembly Room provided a special place to be with a bunch of special people.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky