The Meltdown festival at the South Bank Centre has become one of the most savoured events of the musical calendar. By calling on a curator to put together their dream series of concerts, it’s often steered clear of the more obvious choices. Instead with the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Ornette Coleman curating in recent years, it’s shone light on more fringe areas like reggae and jazz.
This year, with the responsibility falling to Richard Thompson, there’s a focus on folk rock. As a founding member of Fairport Convention in 1967, and with over 40 years of experience, his roll call of talent, while having a definite theme of strong traditional songwriting, looks to be a typically innovative and diverse mix.
Launching the series will be Thompson himself with the European premier of his satire, Cabaret Of Souls. A tale of a talent contest set in hell it has a timely relevance. Also a celebration of the double bass, it will feature a 10-piece string ensemble and various other players including bassist Danny Thompson and The Simpsons star and secret bassist Harry Shearer.
Typically for Meltdown, some of the shows steal and borrow each others’ artists, and Shearer will reappear for An Evening Of Political Song, which promises to be one of the more unusual highlights of the series. Bringing in the likes of Neil Hannon, Tom Robinson, Eliza Carthy and Martin Carthy, it’s billed as a night of songs in the key of revolution and protest. After his contribution, Hannon scampers across to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a rare appearance with his and Thomas Walsh’s cricket-pop concept project The Duckworth Lewis Method; their album was recently nominated for an Ivor Novello award.
It’s not the only intoxicatingly themed night. Of particular note, and probably not short on both tears and laughter, will be A Celebration Of Kate McGarrigle. The Thompson and McGarrigle/Wainwright clans have always been closely linked, and the Royal Festival Hall stage has played host to their work for many years. It seems like an appropriate venue for a tribute to Kate who passed away earlier this year. One half of a celebrated folk duo with her sister Anna and the mother to Rufus and Martha Wainwright, who themselves will both be involved alongside the likes of Lisa Hannigan and Emmylou Harris, this is likely to be another highlight. McGarrigle’s ex-husband Loudon Wainwright III will also perform with Richard Thompson later in the series.
While the household names of Elvis Costello and Paolo Nutini will also feature, Thompson has also used the event to showcase some of his favoured new music and some up-and-coming talent. His son Teddy gets a whole night of his own at the Royal Festival Hall. Sunderland band Field Music will play a keenly anticipated set alongside new Domino Records signing Villagers, and the series will be closed by American supergroup Broken Bells, supported by new Bella Union artist Lone Wolf. Then, as if to demonstrate that he knows good music, whatever the genre, there’s the blues of Seasick Steve, the Louisianan Cajun of Beausoleil, the soul of Bettye LaVette and a night dedicated to the Taqwacore Islamic punk scene.
It’s a mouth-watering collection of events put together by someone who knows exactly what he’s doing. Expect surprises and special guests, and some of the most memorable evenings of the year.
Richard Thompson’s Meltdown takes place at the South Bank Centre from 11-21 June 2010. Full details and ticket prices are available at meltdown.southbankcentre.co.uk