Nutmeg & Ginger is the delayed final act in Richard Thompson’s Meltdown Festival, held at London’s Southbank Centre in June: back then, scheduling got in the way of a collaboration with Philip Pickett and the Musicians of the Globe. The programme of Elizabethan bawdy songs, dances and ballads also dovetails with another of Thompson’s ongoing projects, 1,000 Years Of Popular Song.
Tudor and Stuart London have been a rich source for Thompson. “It was a literate society,” he said this summer, while the show was being conceived.
To project his voice and read a score, Thompson perched on a stool, playing a newly made Renaissance guitar (the luthier, Daniel Larson, was in the audience and duly applauded). He was joined by Pickett on an array of recorders, and violin, viola da gamba, lute and bandora.
The programme alternated songs and instrumental dances. The
first half’s songs were relentless innuendo – “full of euphemisms”, said Thompson unapologetically. There were millers and comelye countrye maydes. “Then he did
carry her behind a tree,” sang Thompson, unforsoothly. “What they did there is unknown to me . . . ” “Watkins Ale” rolled hangover and pregnancy into one long double entendre. “If any here offended be,” sang Thompson, as if afeared of the Lord Chamberlain, “blame the author, blame not me.”
In the second half, once the bawdy had grown stale, the songs grew more serious: “Lie Still My Dear”, was as Metaphysical as Donne, and “Dulcina” subtle and ambiguous. A lengthy retelling of the story of Dr Faustus could have come straight from Thompson’s own songbook, with its verses answered by Penny Spencer’s insistent violin.
The dances were more varied: courtly rather than abandoned, with the lead taken by recorder or violin or, on “The Queen’s Dumpe”, by Lynda Sayce’s lute, picking intricate runs like nascent Bluegrass.
The encore was from Thompson’s songbook, the mock-Renaissance stomp of “One Door Opens”. In this arrangement – its savagery abated a notch and the Arabists mutated into Pickett’s ornamented recorder playing – it sounded perfectly of a piece with the rest of the programme. ()