I first saw Christine Collister backing Richard Thompson at the First Avenue in 1986. Now, seeing Thompson alone is amazing – he’s the world’s greatest living guitar player, which alone is a near-religious experience. Every time I’ve seen him, I’ve felt the need to start completely over from square one on the guitar.
But for the last several years, Thompson’s been touring as mostly a solo or small-group act. Again, it’s great – Thompson’s an amazing performer, a guy who could sing the phone book to great effect. But that touring band was the best I ever saw backing Thompson. It featured Collister and Clive Gregson singing backup and playing guitar, Danny Kilpatrick on three-row button accordion, and Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks in the rhythm section – this incarnation here).
The most striking thing about the evening was Collister’s backing vocals on a seven-minute version of Thompson’s classic “Calvary Cross” – a song I later learned I was very, very lucky to see; Thompson has performed it very sparingly since 1972. Collister – with a booming, contralto voice that’s totally unlike most female backup singers (and very different from Thompson’s ex-wife Linda, who’d done most of the singing during their marriage), more like Dusty Springfield than Christine McVie, was an amazing counterpoint to Thompson’s nasal brit yawp (as in this reading of a Rich and Linda classic). While I loved Thompson the other two times I saw him (in ’97 with Mattacks, Danny Thompson on double bass and Pete Zorn on guitars, sax and percusson, and in ’89 with a grab-bag drummerless band (Mattacks had broken his hand the night before) that included Loudon Wainright), this lineup was one of the most stunning nights I’ve ever spent in a concert.
Anyway – I got a jolt out of seeing that Collister has a solo career. Might be a stop on my next transatlantic CD-buying expedition.