We weren’t too surprised when we got snowed on in Germany over the weekend, but it was a bit surprising to get it here, on Monday. It’s still on the ground, which means we’ve seen more snow before the end of November than we got the whole year we lived here before. There may be more this week, too, and the temperature has dropped to below 0C. Ted’s been griping about it and reminding me that I complained about the heat all those years in Houston and Phoenix and Taipei so it’s hist turn now.

I was out in the snow Monday evening, to walk to a Richard Thompson concert – Richard Thompson a block from my house!! However, inviting him back for a cup of coffee didn’t feel like an option. He was playing with Philip Pickett and Musicians of the Globe, doing a concert of music from Shakespeare’s time (translation: ballads about sex, plus a few instrumentals). Besides Thompson on an old-style guitar, there were violin, Pickett on recorder, lute, bandora, viol, and something that may have been another guitar or a cittern.

It was an odd concert, in that they didn’t talk at all in the first half; a bit of chatter and maybe such discussion of hte instruments would have been nice. They did mention in the second half that the bandora needs a lot of tuning and perhaps the reason that there are none extant in museums was because frsutrated musicians had smashed them, but that was about it. (And even that was to kill time when the viol player went dashing offstage for half a song. Odd in itself, since that was right after the intermission.)

The thing is, it wasn’t the concert I wanted to hear. Really, what I kept hoping was that they’d decide to divert a little just for fun and the next song would feature a cover of 1959 Vincent Black Lightning on Elizabethan instruments. This was not that concert.

But when looked at for what it was instead of what I went in wanting, it was a very good concert. The musicians were clearly having fun, in a somewhat restrained and academic sort of way – but the sort of fun you can have with something you do really, really well and you’re doing it with other people who can go that level along with you, tat can be better than most more raucous kinds of fun. The violin player was very physical, and she was compelling to watch – except when Pickett was really jamming or Thompson was singing. Easy to see why their names were in the big type. Pretty much every song was about sex, but given the old words and how well Thompson’s accent fits them, I was having a bit of trouble making out all the lyrics, I wondered how well the Dutch audience all around me were doing.

One thing was, I wondered whether the original performers of this music would have been sititng so sedately, on a black stage in black chairs and restrained clothing. Maybe for the instrumentals, playing behind a screen at a noble dinner, but otherwise these weren’t especially decorous songs – these were saucy street or pub ballads. As I thought about it, I had the feeling I’ve had a few times before here, of seeing ghosts. There is something special about hearing 16th-century ballads inthe market square of a place that got its city charter in the 12th century. I could ‘see’ Picket replaced by someone in motley, capering to amuse a crowd. And then because there was Richard Thompson singing traditional music all by himself, I heard the ghost of Sandy Denny chime in for a moment. (Oddly, only during the first half – I didn’t get that feeling at all during the last half.)

There was a bonus: because the concert had been moved at the last moment to a smaller hall (“small”-> 385 people) there were no assigned seats. Since I got there fairly early, having to pick up my ticket, I was able to sit in the third row(!)

So it was a good concert, but I still really want to see Richard Thompson playing his own music some time.