Some artists, when they pass their sixth decade, begin to take it easy and settle into a very gentle tour cycle peppered with greatest hits compilations.

But not singer-songwriter Richard Thompson.

Last year saw him curate the South Bank’s annual Meltdown Festival; premiere his new musical satire Cabaret Of Souls – featuring five vocalists and a ten-piece string section – and record Dream Attic, an album of new material, live in San Francisco.

Throw in his recent soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s brilliant documentary Grizzly Man and his highly original tour 1,000 Years Of Popular Music, and Thompson seems to be doing more now than when he first came to public notice as part of folk-rockers Fairport Convention.

So it is no wonder he was named as an Officer Of The Order Of The British Empire by the Queen in the New Year’s Honours, for services to music.

“I haven’t quite yet digested it,” he admits on the phone from London prior to starting his three-month tour. “It’s nice to get a pat on the back occasionally – I’m amazed and very grateful.”

This tour is in support for the aforementioned Dream Attic, an album written quickly over the course of two months and recorded live, backed by a four-piece band, during five American shows last year.

“Hardly anyone has ever released a live album of new material before – for reasons I discovered as we went along,” says Thompson.

“When you’re in the studio you can concentrate on one song at a time, you can redo it and over-dub it to get a good version or a definitive recording.

“Live there are so many things that can go wrong. We had the luxury of recording several nights, so we could select tracks from different days, but it was still asking a lot from a band which had to learn 13 tracks and perform them without mistakes without much rehearsal time.”

In fact the band only had three days – largely because, as Thompson happily admits, he hates rehearsing.

“I enjoy being in the studio,” he says. “With this record I was saying, ‘Let’s foresake some of the precision that you can get in the studio and substitute it for the energy that you get from a live audience.’ I think it turned out really well. We always record as live as possible in the studio anyway, so the process isn’t that different for us.”

Writing the album was quite a quick process, helped along by Thompson’s adoption of an office- hours regime.

“Writing sometimes needs to be disciplined,”

he says. “It’s more creative than waiting for lightning to strike. Doing office hours helps turn on the rusty tap, and once it’s flowing, it keeps flowing.

“All the songs on this album came as a batch. There’s something in the energy which overlaps from song-to-song, they feel like part of a whole, even if they are different thematically.”

As with previous album Sweet Warrior’s highlight track Dad’s Going To Kill Me, which told the thoughts of a soldier on tour in Baghdad, Thompson hasn’t shied away from commenting on topical issues.

Dream Attic’s opening number, The Money Shuffle, deals with the credit crunch and the ensuing economic downturn.

“I think songwriters are supposed to probe things,” he says. “Music has done that throughout history, from the days of the balladeers to Dylan. In some cases I feel it is your duty as a songwriter – it’s your job.

“There are political songs which can have a fairly limited shelf-life, in that they are very topical–- saying things like ‘Let’s overthrow the government’. That’s a song which will be good for that week, or month, but then it’s gone. Then there are more subtle political songs, where you can say something which lives on.”

This tour will feature two sets, focusing on Dream Attic for the first half, and more familiar Thompson favourites from his 40-year career over the second half.

Thompson’s status in the music world was underlined when he was asked to curate the 2010 Meltdown Festival in the South Bank – an honour previously bestowed on Jarvis Cocker, Patti Smith, David Bowie, John Peel, Nick Cave, Laurie Anderson and Morrissey, with Ray Davies of The Kinks taking on the reins this year.

Thompson’s choices included Broken Bells, Elvis Costello, Van Dyke Parks, Field Music, and members of Brighton’s own Willkommen Collective.

He also took the opportunity to perform with long-time friend Loudon Wainwright III and pay tribute to the late Kate McGarrigle, which saw him on stage with his former wife Linda for the first time in nearly three decades.

“I wasn’t even aware,” he admits. “I suddenly realised as the others went that it was only the two of us left on stage. That was good though, it went off well.

“All the shows were either my idea, or somebody else’s which I would approve. It was fantastic fun.

The tribute to Kate will never be repeated, we had an amazing guitar night with James Burton, and some wonderful classical music with a night of string quartets.”

The festival also hosted the European premiere of Cabaret Of Souls, Thompson’s new musical satire set in the Underworld, starring the singer-songwriter, long-time live collaborators Danny Thompson and Pete Zorn, Harry Shearer of Simpsons and Spinal Tap fame, Judith Owen and Debra Dobkin from Thompson’s 1,000 Years Of Popular Music tour, and a ten-piece string ensemble.

“We did three shows in Southern California last month,” says Thompson, who has kept a home in America for nearly three decades.

“The last one we did was at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in full costume and make-up for the first time, which took it to a whole other level.

“I’m always tweaking it a bit. I hope to continue to work with it and take it into a theatre for a week or a month soon.”

He sees these different projects as a way of challenging himself.

“I think that music should be exploration,” he says. “Perhaps sometimes I feel that it’s predictable. It’s nice to write to a different discipline and see what happens, to expand your range.

“Doing a soundtrack sometimes takes you to a whole other area. Doing collaborations with other people can take you to places you wouldn’t normally go.

“All these experiences help to enrich your music. You come back from those experiences knowing more and having more tools to work with.”

Starts 8pm (no support). Tickets from £19.50. Call 01273 709709.