Posts Tagged ‘Joe Boyd’

Shoot Out The Lights

Their final album together, and a masterpiece. After scrapping tracks produced by Gerry Rafferty, Richard & Linda Thompson totally re-recorded the entire album in a few days with Joe Boyd. Its got it all – anger, pain, misery, death, heartbreak, malice, backstabbing, falling, leaving, darkness. The darkness of the songs is reinforced by some of Thompson’s most violent guitar and counterpointed by the beauty of Linda’s vocals.

“Shoot Out the Lights”, is the acclaimed album by Linda and Richard Thompson, is typically described as the sound of a marriage falling apart. The Thompsons did, in fact, separate just before its March 15th, 1982 release, and then divorced not long after. But the roots of this project go much deeper.

Married since 1972, Richard and Linda had already released four albums as a folk-rock duo when “Sunnyvista”  became a decade-ending flop. Chrysalis decided against renewing their contract, and the Thompsons were set adrift. Then a 1980 stint opening for Gerry Rafferty, who was flying high after the track “Baker Street” seemed to open up new possibilities.

Rafferty became so enamored with his support act that he decided to finance and produce a new Richard and Linda Thompson album. The plan was for Rafferty to shop the finished record to labels, then land the duo a new contract. But things didn’t work out quite that way.

Richard was really pleased with the batch of new songs, but he and Rafferty quickly discovered that their recording styles didn’t mesh. “I don’t think it was wholly successful,” a very diplomatic Linda said “Richard hated it.”Apparently, so did every record company to which Rafferty shopped the record. It’s been reported that he lost 30,000 pounds on the deal. That left Richard and Linda Thompson with an album’s worth of material, but still without a contract.

They eventually entered into a partnership with long-running associate Joe Boyd, who had produced the Fairport Convention records when Richard was the group’s guitarist. (Boyd was also previously engaged to Linda, before she became involved with her then-husband.) They signed to Boyd’s small Hannibal Records in 1981, agreeing to produce a new album quickly and cheaply in order to save money for an American promotional tour.

Collaborating with Boyd was mostly a breeze for Richard and Linda, after working with the exacting Rafferty. Former Fairport bandmates Simon Nicol (rhythm guitar), Dave Pegg (bass) and Dave Mattacks (drums) came aboard to re-record much of the material the Thompsons had tracked for the previous, failed album. Six of the eight songs on “Shoot Out the Lights” would, essentially, be do-overs.

That’s why Richard Thompson has argued against the notion that Shoot Out the Lights – despite featuring songs about bad relationships (“Walking on a Wire”), leaving your family (“Man in Need”) and death (“Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?”) – is simply a reflection of a couple on the brink of divorce.

“I know people call “Shoot Out the Lights” a break-up album, but I can honestly say that was never the intention,” Richard said “‘Don’t Renege on Our Love,’ ‘Wall of Death’ and ‘Walking on a Wire’ are dark, I suppose. But they were all written a year before we split up, so people can think what they like.”

Linda, on the other hand, wasn’t so convinced. She didn’t write the songs, other than a shared credit on “Did She Jump…,” but she had unique insight into the way their relationship both romanticly and musical was changing.

“It was kind of a subliminal thing,” she has said. “I think we both were miserable and didn’t quite know how to get it out. I think that’s why the album is so good. We couldn’t talk to each other, so we just did it on the record.”

Shoot Out the Lights is admired for its songwriting (which many consider the best of Richard’s decades-long career), but also its performances. Recording quickly over just a few days in November 1981 gave the LP a striking immediacy. Richard’s guitar work is fiery but intricate – in particular on the title track, where he adds a prickly rumble. Linda provides a mournful lead on “Walking on a Wire,” while contributing ecstatic backing turns elsewhere.

Linda’s performances are even more remarkable given that she was suffering from spasmodic dysphonia, which causes sudden constriction in the muscles of the larynx. She often couldn’t sustain a vocal for more than a few lines, forcing Boyd to cut-and-paste in order to get complete performances. Because of this, Richard took a few more lead turns at the microphone.

In addition to that, Linda was also pregnant with the couple’s third child, which meant that she wouldn’t be in shape to tour the U.S. until about a half-year after the sessions for Shoot Out the Lights finished. In the meantime, Richard went on a solo acoustic jaunt, during which he fell in love with promoter Nancy Covey. Depending on whom you believe, he left his wife either while she was still pregnant or just after she gave birth to daughter Kamila.

Ironically, Richard and Linda Thompson’s new album quickly emerged as a critical favorite while their marriage crumbled. Shoot Out the Lights didn’t make the charts, but it nevertheless became their best-selling album in America. That inevitably led to talk of a shared U.S. tour, even though the Thompsons were no longer a couple. Linda’s friends encouraged her not to do it, but she defied everyone.

I’m a show-off, and maybe, as well as being cathartic, it was pathetic as well: We had kids and maybe I thought that if we did the tour, Richard who’d just left me would change his mind. Yes, it was very pathetic.”

Perhaps predictably, the subsequent tour featured plenty of great musicianship, but also fighting both onstage and off. The duo’s most successful album would be their last. Richard dove into a successful solo career, while Linda’s vocal work would be more sporadic – due partly to the result of her vocal condition.

In the decades since, this project’s reputation has only grown – and not just with fans and critics. “I sometimes listen to Shoot Out the Lights for reference,” Richard confessed in his interview with Uncut. “It’s weird, because as a singer-songwriter you keep revisiting your work, whereas an artist can paint a canvas, sell it and never see it again. Some songs don’t have a shelf life, because the emotions don’t last and the world view is too immature. Then there are other songs where you keep finding something new in them.”

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Fairport Convention, during 1969, released three albums, culminating in Liege & Lief, which represents a peak in UK folk music, and has a unique, almost otherworldly sound. This article explores that year–1969 in band’s hugely productive, tragic history. The remarkable Joe Boyd provides some insight into the band’s evolution within that brief, tumultuous period. The band signed to Island early on (their first, self-titled album was on Polydor). What followed was a series of albums that defined a special place in the coalescence of “nativist” (in the sense of perpetuating a tradition) music, which evolved from an American “sound” to one that was not only distinctly English, but altogether unique in style: a young, but highly-skilled Richard Thompson wrote and brought a sophistication to his guitar playing that belied his years; coupled with the heavenly voice of Sandy Denny and a group of talented band members, three essential albums resulted: What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and what is considered to be their peak work, Liege and Lief.

In the midst of these records, a road accident killed the drummer and Thompson’s girlfriend, injuring several other members of the band. Although Unhalfbricking may have been a popular album in the UK at the time, Liege and Lief, the album that followed (the road accident) is, in retrospect, considered the more influential, because it reflects the group’s almost complete transition away from an “American” folk orientation. Denny is often credited with this shift in focus. She left Fairport shortly after Liege and Lief to embark on a variety of experiments, including solo work, before returning to the band in 1974. Sadly, she passed away in 1977 at the age of only 31.

Thompson went on to a long career as solo artist after departing from Fairport in 1970 and the band went through various personnel changes thereafter.

Fairport Convention, Unhalfbricking, UK, Deleted, CD album (CDLP), Island, IMCD293, 621600

Fairport Convention - Unhalfbricking CD Front cover

Unhalfbricking

Singer-songwriter Ian Matthews had walked away shortly after recording for the album began, so the vocal duties mostly fell to the forever-beautiful Sandy Denny. Her tremendously expressive voice anchors the stellar guitar work of Richard Thompson (at the time, fast becoming a force in his own right). The passionate drumming of young Martin Lamble and the guest fiddle of Birmingham notable Dave Swarbrick, who would go on to take an active role in the collective until 1984, also stood at the forefront of the work. Furthermore to the departure of Matthews came a shift from American folk-rock to traditional British folk.

The most powerful song and centerpiece of Unhalfbricking is an 11-minute adaptation of “A Sailor’s Life”, a tune recovered from the turn of the 20th century and reworked thoroughly. Beginning with Denny’s forceful reading and twittering, teasing instrumentation, the track develops into a soloing, epic raga on the scale of The Doors’ The End with Thompson’s righteous guitar vigorously trading virtuosity with Swarbrick’s fiddle over a tight rhythm section dirge and less oedipal weight. In due order, this timeless aimed aesthetic would not take full effect until the following album, Liege & Lief, which is widely regarded by critics and fans as their seminal work. As such, three whole Bob Dylan covers fill out the Unhalfbricking tracklisting. A jaunty Cajun French rendition of If You Gotta Go ranks as their only hit single, out of all that history. Though the cut barely missed the UK top 20, it got them on the legacy Tops Of The Pops TV show anyway. Their version of Percy’s Song hits the appropriate stride as well, but the closing Million Dollar Bash ramshackle sing-along seems a little tacky and amateurish. Perhaps three Dylan covers was a bit much for one album.

Even so, the groundwork for immortality had been laid. Denny’s legend was born and Thompson’s was on the rise. However, drummer Martin Lamble died in a tour bus accident along with Thompson’s girlfriend while touring in support of this album, so things would never be the same again. That leaves Unhalfbricking as a time capsule of fun and discovery that cannot be repeated. It’s a moment of fleeting brilliance frozen in time, and a bargain at almost any price.

Fairport Convention, What We Did On Our Holidays - 1st, UK, Deleted, vinyl LP album (LP record), Island, ILPS9092, 252480

The band’s second album, is the best of them all, spilling over with perfect moments and climaxing with Richard Thompson’s ultimate Fairport anthem “Meet on the Ledge”. The songs are not as innocent as on the first album: Thompson’s “Tale in Hard Time” starts with the line “Take the sun from my heart, let me learn to despise”, while Sandy Denny’s medieval-sounding “Fotheringay”, which sounds at first like the story of a princess running away to escape the smothering palace life, turns out to be about Mary Queen of Scots awaiting her execution. Denny shares lead vocals with Iain Matthews, who left after this album, and both are in fine voice. Denny’s singing on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It with Mine” will leave your jaw hanging open. The band begins its journey into British traditional music with “She Moves Through the Fair”. The musicianship and arrangements are first-rate, mixing rock and folk touches with expert balance, and the production is remarkably clear for a 1968 album.

Fairport Convention, What We Did On Our Holidays - 1st, UK, Deleted, vinyl LP album (LP record), Island, ILPS9092, 252480

As usual, I came to this party late.  While the States was enjoying a folk revival in the mid-sixties that led to a range of new sounds from artists like Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene developed a little differently. Joe Boyd, who is credited with helping Dylan “plug in” at Newport, was working the London club scene with bands like Pink Floyd and managed to sign this new folk group—Fairport Convention to capture some of that American folk sound: what resulted was eventually quite different, and led to a series of albums that saw the band develop a far more distinctive sound based on traditional English folk music.

I wasn’t much of a “folkie” growing up in the States in the sixties (I was only ten years old in 1965), though as time went on, I certainly became familiar with some of the traditions- the work songs, the protest songs, and the lilting, story-telling ballads. When I finally got around to hearing some of the Fairport records from the Denny-Thompson era, I was struck by something that transcended all of the elements with which I was already familiar; there was something haunting about Sandy Denny’s voice, and the band wasn’t just strumming through another tired old ballad. The key to this record, and the band’s sound was something that gave the whole band an otherworldly quality: Denny’s voice was often characterized as “ethereal,” but it is more than just that voice; and it wasn’t just well-played folk-rock, either. Instead, I think it was raw talent, leavened, tempered and forged into something different- my guess is that the band members were changed by everything they went through in very short time.

Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief - 1st - VG, UK, Deleted, vinyl LP album (LP record), Island, ILPS9115, 551293

In the decades since its original release, more than one writer has declared Fairport Convention’s Leige and Lief  the definitive British folk-rock album, a distinction it holds at least in part because it grants equal importance to all three parts of that formula. While Fairport had begun dipping their toes into British traditional folk with their stellar version of “A Sailor’s Life” on Unhalfbricking Liege & Lief found them diving head first into the possibilities of England’s musical past, with  Ashley Hutchings digging through the archives at the Cecil Sharp House in search of musical treasure, and the musicians (in particular vocalist Sandy Denny)  eagerly embracing the dark mysteries of this music. (Only two of the album’s eight songs were group originals, though “Crazy Man Michael” and “Come All Ye” hardly stand out from their antique counterparts.) Leige and Lief was also recorded after a tour bus crash claimed the lives of origina Fairport drummer Martin Lamble  and also Richard Thompson’s girlfriend; as the members of the group worked to shake off the tragedy (and break in new drummer  Dave Mattacks  and full-time fiddler Dave Swarbrick ), they became a stronger and more adventurous unit, less interested in the neo-Jefferson Airplane direction of their earlier work and firmly committed to fusing time-worn folk with electric instruments while honoring both. And while Leige and Lief  was the most purely folk-oriented Fairport Convention album to date, it also rocked hard in a thoroughly original and uncompromising way; the “Lark in the Morning” medley swings unrelentingly, the group’s crashing dynamics wring every last ounce of drama from “Tam Lin” and “Matty Groves,” and Thompson and Swarbrick‘s soloing is dazzling throughout. Liege & Lief introduced a large new audience to the beauty of British folk, but Fairport Convention‘s interpretations spoke of the present as much as the past, and the result was timeless music in the best sense of the term.

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Fairport Convention  like many groups in that era – developed rapidly over the course of their first three albums. The dialectic of Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny was driving them towards becoming a very original and successful band when tragedy struck. Their first impulse was to disband, but decided to carry on while vowing never to play the repertoire they had developed with drummer Martin Lamble, who died in the crash. Music From Big Pink was a huge influence during that traumatic spring of 1969. It both barred the way to any further exploration of American roots music – how could a bunch of English kids possibly compete with that?  and inspired them to look for their own roots in the traditions of the British Isles. This new repertoire was driven by a combination of Sandy’s experience in folk clubs, Ashley Hutchings intense research, the addition of ace trad fiddler Dave Swarbrick, Thompson’s blues-avoiding rock guitar virtuosity and the discovery of strict-tempo dance-band drummer Dave Mattacks who steered them clear of rock clichés.

When you take in this body of work now, it is all the more remarkable that the three albums- What We Did on our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief were released within a single year, from January through December, 1969, with the deaths, injuries and marked evolution of their style all occurring within this remarkably brief period.

Among my copies are early UK Island pink labels and pink rims; as seem to be typical of my experience with Island’s output during this period, the pink labels are warmer and sound less “reproduced” but the pink rims are quieter.

If you aren’t familiar with Fairport Convention, at least buy Liege and Lief on an old Island UK pressing. These records aren’t terribly expensive. I think you’ll find, as I have, that this leads you to tap into more undiscovered, rich veins from this era of music-making in England. That so much of this material was first recorded on Island tells you just how influential that label was and remains so.

Sandy Denny

When I finally got around to hearing some of the Fairport records from the Denny-Thompson era, I was struck by something that transcended all of the elements with which I was already familiar; there was something haunting about Sandy Denny’s voice, and the band wasn’t just strumming through another tired old ballad. The key to this record, and the band’s sound was something that gave the whole band an otherworldly quality: Denny’s voice was often characterized as “ethereal,” but it is more than just that voice; and it wasn’t just well-played folk-rock, either. Instead, I think it was raw talent, leavened, tempered and forged into something different- my guess is that the band members were changed by everything they went through in very short time.

Fairport Convention are still performing and have become something of an English institution , but for me , the magic that is in this LP and the other two seminal albums that they recorded in 1969 will never be surpassed . These albums are the equal to anything that was recorded in the sixties

Before her untimely death, Denny managed to squeeze in a duet on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Zoso” album (a/k/a LZ IV) as well write “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (1967), later covered by Judy Collins with great success.

Boyd’s rather remarkable life included organizing European tours of blues and soul artists such as Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, handling the “sound” at the 1965 Newport Festival (where Dylan ‘went’ electric) and operating the UFO Club, where Pink Floyd developed their sound. His book, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960’s recounts much of this in detail and is a fascinating read.

46 years ago this week, Nick Drake released his debut album ‘Five Leaves Left.’  Don’t go looking for extensive chart statistics to map the career of Nick Drake, because there aren’t any. That’s to say that, however much we now rightly revere the quintessential sensitive singer-songwriter, his tragically short life was painfully unrepresented by any commercial rewards on either the UK or US charts while he was alive. A far cry from today, when you hear his music playing everywhere, from album-oriented radio stations to supermarkets.

Drake’s all-too-brief recording span and his debut album Five Leaves Left. Produced by the great acoustic music frontiersman Joe Boyd and released by Island Records on 1st September 1969, the LP featured such timelessly haunting pieces as ‘Time Has Told Me,’ ‘River Man’ and ‘Way To Blue.’

Often depicted as the archetypal doomed young singer songwriter of his generation Nick Drake remains almost impossible to pin down in any such flippant way. Even nearly forty years after his death the songs of Drake find a resonance with new audiences and artists not born when he was recording the three albums that appeared in his lifetime  Five Leaves LeftBryter Layter and Pink Moon.

Five Leaves Left

Although these recordings sold relatively poorly on initial release such is their drawing power for those who love introverted, folk tinged verse and melody that Nick’s songs have sound bedded adverts, featured in successful movies and been reinterpreted by a host of admirers on larger stages than he ever inhabited. The usual irony of such matters persists Drake couldn’t contemplate long tours and loathed interviews but didn’t entirely shy away from limelight. He could be reclusive yet maintained separate circles of friends who rarely came into contact with each other but felt a bond because of their kinship with Drake himself.

Don’t go looking for extensive chart statistics to map the tragically short career of Nick Drake, because there aren’t any. That’s to say that, however much we rightly revered the quintessential sensitive singer-songwriter today, his short life was painfully unrepresented by any commercial rewards on either the UK or US charts while he was alive. A far cry from today, when you hear his music playing everywhere, from album-oriented radio stations to supermarkets.

Five Leaves Left,’ which took its title from a message near the end of a packet of Rizla cigarette papers, was recorded between the summer of 1968 and a year later. It featured contributions from Richard Thompson, then of Fairport Convention, on guitar, Danny Thompson on bass and others, as well as the beautiful string arrangements of Robert Kirby.

‘Five Leaves Left’ has come to be a classic album ,  In 1975, the NME’s Nick Kent described it as “one of those albums that seem tied to exhorting and then playing on a particular mood in the listener, like ‘Astral Weeks’ and ‘Forever Changes.’ Indeed, the public’s apparent indifference to Drake’s singular talents was not for lack of some critical approval. Mark Williams  ‘Five Leaves Left’ as a new release for the International Times, made the point that the newcomer’s voice would be compared with Donovan’s.

 

The Legacy Of Nick Drake’s Album Debut

The stranger, the search, the illusion, the myth have all deepened over the years but there is no question that Nick Drake today is more popular than ever. His second album, Bryter Layter, was placed a cool first in The Guardian’s list of ‘Alternative top 100 albums ever.’ Not second, fourteenth or ninety-ninth but number one. We’ll never know whether Nick Drake would have appreciated the attention his albums receive now but one hopes he would have sorted his personal demons out and banished them while sadly accepting that without them he may never have created his greatest work.