Posts Tagged ‘Richard Thompson’

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Four decades after Richard and Linda Thompson released 1974’s “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”, their beautiful and terrifying first album as a duo—after their music failed to attract significant commercial interest; after the conversion to Sufism, the three kids, the arduous years spent living on a religious commune; after he left her for another woman just as mainstream success seemed within their reach; after she clocked him with a Coke bottle and sped off in a stolen car during their disastrous final tour—after everything, Linda was working on a new song about the foolishness of love. It was a lot like the songs Richard used to write for them in the old days: Despairing, but not hopeless, with a melody that seemed to float forward from some forgotten era, and a narrator who can’t see past the walls of his own fatalism. “Whenever I write something like that I think, ‘Oh, who could play the guitar on that?’” she recalled later. “And then I think, ‘Only Richard, really.’”

The Thompsons met in 1969, while Richard was working on “Liege & Lief”, the fourth album by Fairport Convention, the pioneering British band he’d co-founded when he was 18. Their reason for starting a musical duo was practical, but also sweetly romantic: They wanted to spend more time together. They began touring the UK’s circuit of folk clubs, humble institutions that mixed socialist idealism with commercial enterprise, often operating in the back rooms of local pubs, where Richard and Linda would share stage time with whatever barflies wanted to belt out “Scarborough Fair” or “John Barleycorn” on any given night. Audiences were receptive, but it was a rugged and unglamorous way to make a career, even compared to the modest success Richard had seen with Fairport Convention. After about a year on the circuit, they were ready to graduate to bigger stages, and to make an album.

These songs feature modern stories and character sketches largely grounded in vernacular and instrumentation of British folk, an approach that gives the listener some comfort by suggesting that the highs and lows of the human experience we experience today are pretty much the same highs and lows experienced by our ancestors. They recorded “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” quickly and cheaply, working from a cache of songs Richard had been assembling since “Henry the Human Fly“. The backing band they recruited combined a rock rhythm section with mustier instruments like hammered dulcimer, accordion, and crumhorn, a Renaissance-era woodwind whose nasal buzz makes bagpipes sound mellow. “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” approaches its instrumentation with eerie holism, sounding neither like a reverent attempt to resurrect bygone traditions, nor a contemporary singer-songwriter album with period flourishes, but something strange and glowing in between.

This orientation is clearly demonstrated on the opening track, “When I Get to the Border.” The first  two verses could have been written by an anonymous song-crafter of the 18th Century, but when the narrator reveals the reasons behind his desire to escape to a place beyond the border, there’s no question he’s a 20th Century Man experiencing classic Sunday night dread:

Monday morning, Monday morning
Closing in on me
I’m packing up and I’m running away
To where nobody picks on me

As he describes all the wonderful changes awaiting him once he crosses that border (“My troubles will all turn to sand/When I get to the border”), I hear echoes from the conversations I’ve had recently with friends stuck in the USA, who desperately believe in one of two fairy tales: one, if we get rid of Trump, everything will be all right; and two, if I move to (Europe, Asia, South America, Australia) my life will suddenly become immeasurably better. They forget that running away from a bad situation never works unless you have a place you really, really, really want to run to. Richard Thompson cleverly allows the narrator to feast on this sort of one-sided fantasy for much of the song, a subtle hint that his dreams of reaching the Land of Oz are unlikely to bear fruit. The one thing this gent does have to look forward to is a “Salty girl with yellow hair/Waiting in that rocking chair,” an image that doesn’t give us much hope that she’s the British version of Helen of Troy.

The builds and blends on “When I Come to the Border” are simply fabulous. The song opens with very modest acoustic guitar chords cueing the band to enter with low-key backing. The first verse is voice, acoustic, bass and drums; on the second verse, Richard adds some light electric guitar fills. The first smile on the listener’s face takes place at the start of the bridge, when wham! Linda and Richard harmonize over Richard’s mandolin, suddenly turning black-and-white into full colour. A mandolin-electric guitar duet adds another smile and more colour, creating a new plateau that continues through the end of the verses. The long fade makes the smile permanent as the band takes the piece to an even higher plane, featuring a cornucopia of instruments trading leads and fills—guitar, krummhorn, accordion, concertina, mandolin, tin whistle—that bring to mind the everybody-join-in-the-fun atmosphere of a pub with singing waiters. Rising from its modest beginnings, “When I Get to the Border” turns out to be a welcoming display of the song writing excellence and musical variety that characterize the album.

Many of Linda’s signature songs are candlelit ballads, but she swaggers through the cascading brass lines of the album’s title track like a sailor on shore leave. On the surface, the song’s message is simple: work’s over, time to party. But in Richard’s writing and Linda’s performance, the urge to go out, get hammered, and press up tight against a stranger is nearly feral in its potency. The nihilism and the pleasure of drunkenness and transactional coupling are inseparable. “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” neither moralizes about its subject matter nor attempts to enshrine it, capturing the charge of a messy night out in all its explosive ambiguity. Musically, it has the feeling of a celebration, one that could have been a massive hit had the Thompsons been willing to sacrifice their quixotic musical aspirations for slicker and more streamlined production.

Richard Thompson described “Calvary Cross” as a song “about a muse, or about anything. It’s about a drive that you might not want, but it’s there, and you’re a slave to it.” The woman’s “one green eye” indicates she’s a jealous mistress, seeking nothing less than complete control (“Everything you do/Oh, everything you do/You do for me”). The other half of this fascinating creature exists on a the positive pole, one who will “be your light until doomsday.” The balance is described in the line, “My claw’s in you and my light’s in you,” but she immediately adds, “This is your first day of sorrow.” The artist can never escape the clutches of the muse, and the song’s setting under the calvary cross is meant to convey a life of suffering.

“Down Where the Drunkards Roll” is soft and solemn, refusing to judge its cast of misfits for finding solace at the bar. “Withered and Died” might come across as maudlin with less sympathetic performers, but Linda’s delivery lends quiet nobility to its tale of an abandoned woman at the end of her rope. Richard’s guitar solo arrives like pale sunlight through a tall window, offering a ray of hope out somewhere beyond the desolation of the lyrics.

Most of the buzz about this song has to do with Richard’s guitar work, particularly in the many live versions available on recordings both legitimate and bootleg (you can sample several on YouTube). The primary solo on the studio version album serves as a lengthy introduction to the song, a twisting, tortured barrage of notes that echo bagpipe and sitar. The deluxe version of the album features a version that clocks in at almost ten minutes and in parts feels more like a duet featuring both Richard and drummer Dave Mattacks in roughly equal measure. The live solos vary quite a bit, but most take place in an extended segment following the verses, where Richard goes deep to connect with his muse, depicting the love-hate affair with stunning work that is absolutely entrancing.

Linda takes the lead on “Withered and Died,” and it’s hard for me not to hear this song about crushed dreams through the lens of a present-day inhabitant of the United States:

This cruel country has driven me down
Teased me and lied, teased me and lied
I’ve only sad stories to tell to this town
My dreams have withered and died

Perhaps “Withered and Died” should become the American anti-anthem of our time, as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” became the anti-anthem for soldiers stuck in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. Great songs often express feelings that listeners transfer to other contexts that have no connection to the songwriter’s intent.

In truth, “Withered and Died” has more to do with the dashed hopes and dreams of a young woman who arrives in a new town full of excitement, and her initial impressions indicate the town threw out the welcome mat for her: “Kind words in my ear, kind faces to see.” Things go sour quickly due to a failed relationship, leaving her with a broken spirit, hungering for freedom from her troubles:

If I was a butterfly, live for a day
I could be free just blowing away

While Linda’s vocal is appropriately despairing throughout much of the song, her voice rises to the occasion on that couplet, momentarily floating high above the understated background support to express her one remaining wish. “Withered and Died” is a deeply moving piece, a timeless song about the challenges inherent in the rite of passage from the naive hopes of adolescence to the inevitable disappointments of adulthood.

After two trips to the dark side, something cheerful would be really nice right about now and Linda delivers with her spirited rendition of “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” receiving suitably brassy support from The CWS (Manchester) Silver Band. The desire to swap regimentation for chaos that drives the working masses to bars and dance floors on weekend nights is vividly depicted in both Linda’s vocal and in the lines given to the character she plays. “I need to spend some money and it just won’t wait,” she explains to her escort, revealing herself as a proud and independent woman of sufficient means to make it through the weekend. In addition to close dancing, she is desperately hungry for the release of manageable madness:

A couple of drunken knights rolling on the floor
Is just the kind of mess I’m looking for
I’m gonna dream ’till Monday comes in sight
I want to see the bright lights tonight

Our heroine obviously doesn’t mind the violent potential of the “big boys . . . spoiling for a fight,” as she views mixing it up as just another form of release unique to the male half of the species. More than just a “let’s party” song, “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” captures the existential motivation that sends millions of people to Vegas every year—the need to let one’s hair down, show some cleavage and do all the naughty things that are socially unacceptable inside the boundaries of nine to five—all within the safe confines of a non-judgmental environment supported by the sacred commandment, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

I have a dream . . . that someday the Vegas ethic will become the universal imperative of the human race.

That dream is somewhat tempered by the harsh realities of alcoholism and mental illness described starkly and movingly in “Down Where the Drunkards Roll.” Linda approaches her vocal with sad detachment mellowed by obvious compassion for the victims and a clear sense of the indignity of it all. Accompanied only by Richard’s exquisite work on acoustic guitar and chilling bass-range harmonies, Linda relates stories of the fallen in the first three verses—the young bucks who drink themselves into oblivion, the young man who fails in love and is forced to seek a low-priced hooker, and a woman suffering from unknown trauma who finds some kind of validation in the unreal world of the outcast:

There goes a troubled woman
She dreams a troubled dream
She lives out on the highway
She keeps her money clean
Soon she’ll be returning
To the place where she’s the queen
Down where the drunkards roll (2)

The final verse points out the curious similarities between the non-judgmental ethic of weekend nights and the even looser norms of acceptance among people who have hit rock bottom. Those banished from society for their failures, shortcomings and clinical diagnoses are more likely to find comfort among the fallen:

You can be a gambler
Who never drew a hand
You can be a sailor
Who never left dry land
You can be Lord Jesus
All the world will understand
Down where the drunkards roll (2)

Even at this relatively early stage in his career, Richard Thompson’s insistence on writing songs about those whom society would rather forget is uncompromising, and his gift for language results in songs like this that are searing and unforgettable.

Figuring wisely that we need another break from human inhumanity, Richard offers the very traditional “We Sing Hallelujah.” There are many English folk songs that employ a series of metaphoric riddles to describe the human experience; here Richard adds to the genre with a series of metaphors about men (in the outdated, generic universal use of the word). Unsurprisingly, the metaphors all end in disaster: “a man is like a rusty wheel . . . and then he falls apart,” “a man is like a briar . . . he laughs like a clown when his fortune’s down and his clothes are ragged and torn,” etc. The last riddle paints a particularly gloomy picture of man’s existence:

A man is like his father
Wishes he never was born
He longs for the time when the clock will chime
And he’s dead forevermore

As the music clearly communicates good fun with the return of the krummhorns and a joyous group vocal . . . and the chorus is only partially and ironically dreary . . . I’m going to claim that “We Sing Hallelujah” is about the human tendency to see the worst side of everything in life balanced by the opposing force of the human spirit that picks us up when we’re down. The song certainly accomplishes the mission of restoring listener energy after “Down Where the Drunkards Roll.”

The good fun fades quickly into memory with the heartbreaking “Has He Got a Friend for Me,” a tune about a girl who is “clumsy and shy” who believes she wouldn’t attract notice even if she were “in the gutter, or dangling down from a tree.” The line that breaks my heart with its undeniable truth is “And nobody wants to know anyone lonely like me,” for loneliness is often accompanied by auras of awkwardness or desperation that make potential friends wary of offering their company. Linda navigates the challenging melodic line while maintaining just the right levels of the varying emotions; Richard’s acoustic guitar is tender and empathetic; the tin whistle mirrors the thin fragility of the anti-heroine.

Changing costume in record time, Linda transforms herself from future spinster to saucy sprite in “The Little Beggar Girl.” Marked by a traditional full-throated chorus that bears repeating again and again, the peg-legged little wench balances her dependence on contributions from the elite with a tart tongue, delivering pungent asides as the privileged step down from their lofty perches to make their modest donations:

I’ve been down to London, I’ve been up to Crewe
I travel far and wide to do the work that I do
‘Cause I love taking money off a snob like you
For I’m only a poor little beggar girl

Linda really gets into the part, varying her tone from sarcastically sweet and accommodating to screw-the-bastards bite. The chorus is an absolute delight, with Richard entering in harmony as a cue for the listener to sing along. It’s almost impossible not to join in by the third go-round, and melodic structure gives those participating at home lots of opportunity to contribute harmonies or responsive fills.

You’ll need to save some of the positive energy from “Poor Little Beggar Girl” to get you through the bleakest song of all, “End of the Rainbow.” The song is structured as a dramatic monologue in which a father of a new born leans over the cradle and imparts his wisdom concerning the life journey awaiting his child:

I feel for you, you little horror
Safe at your mother’s breast
No lucky break for you around the corner
‘Cause your father is a bully
And he thinks that you’re a pest
And your sister she’s no better than a whore

Life seems so rosy in the cradle
But I’ll be a friend I’ll tell you what’s in store
There’s nothing at the end of the rainbow
There’s nothing to grow up for anymore

The father goes on to tell the kid how capitalists large and small will continually rip him off, how his future adult male companions will put a knife to his throat at the slightest provocation, that everyone competes against everyone else and that most of the people who inhabit the world belong to the walking dead. He offers no hope, no helpful advice and not a single sliver of sunshine. The song has made critics somewhat uneasy, and several have expressed discomfort with the world view Richard Thompson expresses in those unrelentingly dreary lines.

It emerges most clearly on “The Calvary Cross,” whose stately three-chord cycle feels like the album’s centre piece despite being only the second track. After a breath-taking raga-like guitar introduction from Richard, the song unspools as a series of bad omens from a mysterious “pale-faced lady”: a black cat crossing your path, a train that never leaves its station. “The Calvary Cross” is like a shadow that hangs over the rest of the music, suggesting that the characters’ fates are ordained not only by circumstance, but also by forces whose true nature they may never apprehend. The chorus, delivered in the voice of the pale-faced lady, contains the album’s most chilling lines: “Everything you do, you do for me.”

Methinks they’re missing the point here. “End of the Rainbow” has nothing to do with how Richard Thompson views the world. He’s not talking here—the father is. Richard is playing a role, capiche? This is a song about parenting, not how shitty the world is. The question listeners should consider once the song ends is, “How do we allow such losers to become parents?” This is a guy who has already decided that his other kid is a worthless piece of crap, so why have another child? He’s obviously not doing well from a financial perspective, so why add this “little horror” to the balance sheet? And because he’s failed, he views the world through a madly discoloured lens that convinces him that it’s everyone else’s fault but his own. This isn’t about unplanned parenthood, this is about unthinking parenthood and the traumatic consequences that follow from having a parent who hates a kid from the moment of conception—and the disastrous social consequences that follow.

From a musical perspective, “End of the Rainbow” is a hidden gem without a single superfluous note. The opening passage is an electric-acoustic duet where the acoustic guitar reflects the softly lit environment of a nursery and the electric guitar paints a picture of tense uncertainty with sustained fretboard-initiated vibrato. The chord pattern is relatively straightforward, with all the punctuation found in descending chords that eventually find their way back to the Cm root (adjusted to the Am position with a capo on the third fret).

The chord structure to “The Great Valerio” is more challenging, with the base pattern consisting of altering Bm/Fmdim chords, and an out-of-key shift to C#7 to open the chorus (again, much easier to play with a capo, this time on the second fret). The theme of human fascination with the tightrope walker had been covered a few years before in Jethro Tull’s “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me,” though Ian Anderson focused more on the secret pleasure of “being there” when the tightrope walker slips (“Like the man hung from the trapeze/Whose fall will satisfy”), whereas Richard Thompson uses the opportunity to comment on the nature of life itself and heroic projection. Linda’s vocal is suitably cold and detached, and while Richard’s acoustic guitar is typically excellent, I have a strong preference for June Tabor’s cover that opens her album Aleyn. Not only is June a far more capable singer and a practiced devotee of Richard’s music, but the addition of accordion and strings creates a macabre circus atmosphere in sync with the lyrical content.

And that wraps it up for “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight“, a commercial failure dismissed by the critics of the day now considered something of a masterpiece. The album still gets little in the way of tangible respect; according to Richard Thompson’s website, it is “out of print” in the USA. I attribute the lack of public support to the majority’s desire to hear music that makes them happy and avoid music that makes them sad—or, to put it another way, most people want to hear music that validates their fantasies and want nothing to do with music that deals with their unpleasant realities.

Given that unpleasant reality, it turns out that the real hero of the album isn’t “The Great Valerio“, but a courageous artist by the name of Richard Thompson.

Though both Thompsons have made fine albums since the collapse of their romantic and musical relationships in the early 1980s, there is something singular in the blend of her gracefully understated singing and his fiercely expressive playing, a heaven-bound quality that redeems even their heaviest subject matter, which neither can quite reach on their own. As lovers, they could be violently incompatible, but as musicians, they were soul mates. The existence of latter-day collaborations like Linda’s 2013 song “Love’s for Babies and Fools,” one of a handful of recordings they’ve made together since the 2000s, proves the lasting power of a partnership that seemed doomed from the start.

For a guitarist and singer piecing together a living on the folk circuit, music was a holy vocation, but also a grinding job. “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” promoted them from folk clubs to proper venues, but the feeling of success was short-lived. Within a couple of years, according to Richard, “Folk rock was losing ground—not that it had much ground to begin with…we were now playing to an aging audience that consumed less and went out to concerts less.” (It bears repeating that he was in his mid-20s at the time.) Island dropped the Thompsons after Pour Down Like Silver, their third album. They retreated from the music industry and moved into a Sufi commune in London, and then another in rural Norfolk, after having fallen in with a group of worshippers not long after making “Bright Lights“.

Richard devoted himself to Sufism, and quickly quit drinking, hoping to “fill the void in the pit of my stomach, and not with numbness, but with nourishment.” According to Linda, he donated much of their money to fellow members of the London sect. She had her own interest in Sufism, but her experience on the communes—led by “an Englishman who styled himself a sheik,” as a 1985 Rolling Stone profile put it—was more like an intensification of worldly oppression than an escape from it. She gave birth to the Thompsons’ second child there, which she described as “fucking awful: No doctors, no hot water, nothing.” In her telling, the atmosphere was sexist and repressive, with women made to perform domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning, and to avert their eyes when talking to men.

In the late ’70s, they left the commune, released two albums to little fanfare, and got dropped by another label. Then came 1982’s “Shoot Out the Lights“, their biggest critical and commercial success by a wide margin, which happened to be filled with blistering accounts of dissolving relationships. Richard announced he was in love with another woman soon after its release, but Linda decided to accompany him on tour anyway.

Were they doomed from the start? Isn’t everyone? That’s the underlying theme of “I Want to See the Bright Lights”. “The End of the Rainbow,” the album’s almost comically morose penultimate song, takes the form of a warning to a new born: “Life seems so rosy in the cradle/But I’ll be a friend, I’ll tell you what’s in store/There’s nothing at the end of rainbow/There’s nothing to grow up for anymore.” In the 1985 Rolling Stone piece, Linda reflected on their honeymoon in Corsica, taken not long before they started work on “Bright Lights“. “It rained the whole time,” she said. “I should have known then.”

But there is a happy ending, for the Thompsons at least, who eventually reconciled as friends, began sporadically collaborating again, even recorded an album together with their children. Judging by their public remarks, they get on pretty well these days. We’re all doomed to hurt each other, and to be hurt in return. The least we can do is forgive.

words from http://www.50thirdand3rd.com

The Thompsons were without a record contract in 1980, when Gerry Rafferty offered to finance an album for them with his “Baker Street” producer Hugh Murphy. The sessions yielded 10 tracks – and Richard later rejected them all. Eighteen months later, though, he and Linda re-recorded six of the 10 songs with producer Joe Boyd as “Shoot Out The Lights”. Rafferty’s Folly, then, offers an alternative version of what became the couple’s final album.

It’s more polished, with more instrumentation – keyboards, Moogs, accordion, simulated strings – compared to the stark Shoot Out The Lights. Other surprises include “Wall Of Death” and “Don’t Renege On Our Love” with Linda on vocals, as well as a beautiful version of Sandy Denny’s “I’m A Dreamer” (later included on Linda’s 1986 comp, Dreams Fly Away).

Both Thompsons have since relaxed their attitude to the Rafferty sessions – Linda has admitted she prefers some of her vocals here. But it wasn’t bundled in with last year’s deluxe edition of Shoot Out…, and for now, it exists only in boot form, including this and Before Joe Could Pull The Trigger, which throws in demos from ’80-’82.

Tracklist:

Don’t Renege On Our Love, Back Street Slide , Walking On A Wire , The Wrong Heartbeat , Shoot Out The Lights , For Shame Of Doing Wrong, I’m A Dreamer Written By – Sandy Denny , Modern Woman , Just The Motion , Wall Of Death , Lucky In Life , How Many Times Do You Have To Fall? , Pour Will & The Jolly Hangman , Wall Of Death , Sword Dance / Young Black Cow , I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight .

  • Bass – Dave Pegg
  • Drums – Dave Mattacks
  • Fiddle – Dave Swarbrick 
  • Guitar – Simon Nicol 
  • Guitar, Vocals – Richard Thompson
  • Producer – Gerry Rafferty 
  • Vocals – Linda Thompson

Sound quality: Excellent
See also: One Brave Henry, live folk club gigs from 1973

Recorded September/October 1980, Chipping Norton Studios

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English folkie Nick Drake barely created a ripple during his lifetime. He recorded three albums of beautiful acoustic folk, but barely sold a copy during his lifetime. His acoustic music was sophisticated, with flourishes of jazz, and his acoustic guitar finger-picking was beautiful; he used alternative tunings to create tone clusters. Drake studied English literature at Cambridge and enjoyed the poetry of Yeats, Blake, and Vaughan; his lyrics have the same evocative spirit, with images drawn from nature.

Nick Drake passed away in 1974 from an overdose of anti-depressants, leaving a legacy of three studio albums. He didn’t enjoy playing live, and languished in obscurity despite his immense talent. The release of the “Fruit Tree” box set in 1979, shout-outs from famous fans like The Cure’s Robert Smith and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, and the use of his song ‘Pink Moon’ in a US car commercial all contributed to Nick Drake’s growing stature.

By the 1990s, Nick Drake’s work, overlooked at the time, had been reassessed. Drake’s three albums are now all critically acclaimed.

Each of Nick Drake’s three studio albums provide a different angle on his acoustic folk sound. His 1969 debut, “Five Leaves Left”, is a pretty mood piece, with Drake’s guitar often accompanied by the bass of Danny Thompson (from contemporary folk-rock band Pentangle) and by Robert Kirby’s string arrangements. 1971’s “Bryter Layter” is more detailed – Drake is accompanied by a rhythm section on almost every tune. 1972’s final album, “Pink Moon”, is stark, with Drake performing completely solo – it was recorded quickly in two late night sessions.

Additionally, Time of No Reply and Made to Love Magic are overlapping compilations that mop up Drake’s studio out-takes, most notably the four songs that he recorded in July 1974. It’s worth hearing one of them, but they’re not as essential as his studio records.

All of Nick Drake’s albums require some persistence to enjoy, as Drake’s songs are subtle and nuanced, but the diversity of Bryter Layter makes it the most accessible. The fuller sound also helps; the Fairport Convention rhythm section of Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks appear, while Fairport guitarist Richard Thompson plays lead guitar on ‘Hazey Jane II’. Robert Kirby reprises his role of orchestral arrangements from Five Leaves Left, although John Cale’s beautiful arrangements on ‘Fly’ and ‘Northern Sky’ are next level.

Choosing a favourite Nick Drake album is purely an academic exercise, as all three are essential, but it’s the magical contributions of the other musicians, particularly John Cale, that elevate Bryter Layter as Nick Drake’s best album.

“One of These Things First” On the gentle and jazzy, Drake is joined by a cast of American musicians – rhythm section Ed Carter and Mike Kowalski were both involved with The Beach Boys, while pianist Paul Harris later joined Stephen Stills in Manassas. The gently meditative song was later featured in the film Garden State.

John Cale, at a loose end after his dismissal from The Velvet Underground, was sent a demo from Drake. Cale was impressed by Drake, particularly his “sensuality”, and added his arrangements to two songs on Bryter Layter. The classically trained Cale is a terrific foil for Drake, adding an exquisite beauty to his songs without drowning them in sentimentality. ‘Fly’ is the more ethereal of Cale’s two arrangements, with his viola colouring Drake’s delicate song.

The other song arranged by Cale, ‘Northern Sky’ is a romantic tale of wistful longing. While the subject of the song has never been confirmed, it was reported to have been inspired by Linda Thompson. Cale augments the song with beautiful work on celeste, piano, and organ. None of Nick Drake’s records were popular upon release, and none charted.

A contemporary review of the compilation Nick Drake in Rolling Stone by Stephen Holden read: “An incredibly slick sound that is highly dependent on production values (credit Joe Boyd) to achieve its effects, its dreamlike quality calls up the very best of the spirit of early Sixties’ jazz-pop ballad. It combines this with the contemporary introspection of British folk rock to evoke a hypnotic spell of opiated languor.”

All three of Nick Drake’s albums are included in the original edition of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

“We had great fun performing the Live From London shows, that streamed online recently. We felt the audio quality was so good that we wanted to pick the best of those tracks, and release them on Bandcamp, I tried to pick an interesting and less obvious selection – hope you like the ones I chose!” Richard’s Live From London recordings from his livestream series in 2020 from Kore Studios in the UK.  This unique shows each with a completely different setlist and all professionally produced and as close to being at a live gig as we can possibly get it! The livestreams will be available for 48 hours after each show. The first show I will be playing my new EP, Bloody Noses, in full as well as classic hits. The second stream will be Fairport Convention Era music with a majority of songs from the 60’s and 70’s. The last show will be all requests so be sure to send in your requests ahead of time! I am very much looking forward to this series and I hope you can join me for one or all three shows

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Released February 5th, 2021

This is an all-acoustic EP recorded at home during lockdown. Surprised that this has not been mentioned yet, but a couple of months ago Richard Thompson released a new six song EP “Bloody Noses” on download / streaming (no physical release that I know of). Richard Thompson records 6 new acoustic tracks at home during lockdown and fires them straight onto bandcamp. His solo sets streamed from his living room have been most enjoyable for us fans. 
Here the songs cover topics like confusion, resilience and loneliness which echo in our current times for sure. Richard keeps the songs sparse with just acoustic guitars and mandolin, a little bit of percussion and his partner Zara on harmonies.

I’m especially fond of ‘If I Could Live My Life Again’ a slow blues with a wonderful vocal, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Fortress’ on the other hand shows the new guard of acoustic folkies like William Tyler and Ryley Walker they still have some way to go to get close to him. Not had the requisite six listens yet, but a couple of listens in and its very good – an acoustic EP with help from his partner on backing vocals. He also did a “launch party” on Facebook where it was played in full .  I regard Richard Thompson as not only one of the great singer song writers but also the finest guitarists ever. Acoustic or electric, he is simply brilliant. And “Bloody Noses” is an acoustic EP – sounds like Richard has multi – tracked rhythm & lead – at least on the first song “As Soon As You Hear The Bell” which is a terrific opener- the second track “If I Could Live My Live Again” – which rocks along nicely and is of course beautifully played.

“She’s A Hard Girl To Know” is one of Richard’s darker songs – actually for a chap who is so funny live, his songs tend to be dark. And it is quite brilliant. “Survivor” is more folky – I think that is a mandolin as well as guitar beautifully played. 

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All instruments played by Richard Thompson, some harmony vocals by Zara Phillips.

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Released July 3rd, 2020

Unhalfbricking front

1969 was a roller-coaster year for Folk Rock band Fairport Convention. In January of that year they released their second album “What We Did On Our Holidays”, the first one to feature singer Sandy Denny. In May they hit rock bottom with a tragedy that killed two people including one of its members. Miraculously they recovered and released the album that defines Fairport at that time, “Unhalfbricking” was released in July of 1969, several weeks after the fatal accident on the M1 that killed drummer Martin Lamble and Jeannie Franklin (“Genie the Tailor”, who designed clothes for west-coast pop and rock elites), Richard Thompson’s recent girlfriend. The event questioned the band’s resiliency, and was followed by an amazing period of recovery that gave birth to Liege and Lief. Franklin was immortalized a month later when Jack Bruce dedicated his debut solo album Songs for a Tailor to her, and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer is likely about her as well with the telling lyrics “Blue Jean Baby, L. A. lady/Seamstress for the band”.

Unhalfbricking climbed to a respectable #12 in the UK album chart, its name penned by Sandy Denny who came up with the made-up word in a game of Ghost the band was playing while traveling in their beat up van to shows. Uncharacteristic for its time, the front cover features a single photograph with no indication of the band or album name. Two people, Sandy Denny’s parents, are standing in front of their house on Arthur Road, Wimbledon. In the background we can see the band lounging in the front yard. Clever positioning of the band members’ heads, one per rectangle in the fence. 

Fairport Convention 1969

Even more uncool is the back cover with a picture of the band engaged in the domestic task of having a meal. The whole package smells of looking back at days of yore, keeping a distance from current trends. A&M Records, who distributed the band’s albums in the US, found the album cover’s concept abnormal and instead decided in a curious creative burst that the average American consumer’s palate might appreciate a photo of three dancing circus elephants with a girl dancing (balancing?) on top. Underestimating the American record buyer’s tolerance for the unknown, the band and album titles were slapped on the US album cover.

The band was going through a Bob Dylan phase at the time, resulting with three covers of his songs on the album. Dylan’s version of Million Dollar Bash, later to appear on the Basement Tapes album but at that point not yet released, The song came to the band through producer Joe Boyd’s song publishing company which had access to Dylan’s new recorded materials. The great mandolin accompaniment is courtesy of Dave Swarbrick, who made a number of excellent recordings with Martin Carthy between 1965 and 1968, and was called by Joe Boyd to guest on a number of songs on “Unhalfbricking”.

Another Dylan cover was for a relatively unknown song, If You Gotta Go, Go Now. Dylan had recorded it in 1965 for his Bringing It All Back Home album but decided not to include it in the album, instead releasing it as a single in the Netherlands in 1967. Manfred Mann covered the song soon after Dylan recorded it in 1965. Fairport Convention gave it an interesting twist by singing it in French, translated to Si Tu Dois Partir.

Fairport Convention was playing a gig at the Middle Earth and thought it would be amusing to do Dylan’s song in French Cajun style, so the band called for volunteers from the audience to help with the translation. Richard Thompson: “About three people turned up, so it was really written by committee, and consequently ended up not very Cajun, French or Dylan.” The studio version is a better attempt at the Cajun style, featuring Dave Swarbrick on fiddle, Richard Thompson on accordion and Trevor Lucas, who later formed Fotheringay with Denny, on triangle. The band was quite inventive when it came to producing interesting sounds in the studio. Joe Boyd, in his book White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s recalls: “Martin created the Cajun washboard sound for ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ by stacking some plastic Eames chairs and running his drumsticks along them. The percussion break was supposed to feature an empty milk bottle lying on the topmost chair, but when the time came it fell and smashed on the floor. I signalled frantically to keep playing. The crash of broken glass was absolutely in time and worked perfectly, a good omen for the session.” The song was released as a single, reaching the UK singles chart, and got the band its first appearance at Top of the Pops on August 14th, 1969.

The B-side on the single Si Tu Dois Partir went unnoticed at the time but over the years became one of Richard Thompson’s favourite performance songs. It is also my favourite tune on the album, achingly sang by Sandy Denny. It is one of the first in Thompson’s career-long strike of beautiful melancholic songs, the album opener “Genesis Hall”. Thompson on the topic of the song: “Genesis Hall was the name of a building in London that was occupied by squatters. The police went in and were far too brutal in evicting the people. My father was a policeman at the time, and although he was not involved in this operation, I could see the situation from both the squatters’ and police’s points of view. This was conflicting for me, and I tried to express that.”
The August 1969 issue of the underground newspaper International Times mentions an incident that took place in the Drury Lane Bell Hotel involving police and squatters. It happened in March of that year, when Fairport Convention was in the process of recording “Unhalfbricking”:

Thompson covers the song from time to time on his live shows, giving it a fantastic acoustic version. A great example is from the first episode of the BBC Songwriter’s Circle series from 2010.
Several reasons why this song moves me: The lyrics, again so mature for a 20 year old who has not written too many songs up to that point. The sad yet somewhat detached mood in which Sandy Denny sings them. The part where the whole band is soaring with her when they sing “Oh, oh, helpless and slow”. The dual guitar work by Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol. Martin Lamble’s drumming, sadly not discussed too often, demonstrating his ability to play very interesting patterns behind the melody as if he was playing a melodic instrument. Only a month after the band finished recording the album Lamble died in that car crash. The band went through a rough period of mourning and healing and came out on the other end with the album that defines British folk rock. 

The third of the Dylan cover’s is Percy’s Song, recorded by Dylan in 1963 for his third album The Times They Are a-Changin‘. The song did not make it into the album and was released some twenty years later on the Biograph collection. The song lyrics are a futile plea to a judge to reconsider a harsh sentence given to a driver in a fatal car accident. Sandy Denny sings a beautiful harmony with Ian Matthews who had left the group after their previous album, and her interpretation is the best I know for this lesser known Dylan tune. Guitar player Simon Nicol said this of Denny’s vocal on the song: “It needs a voice like Sandy’s to get the shades of emotion across, from moodiness to compassion to outright fury. There’s not many singers can do that.”

One song on Unhalfbricking points to the direction the band would take on their next album. A Sailor’s Life is a traditional song brought to the band by Sandy Denny. The song, indexed as Roud 237 in the English Folk Dance and Song Society, was previously covered by Judy Collins on her album A Maid of Constant Sorrow in 1961 and by Martin Carthy on his second album from 1966.

Fairport Convention’s version is a milestone in British folk rock, maybe the first time a serious rock interpretation was given to an old ballad. Sheila Chandra, who was inspired by Sandy Denny’s delivery of the song and later covered it herself, found similarities to Indian music in Fairport Convention’s version: “The track is actually a microcosm of 2,000 years of Indian music – it goes from Vedic chanting on two or three notes right through to full improvisations on a fixed note scale. All in one take. The band have realized that all folk music is based upon a drone, and shares a common root. For instance, the way the violin comes in with an insistent repeat of the drone note is reminiscent of the Indian wind instrument the Shenai, and its distant relative the shawm in Irish music. It all connects.” That violin is played by Dave Swarbrick, his finest contribution to this album.

John Wood, who was the principal sound engineer in the studio, recalls the recording of the song: “Richard and Sandy came in and said ‘we really think we can only do this once’. They already got Dave Swarbrick in to play on it. We put Sandy in a vocal booth (she had an awful cold that day too) and everybody else in a big semicircle. When you want to cut that sort of track, its not easy for people to work if its all sectioned off, so it was very open and that was it, one take, done. No overdubs.” Dave Swarbrick was given no specific instructions as to what to play on the song other than to just come in when the singing stops. He had fond memories from the session as well: “Sandy had a great band to soar over and a great bunch of musicians who were sympathetic. Richard and Sandy worked closely together. Richard was awesome, of course. That should be his middle name. But the band was cohesive and so special, the chemistry worked and the line-up was sensational.”

I have two favourite songs on this album, and one of them is Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” Denny wrote the song early in her career with the original title The Ballad Of Time. She was not yet 20 years of age when she wrote the mature lyrics about the passage of time. She sang it during her short stint with the Strawbs in 1967. Judy Collins gave the song an interpretation in 1968 on her album of the same name and as a B-side on her single Both Sides Now.
The song became one of Denny’s most enduring and beloved songs, and in 2007 it was voted by BBC Radio 2 listeners as their favourite folk rock track of all time. It was the last song to be recorded for Unhalfbricking, and the last drummer Martin Lamble would ever record with the band.

The album was recorded in the early months of 1969 at Sound Techniques and Olympic Studios in London. Sound Techniques was a go-to studio for many great psychedelic, rock and folk British acts of the time, including Nick Drake (Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter), Incredible String Band (The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion), Jethro Tull (This Was), John Martyn (Solid Air), Pentangle (Cruel Sister), Pink Floyd (Arnold Layne), Steeleye Span (Parcel Of Rogues) and Fairport alumni Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny. John Wood assembled a roster of first-class musicians who acted as the house band for a great variety of recording sessions. Not surprisingly, many of them were associated with Fairport Convention, including Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway on drums, Danny Thompson, Dave Pegg and Pat Donaldson on bass, Richard Thompson, Jerry Donahue and Simon Nicol on guitars.

Unhalfbricking back

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Marvin Country is Marvin Etzioni’s ambitious fourth album. The two-record set hits the streets on April 17, 2012 and features Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, John Doe, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller, Maria Mckee, and more. Marvin Etzioni is an American singer, mandolinist, bassist, and record producer, Etzioni is best known as a founder of, and bassist for, the band Lone Justice.

In 2012, Marvin Etzioni released a double album extravaganza: Marvin Country! It featured guest appearances from folks including John Doe, Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Steve Earle, The Dixie Hummngbirds, Murry Hammond, and Richard Thompson. Even old Lone Justice cohorts Maria McKee, Shayne Fontaine, and David Vaught were along for the ride. But, the origins of some of those songs go back two decades.

Marvin issued Marvin Country: Communication Hoedown himself, on cassette in 1992, saying “I was single-handedly trying to bring back cassettes at a time when the industry said they were done. I still liked the analogue sound versus the high glossy digitalness (to coin a new word) of CDs.” It has never had an official release until now.

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There’s country, there’s alt. country, and there’s Marvin Country. It’s a magical place, way off the map, populated by back-porch philosophers, hobos, brokenhearted lovers and spacemen and presided over by the man the L.A. Times called “one heck of a songwriter.” Grammy award winner Marvin Etzioni has been known over the years as producer (Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Peter Case), sideman (T Bone Burnett, Dixie Chicks, Grey Delisle) and songwriter (Cheap Trick, Victoria Williams) Even before there was No Depression, Marvin was a co-founder of the seminal roots-rockers Lone Justice. It’s safe to say Marvin is revered in Americana circles worldwide. “Marvin Country!” is his ambitious fourth album, and first in over a decade. The two-record set hits the streets on 16th April. The mandolin man is back. “(Etzioni’s) material ranges from stark folk-based tunes to raw Stone’s-like rockers.”

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This time around Marvin lacks his mind blowing poetry & almost makes up the CD set with simple repeatable blues refrains. Yet he is his normal playful self with analogue sound effects, inner jokes, & songs about death & salvation. I hear more Blues & a few Cajun songs than the number of any country style of music. Some other songs are beyond categorization. There are many references about past Country greats as with Pasty Cline & Gram Parson, even the death of Bob Dylan. Don’t worry Bob is still around, but Marvin is thinking about that day that all of us shall meet.

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This incarnation of Fairport Convention comprising lead vocalist Sandy Denny and newcomers Dave Swarbrick and Dave Mattacks, together with founder members Richard Thompson on lead guitar and some vocals, Simon Nicol on rhythm guitar and Ashley Hutchings on electric bass, rehearsed and put together the album “Liege & Lief” over the summer of 1969 at a house in Farley Chamberlayne, near Braishfield, Winchester, launching its material with a sold-out concert in London’s Royal Festival Hall on 24th September that year. Liege & Lief  was the fourth album by the English folk rock band . It is often credited, though the claim is sometimes disputed, as the first major “British folk rock” album, It is the third album the group released in the UK during 1969, all of which prominently featured Sandy Denny as lead female vocalist (Denny did not appear on the group’s 1968 debut album). 

Gone were the covers of songs by Bob Dylan and others, replaced by electrified versions of traditional English folksongs (“Reynardine”, “Matty Groves”, “The Deserter”, “Tam Lin”), new compositions by band members but with a “traditional” feel (“Come All Ye”, “Farewell, Farewell”, “Crazy Man Michael”), and the first of a long line of instrumental medleys of folk dance tunes driven by Dave Swarbrick’s violin playing. The virtuoso fiddle and mandolin player Swarbrick, was a little older than the rest of the band, had already been in a successful duo with guitarist Martin Carthy. After his appearance on Unhalfbricking, he joined Fairport full-time. Much of the traditional material had been found by Hutchings in Cecil Sharp’s collection, maintained by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, although Swarbrick has elsewhere claimed credit as the source of the traditional material used.

Also rehearsed and/or recorded, but omitted from the final album, were versions of The Byrds’ “Ballad of Easy Rider”, the traditional ballad “Sir Patrick Spens” with Sandy Denny on lead vocals, and “The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood”, a Richard Fariña lyric he had set to a traditional Irish melody, the last two of which were to appear in different arrangements on later albums by Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny, respectively.

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Liege & Lief is composed of two Middle English words: liege meaning loyal and lief meaning ready. The cover, a gatefold in grey and purple, featured cameo images of the band along with track listing and credits. On the inside of the original gatefold cover, a set of illustrated vignettes told the story of ten different aspects of English traditional music and folklore, including notes on customs such as pace-eggers and the Padstow hobby-horse, as well as collectors such as Francis James Child (of “Child Ballads” fame) and Cecil Sharp.

The band toured the UK for several months, also visiting Denmark, performing the Liege & Lief material before recording it in the studio (also including a performance recorded for BBC radio’s Top Gear). However, in November 1969, even before the album was released on 2nd December, both Hutchings and Denny quit the band: Hutchings to further pursue traditional music in a new band Steeleye Span, and Denny to form her new venture Fotheringay, with more emphasis on her own original compositions.

 “Liege and Lief” won the award for Most influential Folk Album of all time.

In 2007 a double album “Liege and Lief Deluxe Edition” was released; the second album consisted mainly of BBC radio live performances and two stylistically uncharacteristic outtakes, the great American songbooks standards “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Fly Me to the Moon”.

The Band:
Sandy Denny – vocals
Dave Swarbrick – fiddle, viola
Richard Thompson – electric & acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Simon Nicol – electric, 6-string & 12-string acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Ashley Hutchings – bass guitar, backing vocals
Dave Mattacks – drums, percussion

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In November 1986; the month that this Double Live album was recorded Erasure, Duran Duran, Kim Wilde and Swing Out Sister were topping the UK Pop Charts; yet Richard Thompson’s music has aged much better than any of them. It’s not that his music; in particular his songwriting hasn’t evolved in the intervening 34 years; but if he turned up at your local concert hall with the same band of musicians in tow and played this set note for note; you would still be thrilled and satisfied at an evening and money well spent.
Arguably recorded at the height of Thompson’s ‘Commercial success’ this album was originally a radio show so the production is far clearer than a bootleg or two that I own from the same era; and the intricacy of his sublime and inventive guitar playing shines through every song. Starting with a huge roar that greets Thompson, the first song Man in Need (from Shoot Out The Lights) gets the evening off to a fantastic start; combining as it does, Thompson’s trademarked Folk sensibilities with his Electric guitar ……. showing that Folk Rock really could and still can R.O.C.K!

Although promoting the “Daring Adventures album at the time Thompson also dips daringly into his back catalogue; breathing new life into the likes of “Calvary Cross, Two Left Feet” and a personal favourite of mine; “Tear Stained Letter” …… which are still regular parts of his current concerts.

As you’d expect from a Richard Thompson concert there are surprises around every corner; and just when you’re not expecting it he drops in the Whitefriar’s Hornpipe/Shreds and Patches medley; featuring the dexterous accordion playing of John Kirkpatrick; and while not my first musical love proves to be a real toe-tapper.
There’s plenty here for part-time fans most especially You Don’t Say with Richard and Clive Gregson trading verses and harmonising like Folk’s answer to the Everly Brothers; plus I’d totally forgot that Thompson supplied the theme tune to Life and Loves of a She-Devil; and Christine Collister’s vocals and Thompson’s spooky tune.

It’s a long time since I played the album; but I don’t remember Shoot Out The Lights or Al Bowly’s in Heaven sounding this dark and dangerous, here both sound almost Gothic in tone.
For a Favourite Track I’m not sure whether to go for the tried and trusted in Wall of Death  or something brand new to me; in this case The Angels Took My Racehorse Away (from 1972’s Henry The Human Fly) which blew me away the first time I heard it but I’m going to compromise with the fabulous Nearly In Love; a song I loved way back when, from the Daring Adventures because Thompson proves what a skilled craftsman he was with storytelling and song construction; plus his guitar playing throughout shows why so many people rate him as one of the most innovative guitars players of all time. Apart from Richard Thompson’s voice being a tad smoother and more excitable than it is today; these songs and the man himself don’t appear to have aged a single day in the intervening years on this marvellous live set from my hometown Nottingham.

Recorded Live At Rock City, Nottingham, November – 1986

Named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time, Richard Thompson is also one of the world’s most critically acclaimed and prolific songwriters. He has received Lifetime Achievement Awards for Songwriting on both sides of the Atlantic – from the Americana Music Association in Nashville to Britain’s BBC Awards and the prestigious Ivor Novello.

In 2011, Thompson was the recipient of the OBE (Order of the British Empire) personally bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Most recently, the Americana Music Honors & Awards nominated him for ”Artist of the Year”.

Tracklist:
1. Man In Need (Live) ( 3:56)
2. When The Spell Is Broken (Live) ( 7:31)
3. Two Left Feet (Live) ( 3:53)
4. Jennie (Live) ( 5:28)
5. A Bone Through Her Nose (Live) ( 6:33)
6. Calvary Cross (Live) (10:23)
7. Al Bowlly’s In Heaven (Live) ( 6:33)
8. Whitefriar’s Hornpipe Shreds And Patches (Live) ( 4:53)
9. You Don’t Say (Live) ( 5:02)
10. Wall Of Death (Live) ( 3:53)
11. Fire In The Engine Room (Live) ( 3:54)
12. The Life And Loves Of A She Devil Theme Tune (Live) ( 7:46)
13. The Angels Took My Racehorse Away (Live) ( 4:41)
14. Shoot Out The Lights (Live) ( 6:46)
15. Nearly In Love (Live) ( 4:38)
16. Tear Stained Letter (Live) ( 7:56)

Was there really a time when guitar maestro Richard Thompson was still struggling to establish himself as a solo artist? Yes. Was there a time when he wasn’t a preternaturally commanding solo artist? Seemingly not.

As one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, Richard Thompson has played with some of the world’s most accomplished rock and folk musicians, starting, of course, with his first band, Fairport Convention. But of all the outfits Thompson has led during his sterling, post-Fairport, solo career, perhaps the finest was the unit he took out on the road with him for his 1985 tour supporting his then-current studio release (and first for the Polydor label), “Across A Crowded Room”. While the album’s recording sessions had featured Fairport Convention stalwarts Simon Nicol and Dave Mattacks on rhythm guitar and drums, respectively. For the tour Thompson enlisted the considerable talents of Any Trouble leader Clive Gregson and his creative partner Christine Collister, whose haunting harmonies (and occasional songwriting contributions) beautifully fleshed out the band’s live sound.

The double live album “Across a Crowded Room – Live at Barrymore’s 1985” documents an electrifying Ottawa performance from a period when the world’s greatest living guitar stylist , not to mention one of the finest songwriters the 20th century ever spat out.  Thompson was still a relatively unknown quantity without his erstwhile musical and matrimonial partner Linda, at least outside his native England. There was an abortive first stab at a solo career represented by 1972’s commercial disaster Henry the Human Fly, but 1985’s Across a Crowded Room was only Thompson’s second post-duo album. And Thompson himself has stated that it wasn’t until he partnered with Capitol Records a few years later that his tours stopped hemorrhaging currency.

But even the most cursory of listens quickly reveals that Thompson’s touring band for these shows supporting Across a Crowded Room was a crack outfit capable of deftly supporting the boss man’s superlative material and mind-melting guitar work. Some of his old Fairport convention buddies pitched in on the album but were apparently unavailable for touring. Instead, another U.K. folk-rock stalwart, Gerry Conway of Pentangle and Fotheringay (and later Fairport) took the drum stool. Rory McFarlane stepped in on bass. But possibly the most important additions to the band were singer/guitarists Clive Gregson and Christine Collister.

Clive Gregson had recently disbanded his British power-pop band, Any Trouble; he and Collister were then just about to launch themselves as a duo more than a little influence by Richard and Linda. When they lent their well honed harmonies to Thompson’s tour, they gave him arguably the finest vocal blend he’s ever achieved onstage, giving the songs an extra push over the top.

Not that any band where Richard Thompson has a guitar in hand needs any extra assistance. Though his reputation as a guitar hero would grow even greater in the years to come, Thompson was already worshiped as a six-string superhero by his hardy cult following by this point. And he approaches his instrument with the requisite amount of magic here. “Shoot out the Lights,” which would become probably his most famous guitar showcase, was still a relative new song in his repertoire at the time, but Thompson brings as much danger, mystery, and mastery to it here as ever. With his instrument alternately rattling, roaring, murmuring, and howling, he leaps far outside the convention language of the guitar (or any other instrument, for that matter) to bring the gloriously creepy, foreboding tune to its climax.

Thompson brought the bulk of his new album onstage, which is an almost entirely positive development, since songs like the bittersweet “When the Spell is Broken,” the feverish “Fire in the Engine Room,” and the explosive “She Twists the Knife Again” are all in the top tier of his work. And while audiences in ’85 were forced to sit through the turgid, endless (and thankfully anomalous) “Love in a Faithless Country,” contemporary listeners can simply skip to the next track.

Besides all of the aforementioned plus sharpshooting versions of Richard & Linda staple classic’s like “Wall of Death,” “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” and “Withered and Died,” the Barrymore’s set includes a trio of tunes never heard on any other official Richard Thompson release that will catch the fancy of Thompson trainspotters (and you’d best believe he’s got his fair share of those in his audience).

Gregson and Collister each take a turn up front, the former singing “Summer Rain” from his contemporaneous solo debut album, Strange Persuasions and the latter delivering “Warm Love Gone Cold,” a song she recorded for a BBC TV adaption of Fay Weldon’s novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. But if hearing Thompson accompany somebody else doesn’t spark your plugs, the closing track undoubtedly will. Things end with a balls-out rockabilly rave-up on another tune unique to the Thompson catalog, a riotous cover of “Skull and Cross Bones” by little known ’50s rockabilly singer Sparkle Moore, serving as a reminder that in his impressionable years, the king of British folk rock spent his fair share of time soaking up American rock ‘n’ roll.

Across a Crowded Room—Live at Barrymore’s 1985 is an essential addition to the Richard Thompson discography and offers enduring testimony as to the kind of magic the man can conjure on stage.

words, thanks to rockandrollglobe.com