First Fairport gig
The three guitarists - Richard on lead, Simon (Nicol) on second, and Tyger (Ashley Hutchings) on bass - used a variety of drummers, including Shawn Frater. It was this four-piece line-up that played the first gig as Fairport Convention at St. Michael's Church Hall in Golders Green Road on Saturday 27th May 1967. This historic gig attracted some 20-25 people, who split rapidly into those at the front who knew the band, and those at the back who didn't. Among those at the rear of the hall were future Fairport drummer Martin Lamble and myself.
Early stage attitude
Richard Thompson, wearing a beret over his tousled hair, stayed resolutely stage left, half turned-away from the audience, weaving guitar magic that we hadn't heard before. The set consisted of rock covers of US-songs like Love's "7 And 7 Is", The Byrds' "My Back Pages", "Hey Joe" and some Chuck Berry material.
Swoop And Soar
Early Fairport Convention usually played two sets. Softer and more melodic tunes in the first set and longer and harder material like Richard Farina's "Reno Nevada" and Paul Butterfield's "East-West" taking the bulk of the second set:
"These allowed Richard Thompson full reign of his talent, as the arrangements were largely built around his solos and exquisite phrasing. "East-West" could last for 20 to 25 minutes, while Richard introduced samples of other tunes that he would interweave among the existing solos from the Butterfield album, as played by Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield. Using his treasured Gibson Les Paul, Richard would use the solos as a starting point for his own interpretations, which would swoop and soar with a good deal of string bending, and draw admiring glances from the rest of the band as he played".
Jamming With Jimi
Nicol in Mojo 25
Mature guitar solos
The thing about Fairport - when I first went down to see them at the strip club - it wasn't Judy and it wasn't the band, and it wasn't the music that interested me. It was Richard. To see this seventeen year old kid playing incredibly mature guitar solos. He was obviously the most talented.
Crusader for Britishness
His playing then demonstrated a rare matching of impeccable taste with a wild sense of adventure, and a deeply rooted sense of harmony with absolute melodic originality - plus, of course - blinding technique. What no one could have predicted from that vantage point was his developing genius as a composer and his evolution as a virtuoso of the acoustic guitar and a moving singer of real depth. He has mastered many forms and many styles, yet remains completely himself: a crusader for Britishness and for history in a time of fashionable transience and mid-Atlanticity and a shamelessly emotional and danger-seeking musician in a time of safety and blandness.
Fairport Convention US Tour
first overseas tour after I joined was seven weeks in America, playing
weekends mostly. That would have been in the spring of 1970. The first
gig was three nights in San Francisco at the Filmore West supporting
Jethro Tull and another band, Clouds. We played Winterland too, and the
Troubadour. That was the gig which gave rise to that bit of Fairport
mythology about the bar tab. We were doing a week's residency, two spots
each night and three on the weekend for which we were going to be paid
five hundred dollars. But when we went to collect our wages, we'd drunk
so much we owed them fifteen hundred bucks.
Dave Pegg interviewed by Andy Farquarson
Fairport at The Troubadour
Interestingly, a US-trip in September 1970 found the group playing LA's famed Troubadour Club, where they were enjoyed by California's rock elite. Linda Ronstadt joined them for an unrehearsed "Silver Threads And Golden Needles" while Richard's playing caused much interest. Late night lengthy jam sessions also found the group playing with Led Zeppelin members through Dave Pegg's Birmingham connections and subsequently drinking the place dry! Ronstadts's band at that stage were shortly to become The Eagles, and they expressed interest in having Richard on board, as did, at a later stage, some members of The Band.
quits Fairport Convention
Richard decided he wanted to leave. I think it was because he was
starting to find the group a bit restrictive. He was writing more and
more, was becoming a really great songwriter, and he was developing fast
as a singer too. I think he had all this stuff he wanted to get out but
felt he couldn't in the constraints of a band. He is a very diplomatic
guy: he'd never say 'we can't do this song because it isn't going to
work'; he'd come up with something else. It's not as if we fell out:
Richard wanted to go his own way, work on his own. By then, he'd left
the Angel and gone to live in London though he would come back a lot and
still had a room there.
Dave Pegg interviewed by Andy Farquarson
Reply to unasked questions
Richard Thompson’s name is often bandied about the media as a reply to unasked questions. For some scribes, he’s "Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan." For others, he’s an "intelligent response to the banality of the current pop spectrum." Perhaps Thompson’s unassuming, almost self-effacing reaction to decades of accolades for his high-caliber singer-songwriter and guitar work has encouraged those observations. But he’s far too involved in his craft to generate or care about hype-laden soundbites.
How many remain unaware?
Imagine encountering … someone who had never heard of Jimi Hendrix, who had never been moved by the great singers and session groups of golden-age Motown, or who, by whatever unimaginable means, had managed to remain incognizant of the collected masterworks of Lennon and McCartney.
"Apart from chance encounters with the deaf, the dead and the Pennsylvania Dutch, the actual existence of such a person is well-nigh inconceivable. And yet, how many Americans remain unaware of the work of Richard Thompson?
Rolling Stone (1985)
One Of The Best
Part of Thompson's obscurity stems from misunderstanding. He is sometimes called a "cult artist"; a cult artist, of course, is just a musician who makes less money than a rock writer. More harmful if swallowed and less easily shaken is the "folkie" label -- horrid visions of his skin splitting down the middle to reveal an English John Denver clutter the mind. But Richard Thompson is no more a folkie than Keith Richards is a bluesman; he is simply a smart eclectic who has delved into English and other traditional music with a common modal harmonic root, extracting its simplicity and emotional directness to create new songwriting and guitar styles entirely his own. Neither stringent revivalist or sentimental sap, Thompson is (in his own words) "a rock musician" -- one of the best and most original we have.
Mark Fleischmann (1982)
His discography is one of the best reasons for owning a turntable...
Mark Fleischmann (1982)
He has always kept a low profile, but Thompson is too potently talented to disappear quietly.
Mark Fleischmann (1982)
"Having Richard Thompson play on the record was an absolute thrill. I'd met Richard several years previously in England, through Clive Gregson and John Martin. We'd tried to get him to play on Blue Line but schedules made it impossible. When Steve and I were discussing guests for The Assassin's Apprentice, Richard's name came up again and Steve figured out how to make it happen. As it turned out, I wasn't there when Richard recorded his parts on Down The Wire. Those sessions were actually recorded in L.A. by Steve who had taken an 8 track digital copy of the tune with him when he went south to play a gig with Los Lobos. I gather that they recorded several passes of Richard's guitar in a little studio the day after the Los Lobos gig. I'm sorry I missed watching him perform, but it was absolutely magical to sit in the control room at The Armoury, a few days later, and hear his guitar coming out of the speakers all over my tune".
Laying his voice inside
About a year or two before I made "King of California" I did some gigs with Richard Thompson and it dawned on me after watching him 2 or 3 nights in a row. My brother Phil has a voice like Bessie Smith or Big Joe Turner, he can sing above the band. All the singers I enjoyed while growing up could sing above their bands, like Al Green and Jerry Lee Lewis, the real shouters. Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of voice, and what I noticed with Richard Thompson was that he wasn't trying to sing above, but he was laying his voice inside of the song and not straining. A little light bulb went on....Oh, that's the way you do it. I was teaching myself to sing, like a kid teaching himself a language."
If Dylan was born in Britain, raised on Celtic folk music rather than the songs of Woody Guthrie, he might have become a lot like Richard Thompson. Like Dylan, Thompson is a genius of the English language, a poet inspired by the idegious music of his native land as well as by the electricity of rock and roll. What Dylan did was called folk-rock. And Thompson's contribution - first made as a founding member of Fairport Convention - was simply called British folk-rock. But it's more than just a merging of musical forms. It's the union of poetry and the popular song.
He's too good
He's too good. It's what some "industry insiders" say about him. His songs are too litterate, too brilliant, and too eclectic to ever connect with the mass public in a mass way. But some things aren't meant for the masses. And those who know better, to quote Marilyn Monroe, know better. They know that every year or so, Richard Thompson releases another brilliant collection of beautifully crafted, finely detailed, heartfelt songs.
his early days (...) to his solo years, Thompson has done it all and
done it spectacularly. His brooding, catchy compositions have earned him
a reputation as a songwriter rivaled only by Bob Dylan and a few others.
He is also venerated for his unorthodox, innovative electric guitar
Guitar World Acoustic 2001
Celtic Hendrix in Morocco
Richard Thompson was an original member of the innovative folk-rock band Fairport Convention and has in the intervening years carved out a niche as a supremely gifted songwriter and guitarist.With his deep, burnished vocals and generally dark songs, he has modernized the British folk idiom in several ways; his expressive, often baroque fretwork joins a number of different traditions - imagine a Celtic Hendrix in Morocco - and has hugely influenced Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, among many others.
The Essential Album Guide
Live In Person
In person, Richard Thompson seems maladroit in unfamiliar company and there's a protective screen surrounding him, frequently physical. Wife Nancy can spot someone waiting to tell Richard they wish all his songs were like "The End Of The Rainbow" with practised ease and keep him tactfully at arm's length. Thompson himself is deft at avoiding those keen to disinter a past he regards as long gone. For him, the old songs are little more than jottings in a long-forgotten notebook, or juvenilia wrapped in a ribbon bow of childhood.
Eyeballing & Cricket
He is capable of eyeballing a situation he's not comfortable with and stepping aside, both literally and conversationally. But once he knows the conversation won't dwell on lyrical analysis of songs he wrote half a lifetime ago, he eases into amiable social mode - an engaging conversationalist with a broad sweep of interests far removed from rock 'n' roll. Get Thompson on gardening and you're dug in for the evening. Cricket is another enthusiasm, arcane radio shows from the 1950's, the guitar solos of James Burton....you can while away a whole summer.
Fans and friends of Thompson include legions of fellow musicians. His recent solo gig at The Troubadour in Los Angeles drew a throng which included, among others, Morrissey, Bonnie and John Raitt, the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik, ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers, Doors drummer John Densmore, Loudon and Rufus Wainwright, Lisa Loeb and members of the Dave Matthews Band.
Artists citing Thompson as an influence are as varied as R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, Beck, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt and David Byrne. Just some of the artists who have covered Thompson songs include Raitt, Ronstadt, Elvis Costello, Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith and (believe it) The Pointer Sisters.
Thompson's best interpreter is himself, however. And the solo acoustic format provides perhaps the optimal context for that — and for showcasing his astonishing ability to make one acoustic guitar sound more like three. Unlike some other technically-gifted guitarists, it's never just a barrage of notes with Thompson, either. He serves the song.
Every Bit As Good
"British folk-rock guitar phenom Richard Thompson is one of those critic's faves who has never been a major commercial force despite a lengthy career. But who cares about chart performances? This guy is every bit as good as you might have heard on the grapevine. With a flawless command of his genre, extraordinary guitar technique, and a gritty, disarming, Celtic-flavored vocal delivery, he does for folk what his contemporary Eric Clapton does for the blues: wrap it in digestible rock packaging while leaving in all of its emotional nutrition. But unlike Clapton, Thompson has never lost interest in songwriting, and he actually gets better and better as he ages, perfecting his skills and honing his unique musical vision".
In the solo arena, Thompson is in control of his music, and he weaves his magic with the craft of a seasoned expert.
Chicago Tribune 2001
Chicago Tribune 2001
Chicago Tribune 2001
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Richard Thompson Song about a '52 Vincent Black Lightning clearly
conveys the passionate feelings that are generated by beautiful women
and powerful motorcycles. Those of us who have experienced both admire
Richard's ability of communicating to others the stories of our wildest
and deepest loves. Richard carries us away on a vivid adventure in song
where others have been left standing at the curb. By the end of his
story we feel our tourguide on this enjoyable journey has shown us that
Red-haired women and
Game For Anything
"Playing in Richard Thompson's Band opened doors onto more musical landscapes than just about any other environment I've found myself in. Popular music of all ages, traditional music from Britain and Arabia, jazz, rock 'n' roll, as well as his own wonderful songs, many of them ferociously difficult to play. It's great to get reacquainted with someone who is so obviously game for anything, even Yiddish Morris Dances!"
John Kirkpatrick on Mazurka Berzeker -2001