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"Game For Anything"

 

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.

Kingsley Abbott

  

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.

Kingsley Abbott

 

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".

Kingsley Abbott

Jamming With Jimi

 
"We played one gig with him at The Saville Theatre, but we played The Speakeasy about once a month...Jimi was very happy to get up on stage and bat it out with us. We did Hey Joe a couple of times - it was in our repertoire, like Love's version - and the Butterfield track East-West we did most nights which was a number both he and Richard could stretch out on. He didn't sing. He played Richard's guitar, Richard would grab mine and I would grab a spare to play rhythm".

Simon 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.

Joe Boyd

 

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.

Joe Boyd(1993)

 

Fairport Convention US Tour

The 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. 

But we had a fantastic week there: there were so many faces there. The Eagles dropped in nearly every night (before they'd even become the Eagles actually - they were Linda Ronstadt's backing group then) because I think they were hoping to poach Richard; even then, he was such a fantastically good guitarist. Linda Ronstadt got up and sang with us, Odetta too. It was great for me because it was the first time I'd ever been to the States. 

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.

Kingsley Abbott

Thompson quits Fairport Convention

Then 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.

I thought 'well, that's it' because although there was no leader as such, I couldn't see them wanting to carry on without Richard. I felt he was the motivator, the most creative, and we all respected him as a musician (as, indeed, most of the world does now). We were happy for him because it was obvious that he was going to succeed but I felt it would spell the end. I was the new boy so it wasn't up to me although I felt we should carry on.

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. 

innerviews.org (1991)

 

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)

Discography

His discography is one of the best reasons for owning a turntable...

Mark Fleischmann (1982)

  

Low Profile

He has always kept a low profile, but Thompson is too potently talented to disappear quietly.

Mark Fleischmann (1982)

 

Absolutely Magical

"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".

Stephen Fearing

 

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."


Dave Alvin in "The Thirsty Ear"

British folk-rock

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.

Paul Zollo

 

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.

Paul Zollo

Cliche-free

 From 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 playing.
Considering that he is of the generation in England that produced such guitar heroes as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, it is almost miraculous that Thompson succeeded in creating a cliche-free rocking style that is not blues based. Instead, his playing reflects the influence of American electric country guitarists, English traditional music and his own entirely original vision.

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.

Patrick Humphries(1996)

 

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.

Patrick Humphries(1996)

 

Musician's musician

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.

Hoosiertimes(2001)

 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".

John Alroy

Seasoned Expert

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

 

Arena Ready

Perhaps most immediately striking is Thompson's instrumental
technique. Playing bass lines with the lower strings and melody and
rhythm with the others, Thompson makes as much music as many full
bands and, on a scorcher like "Feel So Good," rocks as hard by
himself as almost any arena-ready band. Thompson's shows are never
monotonous, and he stretches his instrumental technique in different
directions for virtually every song.

Chicago Tribune 2001

 

Blinding Speed

For the dark, moody "Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?" he supplied
vibrato-rich, layered arpeggios. On the stark, atmospheric "Great
Valerio," he plucked single notes sharply to achieve a tonality akin
to a zither. His dexterity for intricate finger picking was apparent on "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," his spry tale of love, mayhem and motorcycles. On rockers like "She Twists the Knife Again," he plays with blinding speed, racing up and down the fingerboard with abandon.

Chicago Tribune 2001

 

Depth & Substance

Thompson is also a songwriter of depth and substance, alternating
between dark, obsessive tales of lost love like "The Ghost of You
Walks" cranky tirades like "Crawl Back Under Your Stone," vivid
character portraits like the aging prostitute in "The Turning of the
Tide," and wickedly funny images such as the obsessive shopper in
"Valerie."


Chicago Tribune 2001

1952 Vincent Black Lightning

The 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
Vincent Black Lightnings can be both our salvation and our ruin.  What is powerful enough to carry us to the summit can also crash us to earth.  His gift of the Black Lightning may not be a reward for what she gave him, but rather a realization that he must free himself from the steel bonds of both of his deepest loves. Only then can he escape the forces that gave him life and controlled his destiny.

For those of us who own a Vincent motorcycle, nothing else comes remotely close to the feelings of riding a quiet Dinosaur that suddenly transforms into a Fierce Dragon that bellows fire and takes flight..except a loving beautiful woman.

Richard understands.



Jim Baltusnik thevincent.com

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

 

 

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