He’s a living legend, he’s in his sixth decade of music-making…and he’s answering 17 Seconds’ questions! Richard Thompson reflects on living in America, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake, and songwriting
17 Seconds: Hi Richard! How are you, where are you, and what’s the weather like?
Richard Thompson (RT): I am fine, I’m in New Jersey. The weather is changeable, to say the least.
17 Seconds: You’ve just released 13 Rivers, your new album. It’s the first one you’ve self-produced in a while, and the record burns with an intensity, lyrically and musically [i mean this as a compliment]. What can you tell us about the creative process of writing and recording the album?
RT: I wrote the songs in the space of about 4 months. I find it hard to describe the actual creative process, as it seems to be a semi-conscious thing. We recorded it analogue at Liberace’s old studio in Hollywood, in about 10 days.
17 Seconds: You’re now based in the States. What prompted your move there, did it change how you made music and what do you miss about the U.K.?
RT: I’ve been based in the States for about 30 years. Basically I work here more than anywhere else, so it makes sense in terms of travel. Culturally I find it fairly neutral.
17 Seconds: In 1991, you released ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952,’ on the album Rumor And Sigh. Is it true you researched the song and how long did it take to write?
RT: When I was a kid, a neighbour had a Vincent Black Shadow, just a gorgeous bike, and I think that stayed with me. Before writing the song, I wanted to know everything about it, so I studied the history, got the workshop manual – then I could write with a bit of authenticity, and of course leave most of the stuff out. It took a couple of days to write, after a few false starts.
17 Seconds: You played on Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left. What are your memories of the sessions and the man himself?
RT: I knew Nick because we had the same management and record label, so I’d see him around and about, but he didn’t say much – neither did I at the time. I always overdubbed on his records, when he wasn’t in the studio.
17 Seconds: 1969 must have been a busy and intense year for you and Fairport Convention. What are your recollections of the year?
RT: The album What We Did On Our Holidays came out in January, but we had finished it a few months earlier. We released Unhalfbricking in May, after a traumatic van crash that liked our drummer [Martin Lamble, who was only nineteen]. We spent the Summer working on changing our repertoire to embrace more British traditional music. We played our new songs at the Festival Hall in September, and released Liege And Lief in November. It was busy…
17 Seconds: What, if anything, does the term ‘folk music’ mean in 2018?
RT: To some, folk means traditional, to others, it just means acoustic – so I avoid using the word. I’m glad that more rootsy music is closer to the mainstream these days. It used to be tucked away in a very separate world, Now people are more aware of Eliza Carthy or Kate Rusby, for instance.
17 Seconds: Who, if anyone, do you consider your musical contemporaries?
RT: The survivors of Fairport, Steeleye, the Albion Band…and singer-songwriters like Loudon Wainwright and John Prine.
17 Seconds: You celebrate a, um, significant birthday next year. How will you mark it?
RT: I shall hide in a cave.
17 Seconds: Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment?
RT: Wildwood Kin, Offa Rex, The Rails, Lots of dead people.
13 Rivers is out now on Proper. Richard Thompson’s UK tour starts on October 11 (see here for details).