Interview – Richard Thompson

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?

RTI 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?

RTThe 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?

RTTo 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?

RTI shall hide in a cave.

17 Seconds: Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment?

RTWildwood 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).







Album Review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson -‘ Acoustic Classics II.’ (Beeswing)

There’s no shortage of half-century anniversaries to mark in the music world this year. Whether it’s Sergeant Pepper, Forever Changes or The Velvet Underground & Nico (to list three of a very long list indeed), it’s important to note that this year marks fifty years since Richard Thompson, then still a teenager, co-formed Fairport Convention, thus paving the way for British folk-rock.

Since then, of course, he’s been very highly regarded – and perhaps surprisingly, his highest charting works solo have been over the last ten years. One of those was the first Acoustic Classics album. As with this volume, it’s not a stopgap release. Rather, whilst an excellent electric guitarist and bandleader, the strength of Thompson’s singing, guitar playing and songwriting means that stripped down to just voice and acoustic guitar the listener gets a new insight into fourteen songs from his spectacular back catalogue.

It’s a fairly wide selection across his career. From the Fairport Convention days there’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge;’ from the days when he played with his wife Linda ‘Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair’ and from the last thirty years there’s ‘Pharoah’ from Amnesia, ‘Keep Your Distance’ from Rumor & Sigh (a contender for his best album) and ‘Bathsheba Smiles’ from Mock Tudor. They may be less well-known songs than those represented on the first Acoustic album, but none the worse for that.

What both Acoustic albums – and there’s more on the way, apparently – manage to achieve is that due to to the sheer magic contained within, they stand as albums in their own right. This album is perhaps darker – demonstrating that along with the humour displayed in his work (check out ‘Hots For The Smarts’ or ‘Don’t Step On My Jimmy Shands’), there is ability to reflect the variance of all human emotion within his work.

Whether this is the best place to start with Richard Thompson’s work (shame on you! Get with the programme, Godammit), as opposed to a compilation of better-known tracks is open to debate. Half a century’s work that has been covered by artists as diverse as Dinosaur Jr, Elvis Costello and June Tabor (and that’s a small list of those who have covered his work) is going to give a lot of people a lot of individual favourites. For my money, it demonstrates an important cross-section of his work, showing why he is so highly regarded and why his fanbase continues to grow. Hell, while many artists of his age are losing their singing voices, Thompson sounds ever more powerful.

If you haven’t heard Richard Thompson’s work before, there’s nothing to be lost by starting here. If you are an afficianado, you’ll want this as a wonderfully listenable example of his work.

Acoustic Classics is released on August 11.

The Sandy Denny boxset


Tomorrow will see one of the few box sets to rival Orange Juice’s Coals To Newcastle – Sandy Denny’s Sandy Denny.

Viewed as an inspiration by artists as diverse as Marc Almond and Thurston Moore, she was probably the most important British female singer in the British folk scene. Her awesome song ‘Who Knows Where the Times Goes’ was astonishingly, one of the earliest songs she ever wrote. If it (rightly) amazes you that Kate Bush wrote ‘the Man With the Child In his Eyes’ at the age of twelve, then marvel at the fact that this song could be written by someone younger then fifty. If this song does not move you, you are without a soul. As with many artists who died young, it is, as ever, pointless wondering if this was a premonition of her own untimely death, of a brain haemorrhage, in 1978. She was aged just 31.

19 CDs in total (yes you DID read that right, 19!) this boxset contains all the studio stuff that she did over her eleven year career, with the Strawbs, solo, with Fotheringay and of course, with Fairport Convention on three of the greatest albums ever – What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and, of course, Liege and Lief.

According to the record company: “This superb limited edition box set includes 19 CDs, 11 of which feature Sandy’s complete studio recordings with Alex Campbell, Johnny Silvo, Fotheringay, Strawbs, Fairport Convention and solo with additional content – outtakes, demos and live recordings. There are 8 CDs of bonus material – unreleased songs, demos, unreleased BBC recordings, alternate takes, live recordings, acoustic versions, and rare radio interviews. This set includes the legendarily ‘long lost’ Lord Bateman.

Lavishly packed, this unique collection features all new artwork. It comes with a 72 page 11″ square hardback book containing over 100 rare and mostly unseen photographs, Sandy’s handwritten lyrics (many of which are unrecorded songs) and fascinating memorabilia. Each CD is housed in an individual gatefold digipack sleeve. The box also contains reproductions of a beautiful original Island press pack, an exceptionally rare A3 promo colour poster for Northstar Grassman And The Ravens, a set of Postcards, the receipt for the purchase of her first piano and one of Sandy’s handwritten notebooks.”

Granted, at a limited edition of 1,000 and a RRP of about £150 you’ll have to be pretty into Sandy Denny (and pretty well-off) but that shouldn’t take away from how well this has been put together, musically. I was sent a digital download of all 19 CDs. You can read the tracklisting here. It doesn’t contain ‘The Battle Of Evermore’, which she deutted on with Led Zeppelin; as for the last 39 years, you can find this on Led Zeppelin IV.

This song was ranked No.1 in Radio 2’s list of the all-time greatest folk songs. No wonder…

Fairport Convention -‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’

This song is also known as ‘Little Musgrave’ and has been recorded by James Yorkston, amongst many others.

Fairport convention -‘Matty groves’

If you can’t afford it (though it may be worth asking your library to buy it), then do yourself a favour and get at least Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief, Unhalfbricking, and What We Did On Our Holidays; Fotheringay’s Fotheringay and her own North Star Grassman and the Ravens.

Tonight I’m In The Mood For…


Or at least, Folk Rock type stuff.

Maybe not the stuff I normally post here at 17 Seconds, but as a blogger rather than an editor who has to answer to people…why not?

I’m by no means an authority on this genre (arguably, I’m not an authority on any genre) but this seems to fit with what I want to listen to tonight).

Fairport Convention -‘A Sailor’s Life.’ mp3

Fairport Convention -‘I’ll Keep It With Mine.’ mp3

Of course, playing Fairport Convention led me to someone I love, even though I’m far from an authority on his very wide body of work: Richard Thompson. As well as his solo work, and being guitarist for Fairport Convention in the sixties, Thompson also made some damn fine records with his then wife, Linda.

Richard and Linda Thompson -‘Shoot Out The Lights.’ mp3

Richard and Linda Thompson -‘I’ll keep It With Mine (live).’ mp3

And because it kinda fits with what I want to hear tonight, it may be obvious, but why not?

Bob Dylan -‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ mp3

Buy Fairport Convention at Amazon
Buy Richard and Linda Thompson at Amazon
Buy Bob Dylan at Amazon