Gig review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson

Perth Concert Hall, October 13

It had seemed touch and go whether we would make this gig. So often, desperate as I was to take Mrs. 17 Seconds to her first Richard Thompson gig, it seemed like something was conspiring to stop us. Finally, we took our seats and, as ever, he did not disappoint.

Although billed as Richard Thompson, it was actually the Richard Thompson trio (with  a lot of help from Bobby the roadie on guitar). Whilst Thompson on his own with an acoustic guitar is pretty amazing, tonight was a reminded why one of the characters in the book of High Fidelity offers the view that he is England’s finest electric guitarist.

The reviews for 13 Rivers, his latest album have been very complimentary, and it’s clear that it’s going down as his best album for a decade, and maybe even in the 21st century. Whilst he jokes about playing a couple of new songs before playing the classics that we’ll have driven hundreds of miles for (well, Edinburgh, but y’know, it’s his only Scottish date), the live renditions of tracks from the new record like ‘The Rattle Within,’ ‘Bones Of Gilead’ and the still jaw-dropping ‘The Storm Within’ are delivered with a passion that shows these new entries to the Thompson songbook hold their own with the older entries. Live it’s amazing to watch just how much he can still rock. When people talk about Hendrix and Clapton, they should be paying attention to Thompson on that level.

His humour remains intact, he’s wry about the fact that it’s half a century of performing and he’s a genuinely funny guy. As with any Richard Thompson gig, there’s a whole heap of songs it would be nice if he played, but when the setlist includes the likes of ‘Wall Of Death, ‘ Dry My Tears And Move On,’ and Fairport Convention’s ‘Meet On The Ledge’ it would be silly to moan much. It’s mostly delivered as part of the band, but the solo renditions of ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952’ are still a masterclass in both songwriting and performance.

When I interviewed him recently, he expressed his wish to spend his 70th birthday in a cave. He’s still got plenty of energy, but if you haven’t seen him live yet, take the opportunity to do so.

And best of all, was the point where Mrs. 17 Seconds looked at me and went: ‘I get it…’

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- ‘13 Rivers.’ (Proper)

Round our house, a new album from Richard Thompson remains An. Event. This is his first album in over a decade that’s self-produced, and after three albums of his material that were re-recorded acoustically (and well-put together, rather than being stop gaps), this is a new collection of songs featuring him playing electric guitar again. There should be much rejoicing. Richard Thompson is one of the finest electric guitarists this country has ever produced, and as he continues into his sixth decade as a professional musician, he is still offering fresh ideas with the instrument.

There’s a dark and bluesy feel to the record, particularly to the first half of the album. Whilst it’s not as dark as the divorce album with his ex-wife, Linda, 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights, it seems to be a rather difficult time chez Thompson.

The album opens with the stunning ‘The Storm Won’t Come.’ A six-minutes long, cinematic song, the music reflects the anticipation of a storm that never seems to arrive. ‘I am longing for a storm to blow through town/Blow all these sad old buildings down.’ It’s one of the finest songs this year, and possibly the album’s highlight. It’s followed by ‘The Rattle Within’ is a percussive-lead song, which is reminiscent of Tom Waits. Interestingly, for someone whose heritage is very much English folk, this album sounds very much influenced by American blues and rock. The six songs that make up the first part of the record – two other notable highlights being ‘Her Love Was Meant For Me’ and ‘The Bones Of Gilead’ form a distinct whole.

The second half of the record, which starts round about the second half of the album with the seventh track ‘Do All These Tears Belong To You?’ also seems to be a distinct half.  While this half doesn’t sound as angry -it’s certainly less intense – but still finds our hero questioning the world he finds himself in. ‘You can’t reach me/I’m out in the cold’ he sings on ‘You Can’t Reach Me.’ There’s always been room for humour in Thompson’s work and on ‘O Cinderella’ as he ponders settling down he acknowledges ‘I’m not very housetrained it’s true/but I want to make cupcakes with you.’ Even on record, he can deliver a sly wink. The album draws to a close with the country-tinged ‘Shaking The Gates’ with its poignant line ‘If echoes and dreams are my world/all I’ve done is lead myself astray.’

Richard Thompson will be 70 years old next April. While some artists half his age trade on past glories, clutching at straws, he demonstrates here – yet again – that his voice strong, his guitar playing is phenomenal and his songwriting is blessed with genius.


13 Rivers is out now on Proper

Forthcoming from Richard Thompson

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a new Richard Thompson album is always cause for celebration around 17 Seconds Towers.

The man is due to release his new album 13 Rivers on September 14. In his own words “This has been an intense year for myself and my family, getting older doesn’t mean that life gets easier! There are surprises around every bend. I think this reflects in the immediacy of the stories, and the passion in the songs. Sometimes I am speaking directly about events, at other times songs are an imaginative spin on what life throws at you. The music is just a mirror to life, but we try to polish that mirror as brightly as possible.”

The tracklisting is as follows:

The Storm Won’t Come
The Rattle Within
Her Love Was Meant For Me
Bones Of Gilead
The Dog In You
Do All These Tears Belong To You?
My Rock, My Rope
You Can’t Reach Me
O Cinderella
No Matter
Shaking The Gates

The first two tracks to be released from the album ‘The Storm Won’t Come’ and ‘Bones Of Gilead’ can be streamed below:

Gig review – Richard Thompson/ Joseinne Clark & Ben Walker

Richard Thompson/Joseinne Clark & Ben Walker

Edinburgh Usher Hall, October 17, 2017

I’ve seen a number of gigs at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall before. However, tonight there is a mobile phone ban in place, which whilst fair enough from stopping people posting ropey video online or – God forbid, having phone conversations, makes trying to remember details for a review rather hard if you phone is the medium for making notes.

That irritant aside, Richard Thompson’s latest visit to the Scottish capital showed just why his reputation continues to grow fifty years into his career. The support act of Joseinne Clarke and Ben Walker are aptly chosen to warm up the crowd. Clarke’s self-deprecating brand of humour is lovely – and should she ever decide to give up singing, comedy would be an excellent alternative. Their set is bookended with Thompson connections – starting with a cover of Fairport Convention’s ‘Reynardine’ and finishing with their take on Nick Drake’s ‘Time Has Told Me’; on which Thompson played (along with no less than three Fairport Convention albums that year). They have recently released a new EP The Birds on Rough Trade – and the title track also gets an airing. It’s a fantastic place to start with their music.

With Richard Thompson, I must confess to finding it harder and harder to write reviews. Not because he isn’t good, he’s bloody fantastic. It’s more about trying to avoid cliché and repetition, and to avoid simply fawning. This year has seen him release two new acoustic albums (Acoustic Classics Volume II and Rarities), as well as playing with Fairport at their annual Cropredy Festival. He sets the bar extremely high by opening with ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘The Ghost Of You Walks.’

Trying to examine exactly why it is that he is such a compelling performer, whether solo or not, it’s a mixture of certain things. Guitar playing that is intense – but is inclusive and draws you in, rather than feeling that it is a virtuoso trying to keep you at bay. Equally it’s matched with that baritone – oh, and a wonderful sense of humour.

As is the case, the set is a mixture of well-known songs from across his career, and well as a few unknown gems. So we get an acknowledgement of his half-century with his respectful interpretation of Fairport’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ paying tribute to Sandy Denny, the song’s writer. From the Rarities album we get ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down’ which deserves to be elevated from rarity to the Thompson Classic songbook.

He acknowledges that he’s not always had a lot of chart success – but when he plays the should have been a chart hit ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ you can’t help thinking that it’s the public’s loss, not his fault. He’s understandably still smirking about an event a few years later when his then latest album debuted above that of his seventies contemporaries Yes’ latest album. When the set includes classics like ‘I Feel So Good,’ ‘Beeswing’ and ‘From Galway To Graceland’ who could fail to be wowed? That’s before you consider the masterclass in songwriting that is ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952,’ his contribution to making sure that Britain had songs about the road to rival America.

There’s so much musicality seeping form his every pore that it seems not to matter whether he plays with a band or not. He manages to play the guitar in such a way that it seems that a rhythm section is present within it. There may be countless imitators – but there’s no-one who can touch him.

Album Review – Richard Thompson

A mere two months after the release of Acoustic Classics II, Richard Thompson has given us a third collection of acoustic workings of music from his back catalogue. It’s quite a fitting way to continue to mark the fifty years since he co-formed the seminal British folk-rock band Fairport Convention.
A word about the title: Rarities often implies that it’s music that hasn’t really circulated because it’s offcuts, music that has been tucked away on b-sides, soundtrack albums or -God forbid – simply that it wasn’t really very good. In this case, put any such concerns to one side: he has amassed a number of great songs over time, and these songs are deserving of being heard, stripped down to voice and guitar.
If Bob Dylan can be considered the songwriter’s songwriter in America, then Thompson must surely be the frontline contender for the British title. A number of these titles have been covered by other artists previously -‘Seven Brothers’ by Blair Dunlop, and ‘Rainbow Over The Hill’ by the Albion Band. Six of the fourteen have been unreleased – and while all high in quality, they’re very different in approach. The album gets of to a rather dark and angry start with ‘What If’ and the reflective ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down.’ The latter feels like a cousin to one of Muswell Hill’s other famous songwriter’s – Ray Davies of The Kinks, and their 1983 single ‘Come Dancing.’ There’s the humour of the ode to one of the most important inventors ever ‘Alexander Graham Bell’ and the very European sounding ‘I Must Have A March’ which sounds like it really should have been sung by Marlene Dietrich (except that she’s namechecked in the song) or by Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
Some of the tracks have been around for a while – there’s two tracks from the final Fairport album that Thompson appeared on, Fullhouse, ‘Sloth’ and ‘Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman.’ From the years with his then-wife Linda we get ”Never Again’ and ‘End Of The Rainbow.’ It’s not a hotch-potch; the reality is that an album that is almost entirely voice and acoustic guitar is powerful and commands your attention. If it had been written as an entire album it would still have worked.
Are there other Thompson titles I’d like to hear if he continues his acoustic series? To pick three out of the air:  ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ from Mock Tudor, ‘Roll Over Vaughan Williams’ from Henry The Human Fly and a version of Fairport’s Sandy Denny’s still astonishing ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ to name a handful – I’m sure every Thompson fan has their own ideas on what should be covered. Suffice to say, yet again, Thompson has produced an album that draws on his back catalogue and stands on its own merits.
Acoustic Rarities is out now
Check out ‘They tore the hippodrome down’ here (for some reason this will not post!

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.

Gig Review – Richard Thompson/The Rails

Richard Thompson/The Rails
Edinburgh Queen’s Hall, September 6

I’ve starting to lose count of how many times I’ve seen Richard Thompson live over the last ten years, but it was an unexpected benefit to find that the support act this evening was The Rails, comprised of his daughter Kami Thompson and his son-in-law James Walbourne. Though this isn’t acknowledged until the headline act, it’s a wisely chosen support act. The close harmonies of this husband and wife team are fantastic and even to those not familiar with their music (for shame!) are won over. Shortly to release a new EP Australia, we get a fantastic set comprising songs from the new EP, including the title track, ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’ and ‘Willow Tree.’ They also give us songs from their debut album Fair Warning, including ‘The Panic Attack Blues’ which James tells us was written after going on a bender with Shane MacGowan. They conclude their set with a cover of Edwyn Collins (their favourite Scotsman – he’s produced them), entitled ‘Low Expectations.’ Whilst not one of Collins’ better-known songs, it certainly deserves to be.

Richard Thompson is on tour promoting his most recent album Still, amazingly his first top ten album in his native UK. Produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo fame, it’s yet another amazing collection of songs that shows why those in the know (and that number is still growing) rate him so highly. For his opening number he is joined by The Rails, observing that ‘nepotism will get you everywhere in this business.’ They start his set with ‘That’s Enough’ from the Thompson album Family. Thompson’s onstage banter has long been one of the joys of watching him live, telling us that the songs was written for the Occupy Wall Street Movement but a year too late, remarking ruefully that this is typical of his career. Not for the fans, Richard, not for the fans.

And it’s a career-spanning set. So highlights from Still like the album’s closer ‘Guitar Heroes’ (great on record, astonishing live) and ‘Beatnik Walking’ mingle in a set that stretches his career. Mostly backed by a pretty hot rhythm section, we do get two solo numbers, Fairport Convention’s ‘Meet On The Ledge’ followed by ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952.’ The latter has been described as his attempt to write a ‘British road song’ and the intensity of his performance is something to behold. But we also get two numbers from Shoot Out The Lights ‘Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?’ and ‘Wall Of Death’ alongside ‘Al Bowlly’s In Heaven,’ ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ and ‘For Shame Of Doing Wrong.’

Sure, I’m a big fan, what faults can I possibly pick? Well, I think he may have fluffed some of the words on ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952’ and there’s lots of other songs from his back catalogue I’d love to have heard. But this is clutching at straws. In all seriousness: if I was told that I had to pick only one artist I could ever see live again, it would be Richard Thompson.

Album Review – Richard Thompson


Richard Thompson -‘Still’ (Proper)

They say we live in the best of all possible worlds. If so, how come Richard Thompson doesn’t seem to be as revered worldwide as Bob Dylan or Eric Clapton? Because he’s got the songwriting chops of the former and is easily the equal if not the greater of the latter when it comes to the guitar. And fifty years into his music career, he is still at the top of his game. Vocally while other contemporaries of his age seem to be struggling, his warm baritone is as fine as ever.

So are there any advancements on this album? Well, it’s no longer news (unless you read the wrong magazines of course) that this album was produced by Jeff Tweedy (of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco fame). And the songs are as fine as ever, with many new fine additions to the already impressive Thompson songbook. The women in Thompson’s songs are not mere submissive groupies, he often seems to regret in his songs that he’s not been able to get them to stay.

It’s not to say that I got into this album immediately – because I didn’t. But what each successive play over the past few months has revealed is that it is full of more fine additions to the Thompson catalogue, and it is up there with the best work he has produced (Rumour & Sigh, Shoot Out The Lights, Mock Tudor and so on). Not everyone can get away with starting an album with a ballad, as Thompson does where with ‘She Never Could Resist A Winding Road’ but Richard Thompson does it with aplomb. And he’s always been able to be clever and funny with it (as you’d expect from a guy who wrote a song called ‘Hots For The Smarts.’) ‘Guitar Heroes’ manages to cleverly play tribute to those who inspired him, and still work as a song – you’ll need to listen to it to understand it. And ‘Long John Silver’ ‘Beatnik Walking’ and ‘Patty Don’t You Put Me Down’…just fine, fine songs.

So if you’re already a fan, you will know what to expect, and you will still marvel. If you’ve never heard his work, why not start here?


Two awesome albums for you to check out

Apologies for being rather quiet round here the last few days – I’ve been waylaid by a summer cold, and as ever, have way too many submissions to listen to, never even mind writing about!

These two albums, however, are ones that you should take the time to listen to, and indeed, go and buy.

Yukon Blonde

Yukon Blonde’s third album On Blonde (see what they did there?) is out on June 15 and you can stream it over on


Meanwhile, I never tire of going on about the genius that is Richard Thompson and you can stream his latest album Still either via NPR is you’re in the US, it’s out there on June 23, or if you are based in the UK, via The Guardian. It’s out here on June 29.