Not many musicians enjoy the longevity that Richard Thompson has. His professional career career began in 1967, when Richard was just eighteen. He had just left the William Ellis School in Highgate. That’s where Richard Thompson formed his first band, Emile and The Detectives with future Strangler Hugh Cornwell.
It was with Emile and The Detectives that Richard Thompson honed his skills as a guitarist. Then when he was eighteen, he joined the newly formed Fairport Convention. They came to the attention of American producer Joe Boyd. Partly, that was down to Richard Thompson’s guitar playing. Joe Boyd decided to take a chance on Fairport Convention. So he signed them to his Witchseason production and management company.
For Richard Thompson, this was the start of a career that’s spanned forty-eight years. This began with the five alums he released with Fairport Convention.
Their debut was Fairport Convention, which was released by Island Records in June 1968. Fairport Convention was heavily influenced by American music. It was well received by critics, who forecast a bright future for Fairport Convention.
What We Did on Our Holidays.
They were right. The followup What We Did on Our Holidays, was released in January 1969 and became one of Fairport Convention’s classic albums. It marked the move away from the Amerian influence to a much more traditional, English folk rock sound. A combination of Sandy Denny’s ethereal vocals and Richard’s guitar playing proved a potent combination. This continued with Unhalfbricking, which released in July 1969. Sadly, by then, tragedy had struck for Richard Thompson.
On 11th May 1969, Fairport Convention were returning from a concert in Birmingham. The band’s van crashed, and drummer Martin Lambie and Richard’s girlfriend’s Jeannie Franklyn both died. For Fairport Convention, and Richard Thompson who was just twenty, it was a lot to cope with. At one point, the remaining members of Fairport Convention almost called time on the band. However, eventually, they chose to continue.
Fairport Convention released Unhalfbricking in June 1969. It completed Fairport Convention’s move towards the traditional English folk rock sound that began on What We Did on Our Holidays. When critics heard Unhalfbricking, they hailed the album as Fairport Convention’s finest. Record buyers agreed, and the album reached number twelve in Britain. However, good as Unhalfbricking was, it was surpassed by Fairport Convention’s third album of 1969.
Liege and Lief.
Liege and Lief was released in December 1969. The album was a mixture of tradition folk song and original compositions. After four albums, it seemed, Fairport Convention had found their own style.
Critics hailed Liege and Lief a classic. Record buyers agreed, and Liege and Lief spent fifteen weeks in the British charts, reaching number fifteen. Later, Liege and Lief would become a hugely influential album. It’s been called the first British folk rock album. However, that’s since been disputed. For Fairport Convention, it was a case of “when will we see your likes again?”
After the release of Liege and Lief, Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention and formed Fotheringay. This left a huge void. Her vocals played a huge part in the sound and success of Fairport Convention.
Sandy Denny wasn’t the only person to leave Fairport Convention. So did Ashley Hutchings. However, bassist Dave Pegg joined the band, and recording of Full House began. It was Fairport Convention’s first album without a female vocalist.
Despite the absence of Sandy Denny, Full House was well received by critics. They were won over by Fairport Convention reinterpreting traditional folk songs. Some went as far as to compare Fairport Convention to The Band. However, despite the critically acclaimed reviews, commercial success eluded Full House. Maybe this made Richard Thompson’s mind up to leave Fairport Convention?
In January 1971, Richard Thompson announced he was leaving Fairport Convention, and was about to embark upon a solo career. At the time, Richard Thompson said he hadn’t planed his departure from Fairport Convention. Instead, it was a spur of the moment decision. It’s a decision that’s worked well.
Henry The Human Fly.
Just over a year later, in April 1972, Richard Thompson released his debut album Henry The Human Fly. It featured many of the biggest names in folk music. This included two former members of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings. Other guest artists included Pat Donaldson, Linda Peters and Andy Roberts. Despite this star studded lineup, Henry The Human Fly wasn’t a commercial success. However, since then, Richard Thompson has been a truly prolific artist. Following the release of Henry The Human Fly, Richard Thompson recorded six albums with his then wife Linda. These albums were released between 1974 and 1982. They weren’t particularly successful. So, in 1982, Richard Thompson resumed his solo career. Since then Richard Thompson has released another fifteen albums. His sixteenth album is Still, which was released on Proper Music.
Despite Still being Richard Thompson’s twenty-fifth album, he’s still determined to reinvent himself musically. So, for Still, Richard Thompson brought onboard Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to produce Still. Jeff Tweedy brought new ideas to the table, and resulted in a quite different album from the folk-rock veteran. However, after his 1972 debut album Henry The Human Fly, Richard Thompson decided to put his solo career on hold.
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight.
Following the commercial failure of Henry The Human Fly. Richard Thompson decided to record an album with his then wife Linda. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight was recorded in May 1973. However, due to the petrol shortage, the album was held over until April 1974.
On its release in April 1974, critics were won over by I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight. Richard had written most of the lyrics. They feature Richard’s somewhat bleak worldview. While the lyrics were appreciated by critics and the album would become a minor classic, the album was all but ignored by record buyers. So was their sophomore album.
By the time Hokey Pokey was released in April 1975, Richard and Linda had converted to Islam, and were living in an Islamic commune. The songs on Hokey Pokey had been written prior to their conversion to Islam, so didn’t represent where the Thompsons were spiritually.
Instead, Hokey Pokey continued with Richard’s bleak worldview. In Richard’s world, people lived a shallow existence. They weren’t spiritually enlightened. Instead, they found solace in drink, drugs and casual sexual encounters. It’s as if Richard is casting a disapproving eye at the faithless. Later, in Hokey Richard declares his new found faith on A Heart Needs a Home.
However, while critics gave Hokey Cokey a warm reception, record buyers continued to turn their back on Richard and Linda Thompson. They still owed Island Records an album, so began recording what was their final album together.
Pour Down Like Silver.
Richard and Linda Thompson recorded Pour Down Like Silver in the summer of 1975. It was ready for release in November 1975. Pour Down Like Silver was a very personal album for Richard and Linda Thompson.
Having converted to the Sufi faith in 1974, and trying to make a living as a musician wasn’t easy. At one point, one of Richard’s ‘spiritual’ leaders forbade Richard to make music. This contradicted his earlier advice that “you have a voice and you’ve got to sing.” On another occasion, another ‘spiritual’ leader forbade Richard from playing his guitar. All this was proving hugely frustrating for Richard. He poured his frustration into Pour Down Like Silver which was released in November 1975.
Pour Down Like Silver was quite different from Richard and Linda Thompson’s two previous albums. Much of the album was about God and faith. However, stylistically, Pour Down Like Silver was different. Richard’s electric guitar was much more prominent. Over-dubbing wasn’t used as extensively and the album had a much sparser sound. Critics remarked that despite the changes, it was still very much a Richard and Linda Thompson album. When it failed commercially, Richard and Linda Thompson were dropped by Island Records. This resulted in Richard and Linda withdrawing from music.
After three years away from music, Richard and Linda Thompson returned refreshed and reenergised. Richard and Linda released another three albums together.
The first was First Light, which was released in October 1978. It was the first album the Thompsons released for Chrysalis. First Light featured mostly religious songs, and saw Richard and Linda accompanied by musicians who were practitioners of the Sufi faith. Unsurprisingly, First Light wasn’t a commercial success, and the Thompson’s continued their journey into the musical wilderness.
Another year passed before Richard and Linda Thompson released another album, Sunnyvista. It had been recorded at Olympic Studios, and was a very different album from First Light.
It’s thought that Richard and Linda Thompson were under pressure to deliver a commercially successful album. Sunnyvista was a vast improvement on First Light. Partly, that was down to the musicians that accompanied Richard and Linda. They were much more accomplished and talented than those that featured on First Light. The other reasons were the songs were much more commercial, and rocky. Maybe, just maybe, the Richard and Linda Thompson’s luck was going to change?
That proved not to be the case. While critics praised Sunnyvista, it wasn’t a commercial success. Granted it was a bigger success than First Light. That didn’t stop Chrysalis dropping Richard and Linda Thompson. Things were looking bleak for Richard and Linda Thompson.
Following the commercial failure of Sunnyvista, Richard and Linda Thompson toured with Gerry Rafferty. They were reduced to the role of the support act during Gerry’s 1980 tour. Once the tour was completed, Richard and Linda recorded some demos. No record company was expressing an interest in Richard and Linda Thompson. That’s until Gerry Rafferty stepped in.
Gerry Rafferty offered to finance and produce a new Richard and Linda Thompson album. This proved to an expensive mistake. The album was recorded between September and October 1980. When it came to the mixing of the album, Richard who worked quickly and spontaneously, couldn’t cope with Gerry Rafferty’s approach. He was a perfectionist, someone who took pride in his work. Eventually, Richard stopped turning up. Soon, the project was doomed.
Gerry Rafferty tried to interest record companies in Richard and Linda’s new album. However, after what happened to Island and Chrysalis with Richard and Linda Thompson albums, nobody was interested. For Gerry Rafferty this was a disaster. He lost £30,000, and the Thompson’s journey into the musical wilderness continued apace.
Shoot Out The Lights.
It was Joe Boyd rode to the rescue of Richard and Linda Thompson. He was running his own record label Hannibal Records, and decided to offer Richard and Linda Thompson a contract in the summer of 1981. However, there was a catch.
Rather than spend months recording what became Shoot Out The Lights, Joe Boyd decided that the album would be recorded quickly, over the space of a few days. The money saved could be spent on an American tour. Richard and Linda agreed.
For Shoot Out The Lights, Richard and Linda rerecorded six of the songs from the ill-fated Gerry Rafferty sessions. Two other songs were recorded. They became Shoot Out The Lights, the song the relaunched Richard and Linda’s career.
By the time Shoot Out The Lights was released on March 15th 1982, Richard and Linda’s marriage was over. This was ironic. Shoot Out The Lights was released to widespread critical acclaim. It Richard and Linda’s biggest selling album. In American and Britain, Richard and Linda Thompson were back.
While Richard and Linda split-up after the release of Shoot Out The Lights, their sixth and final album rescued their careers. In the aftermath of Shoot Out The Lights Richard Thompson decided to return to his solo career, and in 1983, released Hand Of Kindness his belated sophomore album.
Hand Of Kindness.
Hand Of Kindness saw Richard team up with Joe Boyd again. Eleven years after releasing his debut solo album, Richard was back, and back with a critically acclaimed album.
After being down and nearly out, Richard, aided and abetted by his old friend Joe Boyd pulled a rabbit out of the bag. Hand Of Kindness saw Richard combine Americana, country, folk-rock and rock. It was a much more upbeat and palatable album. Gone was Richard’s dark, cynical worldview. It was as if someone had said, “let there be light.” Richard’s response to that was Hand Of Kindness, the album the completed the reinvention of Richard Thompson.
Since then, Richard Thompson has released another fourteen solo albums. Among the highlight are 1988s Amnesia, 1991s Rumour and Sigh and 1999s Mock Tudor. Richard’s most recent album is Still. It was recently released, and see Richard collaborate with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Jeff produced Still, Richard Thompson’s sixteenth studio album.
For what became Still, Richard Thompson penned twelve new tracks. Richard was determined that his sixteenth studio album be different from previous albums. Deep down, he was scared of standing still. The last thing Richard wanted to do, was keep making the same kind of album. Instead, he wanted to change things around. So he decided to bring onboard a new producer.
Given how long Richard has been involved in music, he could’ve chosen just about anyone. However, eventually, he made what many regarded as an unlikely choice, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. It wasn’t though.
Richard liked the way Jeff Tweedy makes albums. He felt that: “Jeff is musically very sympathetic.” This was important. The changed that Jeff would make would be subtle, rather than radical. It was the musical equivalent of a nip and tuck. However, for this minor surgery, Richard Thompson had to journey to Chicago.
Recording of Still took place at Jeff Tweedy’s The Loft Studio in Chicago. Richard who sang vocals and played guitar, was accompanied by a small, but tight and talented band. The rhythm section featured drummer Michael Jerome, bassist Taras Prodani and guitarist Jim Elkington. Liam and Sima Cunningham add backing vocals. Producer Jeff Tweedy plays guitar and adds backing vocals. Once Still was completed, it was released in June 2015.
Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Still. It reached number eighty-two in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in Britain. Elsewhere, Still reached number eighty-six in Belgium, number twenty in Holland and number ninety-one in Germany. However, it was in Britain and America that Still proved most popular. It seems Richard Thompson’s decision to reinvent himself on Still, his sixteenth studio album was vindicated. I’ll tell you why.
She Never Could Resist A Winding Road opens Still. Just a lone crystalline guitar accompanies Richard’s heartfelt, wistful vocal. Soon, the rhythm section add a slow, moody and country tinged backdrop. Meanwhile, Richard dramatically tells the story of a restless spirit; “she never could stay any place too long.” He’s accompanied by harmonies. They compliment his vocal, as elements of Americana, country, folk and folk-rock are combined by producer Jeff Tweedy and his band. They’re the perfect foil for Richard as he delivers a heart wrenching vocal.
The drums that open Beatnik Walking have a traditional folk sound. They provide the heartbeat while guitars are played quickly. Fingers flit up and down the fretboard. Soon, Richard accompanied by backing vocals enters. He’s determined “to leave the beatnik blues behind.” His destination is: “Amsterdam where good things come in threes, soothe your troubles and shoot the breeze.” These lyrics play their part in an upbeat and catchy song about escaping the tedium of everyday life.
Straight away, Patty Don’t You Put Me Down has a cinematic folk-rock sound. Stylistically, it’s quite different from the first two songs. It’s has a much more rocky sound. That’s down to the guitars. They play an important part in the mix, and could easily belong on a Neil Young album. The rest of the rhythm section lock into a groove. Richard struts his way through the track, delivering a feisty,sassy vocal. Complimenting his vocal, are backing vocalists. They add the finishing touch to what’s easily, one of Still’s highlights.
Broken Doll marks another change in style. Gone is the rocky style. Instead, it’s replaced by a ballad. The arrangement meanders along. Muted guitars and the rhythm section provide a backdrop for Richard’s vocal. It’s variously dramatic, emotive and heartfelt as he almost serenades the “Broken Doll.” By then, the arrangement is like a lysergic merry-go-round. There’s a sense of despair in Richard’s voice as he realises ahe can’t mend the “Broken Doll.”
All Buttoned Up has a jaunty arrangement. As the band march along to the beat of the drum, guitars chime. Richard’s vocal is full of frustration, as he sings: “I got a girl-best girl in the world, but she won’t give me a taste of it.” Accompanied by harmonies and duelling guitars, he continues to vent his frustration.” However, Richard’s delivery is tongue in cheek, as as he combines humour and hooks.
Just a guitar opens Josephine. It sounds as if it belongs on a folk album from the late-sixties or early-seventies. The arrangement is understated. Meanwhile, Richard’s delivery is both dramatic. He’s like an actor on the stage, as he paints pictures. So much so, it’s easy to imagine a haunted and tormented Josephine, in her room scribbling frantically her thoughts on the wall.
Long John Silver sees another stylistic change. The tempo increases and Richard and his band plug-in. Bristling, electric guitar are accompanied by the rhythm section. They anchor the arrangement. Meanwhile, Richard and his backing vocalists combine, and warn about Long John Silver. “Don’t bet you shirt on Long John Silver.” Regardless of how hard they try,the lyrics to Long John Silver let the song down. Producer Jeff Tweedy does his best, but isn’t a magician.
Pony In The Stable proves to be a bit of a slow burner. That’s the case as Richard sings: “you’re messing with my mind, you’re thrilling me, you’re killing me.” Just drums and a guitar combine to create an understated, folk-tinged arrangement. Then after thirty seconds, the band kick loose, combining elements of folk, country, Americana and rock. They move up through the gears. Eventually, Richard, accompanied by backing singers and a rocky arrangement sings: “I’m flattered but I’m scared, you picked me out from all the others.” There’s a sense of insecurity in his voice as he wonders why this modern day Cleopatra has chosen him?
Where’s Your Heart sees the tempo drop. Guitars shimmer and the rhythm section create a slow, moody backdrop. This is perfect for Richard’s soul-searching vocal. With backing vocalists for company, he asks “Where’s Your Heart, it should be there?” The backing vocalists are perfect accompaniment for Richard, as his band provide an atmospheric and moody arrangement. It’s the highlight of Still.
No Peace, No End has a folk rock sound. Producer Jeff Tweedy isn’t trying to reinvent Richard Thompson. Instead, he given him a sympathetic makeover. Here, Jeff and Richard take Still in ten direction of folk rock. It’s a driving, rocky track with an anthemic sound and some of the best lyrics on Still. He poses a series of questions to a shallow, uncaring person; “where were you when the walls were crumbling, where were you when the guns were rumbling, where were you when the hounds of hell, took sons and lovers away?” They show that Richard hasn’t lost his ability to write insightful, relevant lyrics. The song also features some blistering guitar licks. Especially as Richard asks: “someday won’t you, stand in my shoes, and see the world as I see.”
After a rocky workout, Richard and the band drop the tempo on Dungeons For Eyes. As guitars chime, and the rhythm section create a moody, dramatic backdrop, Richard sings: “he’s smiling at me, the man with the blood on his hands, the man with the snakes in his shoes, how am I supposed to love him?” Just like No Peace, No End, the lyrics are among the best on Still. Especially, the way Richard delivers them. He literally lives the lyrics as another anthem unfolds.
Guitar Heroes close Still, Richard Thompson’s sixteenth studio album. In an instant, Richard is transported back to his you, when he stayed in at weekends to practice his guitar. Or as he sings “the Django way.” Seamlessly, Richard pays a homage to Django Reinhart, before recollecting how the teachers threatened to throw him out of school: “cos I’m nothing but a bebop, twang-headed, rock ’n’ roll fool.” Sixteen studio albums, five with Fairport Convention and six with his ex-wife Linda, Richard Thompson has the last laugh, and is now a fully fledged guitar hero.
Now aged sixty-six, Richard Thompson returns with the sixteenth studio album of his career. He’s now a musical veteran, one who has been releasing music for six decades.
Richard Thompson’s career started with Fairport Convention. After leaving Fairport Conventionin January 1971, Richard released his debut solo album Henry The Human Fly in 1972. When it failed commercially, Richard could never have imagined that forty-three years later, he would be one of the biggest names in folk-rock. Back in 1972, Richard Thompson was forced to put his solo career on hold.
Between 1974 and 1982, Richard and Linda Thompson released six solo albums. The only album that was a commercial success, was their swan-song Shoot Out The Lights. By the time it was released, Richard and Linda’s marriage was over. This left Richard with no option, but to resume his solo career.
In 1983, Richard released his belated sophomore album Hand Of Kindness. Eleven years after the release of his debut album, Richard Thompson was back with a critically acclaimed album. It
launched Richard Thompson’s solo career. Thirty-two years and fourteen albums later, and Richard Thompson is still going strong, and is still determined to reinvent himself musically. That’s what he did on Still, which was recently released by Proper Music.
Before releasing Still, Richard Thompson made the conscious decision to reinvent himself. So he brought onboard Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. At Jeff’s Chicago studio The Loft, he and Richard combined elements of Americana, country, folk, folk-rock, jazz and rock. Seamlessly, these elements are combined by Jeff Tweedy and a small, but tight and talented band. They provide the perfect backdrop for Richard Thompson on Still, as he showcases lyrics that are cerebral, heartfelt, humorous, incisive and insightful. When Richard Thompson’s lyrics were combined with Jeff Tweedy’s musical backdrop, the result is Still, an album that shows that after six decades making music, he’s still relevant musically. Long may that continue to be the case.