Richard Thompson isn’t just a baby boomer folk-rock guitar god
I first discovered Richard Thompson’s music a few years ago, shortly after my daughter was born, and had left my beloved Brooklyn – and my band, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. – for a new life with my family in Princeton, New Jersey. One afternoon my mom came over and heard me play something I was working on and asked, âHave you ever listened to Richard Thompson? You remind me of him. I quickly started devouring his solo records, and later found out how much I loved his previous band, Fairport Convention, too. But I wondered, why did she hear something that I was doing and go “over there”? Aside from a shared desire to hit the strings of the guitar as hard as possible, I don’t play solo (at all), much less with its fluid complexity, nor the rough baritone of an elderly sea captain. I’m more of a wordy goat.
Thompson, for his part, is often cited as “the best rock songwriter after Dylan and the best electric guitarist since Hendrix”. And, to me at least, that estimate of him isn’t entirely hyperbole, although Prince could cough loudly from a purple cloud. But if there’s one thing that resonates with me about Thompson, more than being considered a worthy peer of the most virtuoso writers and players of his generation, it’s his humility, sincerity and sentiment. that his mind and his art have stood the test of time. havoc far better than almost anyone. (For example: David Crosby’s gaffe Twitter, Van Morrison anti-containment and “They run the media” conspiracy thought, or even that of Neil Young The PONO digital media debacle). Looking back, maybe my mom didn’t even comment on what I was playing, but how she saw what I was doing in this new chapter of my life – just playing and singing my own music in my own way and not caring too much. of his reception – also rooted in a sincerity of purpose similar to that of Thompson. Then again, maybe she was just prone to a bit of encouraging hyperbole about her son, as moms (thankfully) tend to.
Thompson’s new memoirs, Beeswing: Losing my way and finding my voice 1967-1975, traces its days as a founding member of Fairport Convention – a group that pioneered the fusion of British Isles folk traditions with contemporary rock – to their remarkable artistic partnership with Linda Thompson and beyond, all with a clear eye on the celebration, mainly, the lesser-known artists who crossed his path. If what you’re looking for is a saucy, boastful take on the decadence of the 1960s, this book isn’t for you. Although there were no Puritans, Fairport Convention, with whom Thompson recorded five glorious albums (three of them – What we did on our vacation, Unhalfbricking, and LiÃ¨ge and Lief – all released in 1969 are rightly considered classics), were far more likely to demand the stop of the tour van for antiques and tea than to indulge heavily in the libidinous excesses so common by rock musicians of the United States. ‘era. The exception, sadly, was Sandy Denny, the bright and unparalleled voice who presented the band at their best. Denny medicated what Thompson considered her anxiety in the public eye (he does not describe her as having thin skin, but “missing [even] a layer of skin “) in a self-destructive way that ultimately led to her death at age 31.
Thompson, for his part, seemed more preoccupied with pursuing a good first Fender Stratocaster model, or eagerly awaiting the scores of the obscure 16.e folkloric ballads of the century to arrive by post. In short, he was a musician of a musician, the kind who left a legendary group because the violinist (because of the amphetamine-based diet pills he took to fight a big belly) sped up the tempos live and lost the subtle nuance of the music. . Even his departure was rooted in a generosity of spirit, for he, a founding member, could just as easily have fired the violinist.
One incident that will baffle the reader, especially those who have toured as musicians themselves, is the death of drummer Martin Lamble as a result of a fatigue-induced van crash. The tragedy underscores both the group’s youth and their prodigy – Martin had recorded three iconic albums and was only 19 years old. The deaths of Lamble and Thompson’s American girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, who was traveling with the group, took an incredible toll on the entire group, resulting in their brutal rejection of American rock and blues traditions in favor of a sound rooted in ancient British folk music. The resulting album, 1969’s LiÃ¨ge and Lief, is widely regarded as the first (and best) union of British folk and contemporary rock – and it founded British folk rock as an enduring genre.
If Dylan, in going electric, had symbolically turned his back on a dogmatic reading of folk, thus creating Americanized folk rock, the Fairport Convention’s rejection of American rock and roll and blues, and a greater adherence to folk traditions of their own. culture, allowed a British strain of folk rock to emerge as an equal and relevant modern art form. While such a read is, to be fair, a bit simplistic (Dylan never really “turned his back” on folk, just his guardians), Thompson’s band was innovative in a way that neither denied nor its own cultural heritage, while doing something new in dealing with it. And they did it wonderfully – listening today, one is struck by the nuance and invention of these modern tales of ancient stories that seem as relevant to this era as any other.
Reading this you can run 50 years ahead and worry that he’s somehow a nativist asshole, Brexit-y, or having some Racist skeletons Ã la Clapton in his closet. Far from there. Although its policy is never explained in Old wine, which he has been a practicing Muslim for 23 years, lives happily as an expatriate in Montclair, New Jersey, and considers one of his greatest accomplishments to pave the way for international musicians to reinterpret their own folk traditions. is a good reminder that all books – white hair, boomer, folk-rock guitar god – are not to be judged on their covers. He’s legitimately cool and comes across as the kind of guy you’d love to sit down and hear him ramble on about “the time,” but also wouldn’t be afraid of him telling you “sampling ain’t. real music, man. ”
Thompson does not dwell too much on daily life during his time in a religious community in the late 1970s, or delve too deeply into the dissolution of his relationship with Linda Thompson – although he clearly takes heed and blame for his shortcomings as a husband and father. Linda Thompson, In a recent interview with The Guardian, alluded to her misfortune in the religious community where she and Richard lived from 1975 to 1978, saying: âSufism attracted me, but the guy who ran it was a bit of a tyrant. There was a lot of prayer and guilt, and the women were so submissive. Â»Richard, on second thought, seems to agree with it. And as his faith matured and he left this particular community, he also recognized the little vanities and cruelties that can emerge in such an idealistic endeavor.
The real testament, however, to Thompson – which makes Old wine so essential and delightful to this reader – is his celebration of the many musicians he has met, played or simply admired from afar on his travels. There are countless little love letters and mailings from other artists, and his interest seems to be much more rooted in giving glamor to lesser-known players than juicy gossip about taller artists. to a modern reader. Read this book with a paper and pen handy, as it enjoys being a tour guide for names I had never heard before, but have come to admire: Anne Briggs, Davey Graham, Martin Carthey, Dudu Pukwana and Ida Presti, to name a few. Yes, there are run-ins with The Beatles, Stones, Eagles and more, but you get the feeling that Thompson’s own estimate of his brushes with other artists is based only on his view of their worth, and not of their commercial importance.
I was fortunate enough to see Richard Thompson perform solo in my new hometown of Princeton, New Jersey three years ago. Standing on stage, alone with an acoustic guitar, what I witnessed was unlike anything I might have expected coming to a sitting theater in my sleepy college town. For at least two hours (which passed like 20 minutes) he performed and sang with unparalleled vitality, and joked with a lovable and mischievous (albeit self-effacing) wit, clear that he had never drunk his sound. own Kool-Aid, as it was. Seeing him as someone to emulate – at least technically – would be impossible for everyone except the most talented players of this generation. But his humility and his sincere love of music for itself is a lesson that we who follow him can take to heart.