Richard Thompson to end the weekend. As a founding member of Fairport Convention, he was part of a renewed interest in Folk music, but The Fairports were more than that – they had borrowed heavily on the West Coast Folk-Rock sound with a dose of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Richard Fariña. His involvement with Fairport Convention went from 1967-1971 when he left to pursue a solo career.
After a few fits and starts he established himself as one of the UK best songwriters and recorded a string of some 24 studio albums, 5 live albums and some 133 collaborations and side projects. He has won the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting, the Orville H. Gibson Award for best acoustic guitar player in 1991, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC and an OBE by the Queen.
You could call this one non-stop career, one which continues to this day; recording and gigging frequently. Thompson has continued to guest on albums by an array of artists, from Crowded House, Bonnie Raitt and Vivian Stanshall, to Norma Waterson and BeauSoleil and folk artists like Loudon Wainwright III, Cathal McConnell (of The Boys of the Lough) and Bob Davenport. He has also performed and recorded with Teddy Thompson, his son from his marriage to Linda Thompson.
Since the early 1980s Thompson has appeared at Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy Festival, both in his own right and as a participant in sets with current and previous Fairport members. These sets are seldom confined to performances of songs out of the Thompson or Fairport Convention canons, and in recent years some surprise offerings have included the soul classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (with Thompson backed by the Roy Wood Big Band), The Beatles’ “I’m Down” and even “The Lady Is a Tramp”.
Thompson has displayed a penchant for the avant garde as well, working with former Pere Ubu singer David Thomas’s grouping The Pedestrians on two albums in 1981 and 1982, respectively. In the 1980s, he was associated with a loose-fitting group called The Golden Palominos, who were led by drummer Anton Fier and included at times on stage and on record Jack Bruce, Michael Stipe, Carla Bley, John Lydon, Bill Laswell and others. He has worked with experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser, most notably as part of the ad hoc grouping French Frith Kaiser Thompson with whom he recorded two albums. In 1997 he worked with long-time friend and band member Danny Thompson to record a concept album Industry that dealt with the decline of British industry. A year later he worked with early music expert Philip Pickett on the acclaimed Bones of All Men which fused renaissance tunes with contemporary music.
In recent years Thompson has devised and toured his show 1000 Years of Popular Music. The inspiration for this came when Playboy asked Thompson (and many other music industry figures) in 1999 for their suggestions for the “top ten songs of the millennium”. Guessing that Playboy expected most people’s lists to start at around 1950, Thompson took the magazine at its word and presented a list of songs from the 11th century to the present day. Perhaps not surprisingly, Playboy did not use his list, but the exercise gave him the idea for a show which takes a chronological trip through popular music across the ages. Thompson acknowledges that this is an ambitious undertaking, partly because he reckons that he is technically unqualified to sing 98% of the material, and partly because of the sparse musical setting he restricts himself to: besides his acoustic guitar, he’s backed by singer/pianist Judith Owen and percussionist/singer Debra Dobkin. A typical performance would start with a medieval round, progress via a Purcell aria, Victorian music hall and Hoagy Carmichael and end with Thompson’s take on the Britney Spears hit “Oops!… I Did It Again”.
Needless to say, Richard Thompson is a unique and uniquely qualified artist.
This concert comes from 1991, around the time of his Rumor and Sigh album and features more rock-flavored songs. One more aspect to a multi-faceted career.
Crank it up and enjoy. Next week will be a whole new bag of crazy, no doubt.