Richard Thompson and his exquisite songs.
November 24, 2007 3:44 AM   Subscribe

Singer/songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Richard Thompson: songs of bittersweet longing, sublime eloquence, dark exuberance and ominous allusion.

Richard Thompson has a dedicated following, and consequently there are a lot of Thompson clips on YouTube. I selected these four to post here, though, because as TV spots (BBC) their quality is excellent, and because they showcase his acoustic guitar playing. Not that I don't love his electric guitar work: in fact I I am a huge fan of his electric aesthetic, particularly his soloing, but I think his acoustic guitar accompaniment is the perfect foil for his voice. I think he's one of our finest living songwriters, actually, and I hope you enjoy these clips.

There's one more from the same BBC performances, Vincent Black Lightning 1952, which I certainly would've included in the FPP, but for the fact that it would've been a double, from none other than the esteemed and now-seemingly-departed vronsky. Here's hoping you'll come riding back to MeFi, vron!
posted by flapjax at midnite (37 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Your favorite band definitely doesn't suck.
posted by Kinbote at 4:34 AM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hooray! One of our very finest, indeed.
posted by mykescipark at 4:54 AM on November 24, 2007

A true original. His songs and voice are unmistakably English, yet have a universal appeal.

Thank you for these.
posted by essexjan at 4:59 AM on November 24, 2007

Awesome. Loves RT.
posted by parki at 5:02 AM on November 24, 2007

I have been a fan of Thompson (along with his wife Linda) since 1970, and saw him live in '73 I think. My favorite lyric: "Outside, they're draggin' the river, lookin' for a body 'bout five foot two -- they had complaints about the drinkin' water so they're draggin' the river for you!"
posted by ubiquity at 5:05 AM on November 24, 2007

My favourite Richard Thompson song. Also covered by Buddy and Julie Miller.
posted by essexjan at 5:08 AM on November 24, 2007

Richard has been on my playlist ever since Shoot Out The Lights. He's the whole package: excellent guitar skills, wonderful voice, and great sense of humor. His son Teddy is a chip off the old block, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:33 AM on November 24, 2007

I always liked this one.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:41 AM on November 24, 2007

He does an amazing take on "Oops I did it again" (Yep, that one).

And don't forget Fairport Convention, which is where I first learned of him (but then I'm an old hippy)
posted by nax at 6:28 AM on November 24, 2007

Niiiiiiiiiiiiiice. Thanks. He plays a local theatre here from time to time. Definitely one of a kind.
posted by VicNebulous at 6:40 AM on November 24, 2007

His music from the the soundtrack of Grizzly Man was really exceptional. That song "Coyotes" always bangs me upside the head.
posted by sgobbare at 6:46 AM on November 24, 2007

"Rumor and Sigh" is my favorite RT album, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how well "1952 VBT" travels -- versions by Reckless Kelly and Del McCoury are two I like a lot.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:55 AM on November 24, 2007

He does an amazing take on "Oops I did it again"

When i saw him in Austin a few years ago, he led into that by saying he'd been invited by some ivory-tower group of Academics to submit one song from each of the last 4 centuries, as the most representative of that era's popular music. He played all 4 in a row -- a sea chanty, I forget what else, some sort of war ballad, then finished off with Oops, I did it again, as his example for the 20th century.

He said they declined to publish his selection.

Fantastic writer, unique voice, one hell of a technician on the guitar, both acoustic and electric. The solo in The Way That it Shows just rips my head off every time, and Beeswing has made me cry.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:55 AM on November 24, 2007

Devils Rancher, Playboy has been called a lot of things, but I think they've never been called an "ivory-tower group of Academics" before ;-)

"The concept of 1000 Years of Popular Music (recorded in concert, released on Thompson's own Beeswing imprint, and sold through his Web site) is in its title. According to the disc's liner notes, Thompson got the idea when Playboy asked him to submit a list of his 10 favorite songs of the millennium. "Hypocrites," he writes, "they don't mean millennium, they mean twenty years—I'll call their bluff and do a real thousand-year selection." (Slate)
posted by magnusbe at 7:14 AM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

RT may be a guitar god, but he is human. I saw him at a recording at Scottish Television a few years ago where he ripped into a song and suddenly froze, saying "How does this bit go again?", went through the notes again, then restarted with a sheepish grin.

There's hope for all us guitar learners here, I think ...
posted by scruss at 7:23 AM on November 24, 2007

I clicked on "God Loves A Drunk" (2nd link) expecting twee wordplay. If there were more songs like this, there would be less inhumanity to man.

Thanks, flapjax. ;_;
posted by mindsound at 7:39 AM on November 24, 2007

My wife and I have seen RT somewhere over fifteen times. She jokes that at the exits from his shows, there's a large box and a butcher knife next to a sign reading "Other guitarists, deposit your right hand here."
posted by pnh at 7:47 AM on November 24, 2007

Devils Rancher, Playboy has been called a lot of things, but I think they've never been called an "ivory-tower group of Academics" before ;-)

Well, there you have it then -- I'm trailblazing.

Seriously, I'd utterly forgotten who'd invited him to contribute. Funny I'd confuse Playboy like that, though I've gotta say I'm not an avid "reader" of that esteemed periodical.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:02 AM on November 24, 2007

His album "1000 Years of Popular Music" - which includes Oops, I did it Again, and Kiss, and (of course!) Sumer is Icumen In - is truly one of the greats.

And yeah, the first time I saw him in a solo show, I was just...I mean, how does one guy and one guitar sound like six different people up there? Genius, that's how.

Fantastic post. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 8:04 AM on November 24, 2007


Love the Reckless Kelly version of 1952 VBT - I hadn't seen it.

Slight derail - I heard Desolation Angels on the radio before I knew who Reckless Kelly were. I was very impressed by the song, but the DJ never said who the band was or what the title was. I could have sworn it was Steve Earle, so I went digging the internets and got lucky - it wasn't Steve Earle but the album was produced by Steve Earle. Just one of the small moments of synchronicity.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:58 AM on November 24, 2007


Agreed. His Grizzly Man soundtrack was amazing, but he didn't do Coyotes. That's a Don Edwards song.
posted by fishmasta at 10:05 AM on November 24, 2007

I love Richard Thompson. I wish he'd be slightly less coy with his mad chops, though. Shut up and play solos, already.

Many moons ago he played a festival in Birmingham, Alabama. After his sparsely-attended acoustic set, he wandered around in the crowd, pretty much unrecognized. I had the unique opportunity to sit with him and Patterson Hood from the Drive-By Truckers and shoot the shit. A marvelous afternoon.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:19 AM on November 24, 2007

His guitar solo on Sailor's Life (Unhalfbricking) demands to be played very loud. He's one of a kind.
posted by parki at 11:27 AM on November 24, 2007

A timely post. I was meaning to dig up some Richard Thompson stuff after falling in love with the song "Wall of Death" as covered by the sublime Dax Riggs.
posted by nowonmai at 11:40 AM on November 24, 2007

I've been lucky enough to see Thompson perform twice, once with his band, and once solo. We actually drove 90 minutes to find the venue where he was performing the following day, and as we pulled into the driveway of the venue, we heard the unmistakable sounds of "Tear Stained Letter" playing within. We got out of the car, and listened near an open door, in awe.

A few moments later, the music stopped, and out walked Richard Thompson... he looked at my wife and I and said "you're not the band!". We then chatted for a few awkward starstruck moments, and headed back home, delighted that we got to meet the man even if only for a brief time.

Needless to say, the concert was amazing.

That's my brush with greatness :)
posted by newfers at 11:54 AM on November 24, 2007

D'oh!! How right you am, is and are.
Still a fine tune tho' but it's the rest of the sound track that is appropriate to this conversation. Que sera and thank you.
posted by sgobbare at 1:52 PM on November 24, 2007

My favorite Richard Thompson (and one of my all-around faves).
posted by jonmc at 4:46 PM on November 24, 2007

This thread needs a link to Thompson's home page.

Here's RT in 1967, age, 19, with Fairport Convention. He's the shaggy-haired lead guitarist, not the singer (that's Ian Matthews).
posted by barjo at 5:49 PM on November 24, 2007

Excellent choice for a post, flapjax, as usual. Probably the greatest solo performer I've ever seen — he writes songs better than any guitarist, and plays guitar better than any songwriter. It's remarkable how dark his songs are compared to how hilariously funny he is telling stories on stage.

I first met him on New Year's Eve 1972-73 in London, where he and his wife of a few months, Linda, were playing in a club called The Howff with The Albion Country Band. I told him how much I liked his first solo album I'd reviewed earlier that year, Henry the Human Fly (supposedly the worst selling album in Warner Brothers history), and he told me how much he wanted to get back to America, which he'd first visited a few years earlier while touring with Fairport Convention.

Since then I've seen him perform when his band included his son Teddy, solo, and duo with the equally brilliant bass player Danny Thompson (no relation). With wife, son, blood brother, solo — after the fourth show I told him I couldn't think of any other way to see him perform, and he said "You're excused, then, from now on."

I would someday like to see him perform at Cropredy.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:28 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of my very favorites. I've been a fan ever since my friend in high school turned me on to "I want to see the bright lights tonight" in the late 80s. I've seen him perform many times over the years, once in Missoula, MT (drove 7 hours there from Idaho saw the show and then 7 hours back!), once in Boulder, in Boston and many times in and around San Francisco. Couple years ago I was at the show he did at Bimbos where the DVD for 1000 years of Popular Music was recorded (Wonderful show!). A year later he did a show at the Filmore and he had a cold - his voice was off but he was very diligent and did his best. Most recently he played at the Filmore again (like two months ago) with his standard band and it was an awsome show indeed.

Hard to pick favorite songs from such a long and fruitful career, but a few standouts for me include:

Love is Bad for Business (Small town romance)
Calvary Cross (Bright Lights)
The ghost of you walks (You Me Us?)
Word unspoken, Sight Unseen (The Old Kit Bag)
Now Be Thankful (Fairport - early stuff from the late 1960s)
King of Bohemia (Mirror Blue)
posted by sirvesa at 11:08 PM on November 24, 2007

The Britney cover is on Youtube - it appears to be the same version that the Slate piece talks about (either that, or the "mistake" about the sing-along pick-ups is just part of the show).
posted by zhwj at 2:14 AM on November 25, 2007

What a songwriter and picker! Folk music rocks! Great post!
posted by RussHy at 6:05 AM on November 25, 2007

Yeah folk music rocks!

My parents are big Fairport Convention fans, and I've been to pretty much every Cropredy Festival since 1979 (Lelilo, go!)

As a teenager, I was too embarrassed to admit to liking folk, let alone going to festivals, but now, I no longer care. I've realised, growing up surrounded by music like this, has given me an incredibly broadminded acceptance of music (I will listen to anything), but I have high expectations of people I see performing (Seriously, prancing around in front of the microphone is not enough, show me you can actually play that instrument).
posted by Helga-woo at 7:32 AM on November 25, 2007

(Lelilo, go!)

Thanks for the encouragement, Helga-woo. It's only about 3150 miles to the east; maybe I will make it someday. (If I do go, I'll look for you.)

Wandering YouTube on my own (without flapjax as a native guide), I was surprised to find Thompson playing with Bob Dylan and David Byrne: two of my all-time favorite songs, All Along the Watchtower and Psycho Killer.

I also found Thompson at #19 on the Rolling Stone list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Which seems a minimum of a dozen places too low for my taste. Agreed such lists are subjective, and ultimately ridiculous, but I've seen Hendrix, Duane Allman, B.B. King, and Clapton (the top four names on the list), and RT has impressed me more than any of them.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:06 AM on November 25, 2007


I wouldn't put much stock in a list where Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton don't even make the top 50 (!).

They must still get good drugs at Rolling Stone.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:08 PM on November 25, 2007

Calvary Cross is probably one of my favoritest songs evar.
Very fun post, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:17 PM on November 25, 2007

Saw the fellow live about a year ago. One of the most amazing guitarists I have ever seen. He played a solo acoustic show in a cathedral-style church and his tone was so full and textured that he came across as an entire orchestra.
posted by ageispolis at 7:10 PM on November 25, 2007

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