Richard Thompson Biography

3 April 1949, Notting Hill, London, England. The talented Thompson forged his reputation as guitarist, vocalist, and composer with Fairport Convention which, although initially dubbed ‘England’s Jefferson Airplane’, later evolved into a seminal folk rock act through such acclaimed releases as What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege And Leif and Full House. Thompson’s sensitive compositions graced all of the above but none have been applauded more than ‘Meet On The Ledge’ (from What We Did On Our Holidays). This simple lilting song oozes with restraint, class and emotion and is one of the most evocative songs to come out of the late 60s ‘underground’ music scene. Thompson’s innovative guitar style brought a distinctive edge to their work as he harnessed diverse influences such as Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Otis Rush, James Burton and Mike Bloomfield.

The guitarist left the band in 1971 and having contributed to two related projects, The Bunch and Morris On, completed an impressive solo debut, Henry The Human Fly. He then forged a professional and personal partnership with singer Linda Peters. The couple, as Richard And Linda Thompson, recorded a series of excellent albums, notably I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974) and Hokey Pokey (1975), which established the artist’s reputation for incisive, descriptive compositions. Thompson also collaborated with disparate vocalists such as Sandy Denny, John Martyn, Iain Matthews, Elvis Costello, and Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, which in turn enhanced his already considerable reputation.

The Thompsons separated in 1982, although the guitarist had completed his second solo album, Strict Tempo!, a compendium of styles based on hornpipes, jigs and reels, the previous year. Thompson then recorded the acclaimed Hand Of Kindness, which juxtaposed traditional-styled material such as ‘Devonside’ with the pained introspection of ‘A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory’ and ‘The Wrong Heartbeat’. The superb concert recording Small Town Romance preceded Thompson’s major label debut, Across A Crowded Room, a lesser work featuring the embittered ‘She Twists The Knife Again’. By now Thompson had set up a permanent base in Los Angeles, California, although his critical eye would continue to remain unerringly focused on his native England. In 1986, he undertook extensive US and UK tours to promote Daring Adventures, leading a group that included Clive Gregson and Christine Collister. The album itself included two of his most affecting ballads, ‘How Will I Ever Be Simple Again’ and ‘Al Bowlly’s In Heaven’. Thompson then completed the soundtrack to The Marksman, a BBC Television series, before joining John French, Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser for the experimental Live, Love, Larf & Loaf.

In 1988, Thompson switched outlets to Capitol Records, teaming up with Daring Adventures producer Mitchell Froom once again to record the over-cooked Amnesia. Froom’s production was also a problem on the 1991 follow-up Rumor And Sigh, although some of the material (‘Read About Love’, ‘I Feel So Good’, ‘I Misunderstood’, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’) was among the finest of Thompson’s career. Thompson recorded with the Golden Palominos, and performed with David Byrne during the same year. The 1993 3-CD compilation Watching The Dark collected many unreleased live performances, and helped to put into perspective Thompson’s remarkable contribution to rock music from his debut with Fairport Convention onwards. If Watching The Dark was Thompson’s past, the double CD set You? Me? Us? (1996) and follow-up Mock Tudor (1999) represented his future. In musical terms, nothing had changed; Thompson’s lyrics remained as dark and bleak as ever, and the guitar playing was exemplary. Two new Thompson classics arrived in the shape of ‘Cold Kisses’ (on You? Me? Us?) and ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ (on Mock Tudor).

Thompson’s association with Capitol ended with 2001’s compilation set, Action Packed, which featured a gorgeous duet with his son Teddy Thompson on the ballad ‘Persuasion’ (lyrics by Tim Finn). In 2002 he launched his official website Beesweb, which has made a number of valuable live and archive recordings available on CD. Thompson relocated to the independent label Cooking Vinyl Records for 2003’s The Old Kit Bag, a recording on which his quality control remained as high as ever. In the same year, Thompson began touring his 1000 Years Of Popular Music show. Inspired by Playboy asking him to name his favourite songs of the millennium, Thompson took the magazine’s question literally and compiled a list starting in 1100. The live show devised around the list saw the artist tackling material from the 13th century English round ‘Summer Is Icumen In’, Orazio Vecchi’s ‘So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo’ from the 16th century, up to Britney Spears’ ‘Oops!... I Did It Again’. His second Cooking Vinyl release, 2005’s Front Parlour Ballads, was the artist’s first acoustic studio album since 1981’s Strict Tempo!

Despite his lack of commercial success, Thompson’s future continues to looks bright as he appears to be able to deliver time and time again without any repetition. He is one of the most important songwriters of the present day.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

RadioIO Radio