Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

Watching The Dark

I think it would be an exercise in futility to try and offer up any sort of proper introduction to Richard Thompson for those unfamiliar with his work – kind of like trying to introduce Bob Dylan to someone but without at the least being able to say, “Blowing In The Wind – surely you know that one?”. What I can say without an ounce of exagerration or hyperbole, is that Thompson is one of the finest singer/songwriter/guitarists alive today. From his early days with 60s English folk-rock legends Fairport Convention through his present-day solo career, Thompson has released countless records featuring his droll, dry English wit, dark and incisive songwriting, distinctive baritone and searing fretwork on both acoustic and electric guitars.

I read somewhere that apart from maybe Neil Young, no one else ever arrived on the music scene as such a fully-formed creative entity. Young is actually an excellent parallel for Thompson, as both are equally at home in folk and rock idioms, forged their own often-unfashionable career paths and have been gifted with incredible longevity for it. Granted, Neil is a little bit more of a household name, but the comparisons are valid. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’m such a fan of both. I’d like to go so far as to say that RT’s been a big influence on my guitar playing but that’d be grossly overstating my abilities – his bagpipe/Celtic-influenced style is so singular I don’t think anyone could say they’ve copped his style. Instead, I’ll just mention that I bought my acoustic guitar based largely on how much it looked like Thompson’s Lowden and my Telecaster has the same odd pickup configuration as his custom Ferrington. And I used to have a Fender Vibroverb reissue like him, but couldn’t get it to sound any good. Win some, lose some.

While he always has and probably will always remain beneath the radar of the mainstream, it’s nice to see he’s getting some attention on the eve of the release of his new album Front Parlour Ballads (out next Tuesday) – The media page at Thompson’s website does a fine job of rounding up RT-related links on the interweb. He tells The Times about coaching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son in football and the joys of working in the cultural void that is Los Angeles, while The Sunday Herald finds out about the problems of being a Muslim – even a white one – in the current political climate. And a few months ago Being There ran a piece on one former Thompson-hater’s proverbial moment on the road to Damascus.

Thompson’s bio offers a better summary of the man’s work than I ever could. Interested parties could start with his Watching The Dark three-disc compilation, Action Packed!, which collects his work for Capitol in the 80s and 90s, or wait for the 5-CD box set (plus a bonus disc with early pressings) planned for release in early 2006.

Here’s a sampling of both the folk and rock sides of Thompson’s work in a live setting – “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” comes from his Rumour & Sigh album and may be as close to a signature song as he has (though I’d still vote for “Shoot Out The Lights”). “Hard On Me” comes from 1999’s Mock Tudor and has some truly terrifying guitarwork. And don’t worry – his songwriting is strong enough to appeal even to non-guitar geeks.

MP3: Richard Thompson – “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” (live)

MP3: Richard Thompson – “Hard On Me” (live)

Guitar Player, incidentally the first place I heard of Thompson (natch) proves to be a good source of blog-fodder too, with interviews with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker and New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Phil Cunningham.

And continuing on theme – The Washington Blade talks to Bob Mould, avowed Thompson devotee. Check out the mp3 of the week, if you haven’t already. Link via Bob.

For a minute this post over at Brooklynvegan got me all excited because it looked like the National/Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tour had actually been rescheduled a bit such that the Toronto show was now on September 3 instead of the 18th – in other words, when I was still in town! Unfortunately, closer inspection shows that CYHSY will be in town at the Horseshoe on September 3 for their own show, and will not be accompanying The National across the border a couple weeks later. Boo. Clap your hands and say whatever. Also boo – For The Records reports that Jens Lekman has cancelled his October 18 show at the Music Gallery, but hopes to make it up here in November for a solo show. Again – boo. But finally, a yay – The Fiery Furnaces will be at Lee’s Palace on October 10. I’m not the hugest fan of their records but am convinced that the live show is something I must see.

The Nonist has published a helpful brochure to assist those suffering with Blog Depression. My God, I thought I was the only one! Thanks to Lots Of Co for the pointer. I’m not alone! I can be free! I quit!

See you tomorrow.

np – Uncle Tupelo / No Depression

By : Frank Yang at 8:21 am
Category: Uncategorized
RSS Feed for this postNo Responses.
  1. thomaus says:

    …and the daily Sufjan link is where?

  2. Frank says:

    Sufjan who?

  3. tutsi roll says:

    If you had to name your top (favorite) 3 records by Richard Thompson, what would they be?

  4. newpolluter says:

    the furnaces’ continuous set is worth seeing…once anyways.

  5. John Kenyon says:

    Top 3 RTs: Shoot Out the Lights, Small Town Romance, Rumor and Sigh.

    Just saw him at a free festival here in Iowa City. Stunning, as expected. What other working musician can please both jaded musos and young families within the same set, often the same song?

  6. Frank says:

    I don’t have a really comprehensive Thompson catalog in my collection, so I can’t offer that educated a list. I have the Watching The Dark set which really covers most of his earlier years – only from the mid-80s on do I have individual albums. But out of what I’ve got, I really like Mock Tudor and You? Me? Us? The production on the 80s records is a little dated but the more recent stuff still sounds great.

  7. Karl says:

    Lou Reed heard Shoot Out The Lights and commented, "I didn’t know anyone still played guitar like that."

    Of those not already mentioned, I’m also partial to I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and Daring Adventures.

    BTW, like the blog very much.

  8. Chris says:

    Shoot Out The Lights, I Want To See The Bright Lights, Rumour & Sigh

    There are a couple of great moments at any RT show. When he rips off 2 or 3 blazing solos in the first song that eclipse 90% of artists’ encores, and the lightbulb moments for first-timers – you can see it in their faces – "Ohhh, this is why people talk about this guy."

  9. Frank says:

    and his solos are always perfectly suited to the song and support it, not overwhelm it. Most guitar virtuoso types bore the snot out of me – I could listen to RT for ages.

    BTW, I’m glad to see there’s other RT fans out there. I was sort of afraid this post would be met with blank/confused looks.

  10. courtney says:

    Sufjan who, exactly! Thanks for two great stories in as many days.

  11. radioDan says:

    I second newpolluter: the FF are worth seeing once. Eleanor’s got the Patti Smith glare down pat.

  12. Brushback says:

    That "Nonist" item was great– totally funny and cool. Thanks for pointing it out with the link.

  13. fatcitizen says:


    Vincent Black Lightning 1952 is one of my favourite SONGS of all time (let alone Richard Thompson songs).

    As for Shoot Out the Lights, make sure your readers look out for the great cover that X did on the tribute record Beat the Retreat…great stuff.