2018

The Future is Past is all about the 70’s. It’s the time I was young free from ties, responsibility and medication. It was a time when music was being produced that we had never heard the like of previously a lot of it was progressive in the very best sense of the word.

Music is different now, it’s a bit like electricity, always on tap, if I wanted to listen to Trout Mask Replica now, at this very moment, I could do. That’s the main reason why music just isn’t as special as it was in the 60’s and 70’s there will never be the shock of the new, there will never be that sense of excitement of finding something that’s really special. Most people have a golden age of music, like I do, for a lot of them that’s enough and they can spend the rest of their lives listening to Abba or the Stone Roses with no desire to move on. For a few hardy souls there’s a lifetime of consuming endless new artists to be enthused about, listened to and then forgotten as, inevitably something new comes along. But even new music has to compete with cinema or theatre or travel or eating out for a slot in our leisure time.

The irony of course is that a lot of modern music is really good. I hate pop music now, but I have to acknowledge that it does its job pretty well. Where there is a gaping hole is a lack of credible bands who can play accessible music like the Police or Squeeze or Blondie or even (I have to say it) Oasis could, equally there are few contemporary rock bands who really float my boat although when it comes to hard rock, not my speciality, the music seems better than ever. I would take Mastodon over Saxon or Def Leppard any day.

So, there’s a lot to like, generally bands play better and record better. There’s more freedom as soon as you get away from pop because record companies are calling the shots less and less. Most modern artists have their feet on the ground because there is no way they are ever going to own a Leer jet. Best of all music is a lot more inclusive and no longer the province of sneery white men.

Since music is actually becoming worthless in terms of money, gigs are becoming a big deal. It used to be that an album cost a fortune and you could get into a gig for 50p. That’s been turned on its head but generally gigs are more pleasant, a smoke free environment, a PA that won’t induce tinnitus in 20 mins and a crowd that is less likely to break out into random acts of violence (partly because that are all al lot older)

And it’s usually all over by 10pm.

This year I have probably caught more live music than any other year of my life, this has been facilitated by quite a few free tickets, but this has evoked quite a scattergun approach to who I have been to see. Here is a random and far from comprehensive review of some of this year’s best live music.

Shonen Knife: Japanese trio serving up childlike punk. I was impressed by their total lack of guile. It seems they really do love Nick Lowe’s  ‘Cruel to be Kind’ and couldn’t wait to play it for us.

Penelope Isles: Lank haired psychedelic Indie pop from somewhere the south coast. The woman singer has an interesting voice and seem to be moving in a direction which distinguishes them from the other thousands of indie pop wanna bees.

Goat Girl: It was like the 80’s all over again with a surly largely female band with a muddy sound and passive aggressive presence. About 2 good songs.

The Dead South: An American Pogues for the new millennium. At least they looked like they were actually a band and an edgy one at that. Most of the British indie kids look like they’ve just popped out for a pot noodle during some Netflix binge session.

BC Camplight and David Ramirez .: Not on the same bill but two beery looking blokes with addiction/mental health issues who had some great songs about their addiction/mental health issues. One suspect things were about to turn messy.

Fairport Convention: I hadn’t seen these for 40 years (I managed to miss most of their Cropredy set a few years back) Surprisingly good, although drummer Gerry Donahue is now reduced to tapping on an electronic drum pad (more typing than drumming). This is a band with nothing to prove but still, despite all expectations delivering the goods.

Steeleye Span: Maddy Prior now dances like your mum or, more likely, your sister, or even you, but she still dominates. Where Fairport have gone all relaxed and semi acoustic Steeleye have become more metal. The fiddle player lets loose a stream of notes with no discernible purpose and there’s an overload of electric guitars. Not my favourite incarnation but I admire their spunk.

Richard Thompson: I’ve been banging on about him since the autumn, you don’t need me to tell you anymore.

St Paul and the Broken Bones: I recognised quite a few people  at this gig which makes me think that St Paul may be some form of breakthrough band for the over 50’s. Absolutely peerless playing and singing but not that engaging emotionally.

Truckstop Honeymoon: Husband wife and occasional family members doing a kind of send up of white trash culture. A funnier version of The Handsome Family.

The Furrow Collective: Alistair Roberts remains a firm favourite in my household. This is his regular collaboration with 3 like-minded individuals exploring the darker side of folk.

Deep Dark Woods and Kacy and Clayton: The only gig here I had to pay to see. Money well spent. This represents how bands must be innovative in saving money in touring. Here the bands combined, I suspect the last person on stage got to play bass each night. C&C’s album ‘The Siren’s Song’ was one of the best of the year.

There were more but I’ve done well to remember this many.  A new year beckons and it will be back to the 70’s as usual.

A happy new year to you all

Advertisements
Posted in rock music | 6 Comments

Christmas Day Squeeze

 

 

And so this is Christmas and it’s time for another super 70’s Christmas single.

‘Christmas Day’ is a single by Squeeze, you may not have heard of it and that’s got a lot to do with the fact that it’s not really very good.

 

These days Squeeze are a well-oiled machine, I enjoyed their headline set at the Cornbury Festival this year. Of course it’s not the original band, just like Blondie have done and the Kinks or Oasis will do if they ever reform, the band are essentially the two front men and a collection of very capable backing musicians. What people often miss about the band is something that became very obvious during a greatest hits show, namely how prone to a bit of jazz wank the band are. It happened as early as ‘Cool for Cats’ when a punchy song was interrupted with a bit of freak out jamming.

 

I assume it’s down to Glen Tilbrook who is technically a really excellent guitarist. It’s not always apparent but Tilbrook like Andy Summers from the Police and Andy Partridge from XTC has clearly absorbed the likes of Zappa but chosen to pay in a pop group rather than busting his chops with Soft Machine. As far as I can recall there is only one Squeeze song which is musically straightforward and that is ‘Labelled with Love’. All the other hits have little twists and turns, unexpected chords, detours into instrumental pieces and twisty guitar solos, it belies the fact that they are regarded as the ‘perfect pop band’, their songs all contain homeopathic doses of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

 

‘Christmas Day’ is several bits of song bolted together but unlike a lot of their singles there’s also a lack of a hook or decent tune. The lyrics, presumably by Chris Difford , are a kind to reimagining of the Christmas story, it’s a good idea and a lot more radical in 1979 than it would be now. I can remember the band being interviewed and actually being asked is they felt it might be disrespectful to include Morecambe and Wise in the same song as Joseph and Mary. It seems bizarre now but in the late 70’s God was still in his Heaven which is why I had to travel all the way to Loughborough to see Life of Brian which had been banned in Nottinghamshire. All this was wasted on the general public as they either misheard or the song was censored to include ‘walk of the wise’ (what does that mean?)

Mary and Joseph drove into town,

Searching for a place to stay.

The moon was up, and his foot was down

A miracle was on its way.

 

They tried the hotels, the motels, the bed-and-breakfast

Locals, but no one seemed to have any room.

 

Better find a double room soon!

 

So where would Christmas be without

Mary and Joseph?

Walk of the Wise?

Laurel and holly?

Cracker Surprise?

Lights on the pine tree?

And more aftershave?

I’m not forgetting Jesus who was born on Christmas Day!

 

They found a place with the neon lights

TV, Pool, and Vacancies

The man at the desk didn’t hear them right

When the two of them booked for three.

 

They watched the TV

And deeply, she thought about the needing

Of the heavens to deliver this way

And it happened on Christmas Day

Christmas Day

Christmas Day…

 

Squeeze were in the ascendant, this was the classic line up Jools Holland, Gilson Lavis and John Bentley alongside Difford and Tilbrook. They had made the album Cool for Cats and were on the way to make Argybargy by which point the general public were noticing that here was a very good band indeed who were making some very good records.

‘Christmas Day’ had the kind of fun video like the Boomtown Rats or Squeeze themselves were starting to explore. The only thing not to like was the song itself

 

Here it is

 

Posted in memories of 70s, punk rock, rock music | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Finding Thompson

The end of the 70’s marked the end of the golden age of hitchhiking. As a child a hopeful hairy stood by the side of the road with his thumb out was more common than a Little Chef. My dad would never pick one up but neither could he quite ignore them so he developed a cross the body gesture which he seemed to think denoted he was about to depart the main road. It was fairly unnecessary as he usually had his wife and two kids crammed into a space approximately the same size as a chest freezer (and not a lot warmer during the winter).

And so, I grew up with the possibility of taking to the road at a moment’s notice for absolutely no cost at all. My first hitching experience came from a drunken agreement in the pub that we would all hitch to Southwold on the Suffolk coast for a lunchtime drink. It was agreed that we would travel in pairs and meet in the Sole Bay Inn. My hitching partner woke me at a ridiculously early hour and we made our tentative way south. To our amazement we could hitch! After a few trips and a lot of walking in the heat of the summer we arrived at our destination and waited in vain. We then hitched back and met up with the others. One pair had failed to even get out of bed, the other pair had got to the side of the road but panicked when a car slowed down and gave up and went home.

Hitching always required a certain psychological energy, once you had committed and got that first lift it was quite fun but until that point there also the lure of the bus or the train or simply staying in bed.

While I was at Trent Polytechnic I had my first opportunity to see Richard Thompson.

I have to confess at this point that I had been convinced for decades that this event had taken place in the winter of 1978 but concerts.wikia.com insists it was in February the following year so I may be getting things just a tiny bit confused in my unreliable memory but all this happened at some time honestly.

My old schoolfriend Phil was still at Warwick university although by this time he had moved out to Leamington Spa. Phil’s always found nice places to live and Lemmo was no exception. It contained quite an overspill from the university and from 8am every weekday the road out was lined with students of all sexes saving money by hitching to their lectures.

Richard and Linda Thompson were due to play the University

How we managed to co ordinate all this without phones let alone email, Facebook, Twitter etc remains a mystery. What also remains a mystery is how I managed to hitch down to Warwick university without a sat nav or, probably, a map.

The weird thing was that hitching was usually about as quick as taking a bus as long as there was a reasonable chance of a lift. I think the longest I ever waited was around 90 mins but quite often you could get a lift in 15mins or less. On the day in question (Thursday apparently) it took me the afternoon to get there, it was winter and light was fading fast. Apart from one van driver who looked like an extra from Mad Max everyone was well behaved. I met up with Phil, we had something to eat and prepared for the gig by drinking the statutory 4 pints.

At this point Richard and Linda were at a low point in their career. 1978 had seen the release of First Light, a candidate for the worst Richard Thompson record ever. They had only managed a handful of gigs in 1978 and but 1979 saw them back into relatively full-time musical employment. As was the vogue for ‘hippie’ bands we were all seated on the floor of the refectory or whatever, when the great man arrived, we remained seated.

In 1977 the Thompsons would only tour with Muslim musiciansbut that had now been jettisoned for some old mates. Dave Pegg on bass and JohnKirkpatrick on squeeze boxes had played with him off and on for the last 5years. On drums was a guy called Dave Sheen who I have never heard of before orsince. Lastly there was Sue Harris on oboe and (if my memory serves me well)dulcimer who, I suspected was slightly surplus to requirements. AlthoughRichard and Linda must have been in their late 20’s they seemed very grown up,Richard was dressed in the sort of clothes my dad might have worn in the 40’s,it was sensible but not stylish. Similarly, they weren’t going to rock out toomuch. They did play ‘Night Comes In’ at which point I got a bit tearful(probably the beer). On the other hand, at one point they went acoustic andplayed what Richard described as a ‘Ricky Nelson Song’. There were also thegood songs from First Light namely Layla (no not that one!),’Don’t Let a ThiefSteel into your Heart’ and ‘Pavanne’ which is a song just waiting for Adele tocover it as a theme for the next Bond Movie, really!!.

And so I popped my Thompson cherry, my overall memory was of a quite a warm gentle experience, they seemed nice relaxed people but I didn’t really imagine I might be writing about them in 40 years’ time.

I assume it was then back to Leamington Spa for a night on Phil’s floor. In the morning he headed off to lectures and I headed for the M1.

Soon I was on a slip road with my thumb stuck out into the sleet. A tiny well-worn car came to a halt, that wasn’t a problem, half the cars on the road were rust buckets and this only appeared to have the one driver who confirmed he was heading North.

‘Nice country you’ve got here’ was his opening line as soon as we had pulled off. The accent was either New Zealand or South African, if it was the latter I was in trouble, we were supposed to boycott everything from South Africa which might include free lifts. So, I didn’t ask I just listened to the driver’s complaints about England.

Apparently, he had been at a party the night before and hadhad some of his belongings stolen. This apparently included his car keys as,sure enough, the car had been hotwired. Worse was to follow, he decided he wasgoing to push the tiny car to its limits, forcing  to it to it’s limit trying to overtake thelorries which, in turn, were pushing out gallons of spray making visibilitypoor at best. My driver then revealed he had also had his spectacles stolen andhe could barely see where he was going and he needed me to look out the rear sohe could pull out safely. I had to try and make out if the road was clearthrough a misted frozen back window so he could lurch into the middle lane totry to overtake the thundering juggernaut that had been blocking our way.Inevitably, lurking in the murk would be another lorry coming up fast behind us which our own car struggled to reach overtaking speed.

It was a pretty traumatic trip, I was young and invincibleand still scared shitless. Luckily it was a fairly short journey, my driversoon pulled off at my exit. I jumped out into 6 inches of freezing water atwhich point the car engine finally surrendered. I asked if my driver needed a push ‘or something’. “It’s alright” he said “I’ll just sit here for a while”.

With frostbite setting in I relocated to a different roadwhere a nice warm car took me home in 15 mins.

Posted in folk rock, memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Goodbye Pete Shelley

It’s a compliment to Pete Shelley that his death has provoked some rather fine online tributes from his friends and peers. In the modern world where something along the line of ‘Pete Shelley, sad news, RIP’ is regarded as newsworthy it’s nice to hear the likes of Peter Hook genuinely stating that without Mr Shelley he would probably still be working the docks.
Shelly was an innovator and along with fellow Buzzcock Howard Devoto kickstarted the Manchester scene. I described their early adventures a couple of years back.

 

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2016/11/12/meanwhile-oop-north/

After Devoto left the weight of keeping the band going fell heavily on Shelley’s shoulder. He wrote most of the songs and sang them in a slightly fey voice somewhere between Jilted John and AL Stewart, and when he wasn’t singing we was playing weedy guitar solos which had a slight beauty all of their own

 

The band were at the top of their powers at the end of the 70’s. ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ was deservedly their greatest hit, a great tune with lyrics we call all identify with. For 3 years they were a pop band just like One Direction or anyone else modern who I don’t care about. If you went to a disco you would people hear Buzzcocks along with Blondie, Squeeze, Boney M and the Bee Gee’s. They were punk and popular. ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ tends to overshadow their other songs but there were plenty to enjoy from ‘Orgasm Addict’ to ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ .

That was Shelley’s legacy, the early albums had some interesting moments as did his brief solo career but like so many bands, a quick perusal of their back catalogue shows live albums and greatest hits and live recordings of their greatest hits outnumbering new product.

Buzzcocks were still touring earlier this year and as with Blondie the current line-up has probably been together a whole lot longer than the original but can still remember the originals names (‘Paddy’ Garvey and John Maher if you’re asking ) but haven’t a clue is on currently on bass and drums. The band continued to make the occasional record which were fine, but it would be a weird fan who turned up hoping to hear all of ‘The Way’(2014) or ‘Modern’ (1999).

And what a lot of the tributes illustrate is that this was the soundtrack to our youth and in a way that’s so much more important than the actual quality of the music. How great it was to have ‘ Fast Cars’ or ‘Promises’ or ‘What do I Get?’ as the music of our formative years, we were spoiled. In a way Shelley was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time but then again so were we.

And that still leaves the question why was he living in Estonia ?

pete shelley2

Posted in memories of 70s, punk rock, rock music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tracking Thompson in 5 videos

According to my WordPress stats no one watches any videos I post. I also know it’s a pain for my vast international audience who often find the video is blocked in their country. Still I’ve committed commercial suicide by dragging out Tracking Thompson beyond most people’s patience so here’s another nail in the coffin.

As Van would say , it’s too late to stop now !

There’s very little footage of Richard and Linda around, it wasn’t like we chronicled every last fart in the 70’s. So they managed to make 6 albums with no visual promotion. In this clip, predictably from The Old Grey Whistle Test, you can see why they weren’t immediately appealing to my 16 year self. These performers are in their mid 20s but frighteningly grown up. Linda’s emotionally bare vocal now seems stunningly beautiful. Richard is kind of background, nice hat though

https://youtu.be/DaEO_T9UAV8

Thompson is probably as well known as a folksinger as a rock guitarist and that attracts some people and puts some off. I would guess this is from the late 80’s simply because he’s yet to arrive at the trademark beret. ‘I Misunderstood’ is one of dozens of Thompson songs that could be performed by any competent guitarist. Predictably it’s pretty dark lyrically and a bit of a party killer.

https://youtu.be/_gyWTihnVjQ

I was a little critical of some of Thompson’s output around the turn of the century labeling it ‘dadrock’. I was right in a way but on this clip Michael Jerome is on drums and he kicked Thompson out of his slippers. Also present here is Pete Zorn who played everything but here has been given the tambourine as well as son Teddy Thompson who always looks a bit pissed of when he plays with dad.

https://youtu.be/fGKkhUkxvc4

A bit of a side step next.Thompson is so talented it’s easy to underrate him. He sings, writes song, plays electric guitar and acoustic guitar, often a variety of tunings. He’s also been known to play keyboards, mandolin, banjo and dulcimer. Here he is in a supporting role but if he just chose to be an acoustic guitarist backing traditional tunes he would be one of the best(not much money in it though)

https://youtu.be/ZxBZ5NPCzYI

For the final clip we are almost up to date. Pete Zorn is still present and alive (he died 2 years ago) but his current bass and drums are in place. ‘Can’t Win’ has been somewhere near the Thompson set list for 25 years at least but it is always intense and an excuse for him to get quite unhinged on guitar. There’s a parallel with Neil Young (Cortez the Killer,Cowgirl in the Sand) but much as I love Crazy Horse this band destroys them

https://youtu.be/aLypHd3hJdU

Posted in folk rock, memories of 70s | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tracking Thompson pt 4

The 80’s were a pretty grim time for me musically. I had fallen out with the New Musical Express so I didn’t really know what was happening on the music scene anymore. Also, being unemployed for quite a while I didn’t have the money to purchase records without a fairly good reason to do so. Luckily my local library was willing to lend me an LP for 20p or so. I was tending to listen to jazz but one day came across ‘Hand of Kindness’ by Richard Thompson and decided it was worth the investment.

Post break up with Linda, Richard seemed back on form, reuniting with a bunch of old mates including the ever-faithful Simon Nichol. ‘Hand of Kindness’ was simply a very good record and introduced us to ‘Tear Stained Letter’ which was to remain in his set for ever and would provide him with a chance to use it as a platform for his guitar skills, piling layer upon layer of jaw dropping electric guitar licks with seemingly no limits to his imagination.

 

Gaining employment with the probation service I discovered a semi-secret enclave of Thompson fans, generally a couple of years older than me, they were happy to pass on tapes they had made for me and so ‘Across a Crowded Room’ and ‘Daring Adventures’ entered my consciousness. This was a period of classic Thompson songs electric and acoustic.

Daring adventures ushered in the Mitchell Froom years. According to a friend of mine who is more interested in these things, producer Froom is often cast as the villain seeking to widen Thompson’s sonic palette with ‘interesting’ keyboards and American session players. Froom’s production dominated the late 80’s and early 90’s. It felt like a process that Thompson had to go through but it also produced one of his best albums in ‘Rumour and Sigh’. This in turn contained one of his best loved songs ‘Vincent Black Lightning’ which, in my opinion, has become a bit of a millstone which I am sick of hearing but I am, as usual, very much in the minority.

The second time I saw Thompson live was sometime in the 80’s when his band contained self-contained act Clive Gregson and Christine Collister doing extra guitar and vocals. It was a fairly jolly affair high on songs and aimable stage patter. The next time I caught him he was at the height of his partnership with double bassist Danny Thompson. They had a lot in common, the same name, male pattern baldness, beards and music history. Slightly bizarrely they were also both Muslims. It was probably good for Thompson to have someone to share the load with for a while, they even made a joint record ‘Industry’. Although it was a good show (of course it was) I did feel he could benefit from having a band that would push him a bit rather than Thompson (D), ex Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks and muti instrumentalist (however much they paid this guy it wasn’t enough) Pete Zorn.

It’s easy to underestimate the sheer scope of Thompson’s writing, although he’s capable of writing a well-crafted song that the likes of Nancy Griffiths could co he can also go completely off piste with a song like ‘psycho street’ off ‘Rumour and Sigh’. More recently he has honed his ‘1000 years of popular music’. Emphasising that 1000 years means more than the last 50 he has re-enacted Elizabethan Madrigals, Music Hall tunes, Jazz, Rock and Pop. He’s worked with David Byrne from Talking Heads and Fred Frith from Henry Cow, in fact he’s collaborated with more people than I would care to list (it’s on Wikipedia- go see).

And, of course he’s continued to make his own records. I have to admit I have lost track of them but I will check out ‘Still’ which was produced by Jeff Tweedy from Wilko.

The 4th time I saw Richard Thompson was at a festival where he was playing an acoustic set which was to prompt his ‘Acoustic Classics’ ‘Acoustic Classics II’ and ‘Acoustic Rarities’ albums. I didn’t particularly want to see him. Thompson has always ben very candid about his ability to size up or down according to the economic climate. I had assumed that at this point he was making easy money for his retirement fund. The thing I had failed to fully take in was the man’s work ethic, for the next few days he was cropping up on radio and television constantly to promote his work, I caught him 3 times and I virtually never listen to the radio. Presumably this was the tip of his workload Iceberg and ,of course, all this time he was playing one night stands all over the place.

The gig was great of course (of course it was).

The absolutely amazing thing about the guy is not just his work rate but also his success rate. As I mentioned last week ‘First Light’ is a bit of a stinker and you could argue ‘Mirror Blue’ or ‘Amnesia’ might not be his greatest records but they’ve all got high spots. There are records by Dylan or Young that I would hate to listen to (again) but not so Thompson. There’s a lot of similarity with Neil Young, less so with Dylan as neither Young or Thompson really captured the Zeitgeist in the same way. Thompson has never really made the same mistakes as either which I attribute to his faith. Thompson has never wasted his talents with drink or drugs and has never really wasted years or his talent and surely that is because his Sufi faith is a bedrock of who he is.

So, Thompson is still working harder than a man of 69 should be, he doesn’t hang out a lot apparently, he stays in his tour bus plays the gig and moves on. It’s a strange life for anyone especially for someone who almost gave it all up in the 70’s because the music business was so ephemeral.

The last time I saw Thompson was at the Shrewsbury Festival this year. My fears of musical retirement had been unconfirmed, he now had a three-piece electric band who knew how to support and how to push. With Michael Jerome on drums his new band is closer to the Experience than his folk rock bands of the 80’s. To be honest there were quite a lot of walk outs, it was pretty ferocious stuff with plenty of guitar solos, the audience would probably have preferred his acoustic classics. On his latest recording 13 Rivers he seems to pushing his material further than ever ‘You Can’t Reach Me’ could be an early Jam song, it makes you wonder why he is playing folk festivals when this is rock material. But that’s the way it works, especially in Britain, don’t try getting out of your box.

Except Thompson has; angrier, noisier and more talented than ever. 46 years after his first solo record 13 Rivers could even be his best record.

 

Tell that to Dylan.

Posted in folk rock, rock music | Tagged | 3 Comments

Tracking Thompson pt 3

‘I want to see the Bright Lights Tonight’ was a respected record, just as respected as the latest release by Kevin Ayres or John Cale or any other artists who had a respectful following but not a huge amount of sales. It was followed up by ‘Hokey Pokey’. Probably a record that is fit for appraisal now but at the time it passed through out lives in a low key way, I’m sure the like of Bob Harris would have played the odd track or two. I even have a vague memory of the Richard and Linda playing the title track on one of the crappy pop programs that would appear like mushrooms overnight. In some respect Hokey Pokey was a more coherent record than the Thompson’s debut. Probably informed by the Edwardian themed sleeve the music toys with music hall sensibilities. In the 70’s music hall was still a memory for our grandparents. ‘The Good Old Days’ on BBC television drew massive ratings with a recreation of, well, the good old days and their recreation of the music theatre.

hokey pokey

On Hokey Pokey there are a surprising number of comedy songs although naturally with Thompson there is a macabre twist such as the song about a young boy with a glass eye or the sexual innuendo of the title track. Such is the lure of the music hall is I find the mention of a Chevrolet car in ‘Georgie on a Spree’ a bit irritating. All in all though Hokey Pokey pointed towards the Thompsons possibly having some fun together.
‘Pour Down Like Silver’ poured cold water on what was a barely smouldering fire. The Thompson’s were down beat with a collection of skeletal songs.
The chronology is confused as some of the records took a while to be released so when they were realised, they didn’t necessarily reflect where the Thompsons were at at the time of release, if that makes sense. Sometime around the release of Hokey Pokey the couple had made a conversion to Islam. Apparently, Thompson had been hanging round with Mighty Baby, a rather good band who had transitioned from Tamla orientated material to being our own version of the Grateful Dead. Somewhere around the end of their career most of the band embraced the Sufi faith. Both the Thompsons followed and ‘Pour Down Like Silver’ could be considered their first Muslim record.

4f13e00949932571794d28ec318fa12b--richard-thompson-linda-thompson
In this context the record makes perfect sense, the couple’s photos on the sleeve leave little doubt as to where they were coming from. Although Linda was soon to tire of keeping her head covered Richard is a Sufi Muslim to this day. You wouldn’t guess it from his lyrics now but on PDLS Thompson is working towards writing songs that are low in ego and high in spirituality. In the light of his faith the love songs become devotional songs. Lyrically things can get a bit sketchy ‘Beat the Retreat’ is almost hymnal there’s resignation and peace at the heart of the album.

That was almost it for Richard Thompson the musician. He dropped off the radar for a while as the couple lived in Muslim communes, one in Norfolk one in London. When he did emerge, Thompson was fairly dismissive about his songs, he was conflicted about the bright lights, perhaps his religion disapproved of show off guitar solos.

The fact remained was that like a lot of musicians he wasn’t that good at anything else. He was tempted back into session work and after a Julie Covington (due for a FIP post sometime) record he found himself with studio time and a pool of musicians so decided he may as well record another album. ‘First Light’ contained a few good songs including ‘Don’t Let A Thief Steal into Your Heart’ that was later covered by the Pointer Sisters but it is a mess. Instead of his old chums there are quite a few American musicians on hand and ‘First Light’ is pretty slick with loads of backing vocals and a mix that sounds like it was done by the drummer’s mum. At times Richard and Linda sound like they are fighting to be heard on their own record, Richard seems to emulating Mark Knopfler and the album’s opener ‘Restless Highway’ could be the most pointless thing he’s ever recorded. I bought the LP pretty soon after release , it was a good experience preparing me for disappointment in later life, thanks Richard.

At some point ‘Sunnyvista’ was released. I had lost interest by this point and only bought the record a few years later. It contains at least one classic ‘You’re going to need somebody’ and it seemed like the couple were at least being themselves again. The record was patchy though and it was now the late 70’s, not a good time for singer songwriters. ‘First Light’ and ‘Sunnyvista’ are lost albums, not on Spotify and barely on YouTube it’s not possible to hear ‘Layla’ (not that one!) which at one time was going to catapult the couple into the charts. It’s as if the late 70’s didn’t exist for Thompson.

They had certainly dropped off my radar. Apparently over this period Gerry Rafferty had been trying to make a record with them. It didn’t work out but they had some songs to work on and eventually those songs became ‘Shoot Out the Lights’. This might be the greatest Richard and Linda record if it had been timelier but for a while it looked like guitars might not survive the millennium. The future was keyboards (and possibly saxophones) not balding folkies and their wives.

‘Shoot out the Lights’ is great of course a dark brooding mistrustful record. There was a reason for this of course. Linda had been pregnant and ill and not fully participating in the record due to breathing problems which is why the album is a bit heavy on Richard vocals. In order to earn a few bob Thompson was off on a solo acoustic of America and fell in love with the promoter.

Returning to tell Linda the good news it was becoming apparent that ‘Shoot Out the Lights’ actually had the potential to be a popular record despite Richard and Linda Thompson, the act, not existing anymore. On the back of encouraging sales Linda insisted they undertook a short tour of America. To be fair she probably deserved a trip out but the subsequent tour has entered the history books for the wrong reasons. Gathering together a band of uptight Englishmen to back them the shows were apparently ‘edgy’ due to onstage tensions and Linda’s fondness for alcohol and valium.

It was a relief to get back to England where Linda threw away the valium and got on with her life although apparently unable to sing for psychological/physical reasons for several years. Richard and Linda Thompson, the act, were no longer an act.

 

Posted in folk rock, memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment