Here’s a clip of British folk guitar demigod Richard Thompson with his song “the Sights and Sounds of London Town” as taken from his 1999 album Mock Tudor. He’s accompanied here, among others, by ex-Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson (no relation), a frequent collaborator since the 1960s, and mandolinist Pete Zorn.
This tune is one of my favourites of his, one that not only showcases his guitar-playing, but also frames him as a consummate storyteller. This is an original tune, yet you can tell it’s rooted in an older approach and series of themes common to folk music. This is a modern tale of the downtrodden in the big city. These are stories of poverty, of victims, of opportunists, that make up the landscape of a town without mercy, a place so big that it’s easy for the innocent, the naïve, to get swallowed up.
Richard Thompson is something of a phenomenon in his home country, having been a member of the classic line-up of British folk-rock outfit Fairport Convention, as well as putting out albums under his own name as well as those along with his one-time wife Linda Thompson in the 70s and early 80s. Along with his remarkable skills as an instrumentalist, Thompson came into his own as a songwriter as well, often exploring the darker side of the human condition, true in many ways to the folk traditions out of which he built his own body of work.
Thompson is venerated among guitarists, celebrated by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top 100 guitar players of all time. And as a songwriter, he’s been covered by artists as diverse as REM, Shawn Colvin, and the Corrs, among many others. Along with his time in Fairport, he was a sought-after session musician who contributed guitar on Nick Drake’s first two albums, among many others. By the early-to-mid 70s, Thompson collaborated with, and married, Linda Peters with whom he would make several albums up until the early 80s, including the critically celebrated I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Pour Down Like Silver, and their final album Shoot Out the Lights, which is known as their ‘divorce’ album.
From here, Thompson continued to record as a solo artist, along with contributing to the work of others, including Gerry Rafferty, Crowded House, Bonnie Riatt, Norma Waterson, and his and Linda’s son Teddy Thompson. He frequently appears at Fairport Conventions’ annual music festival Cropredy Festival, and tours as a solo artist with frequent releases.
A more recent project, Richard Thompson – 1000 Years of Popular Music is a 2 CD & 1 DVD Set which does what it says on the box, with material that ranges from folk tunes dating back to the days of the Norman conquest (“Sumer is Icumen In”), to the industrial revolution (“Blackleg Miner”), the Kinks (“See My Friends”), and Britney Spears (“Oops I Did It Again”). It’s a varied, ambitious project that ultimately shows the similarities in pop writing across the ages, more so than the differences.
For more information about tour dates and releases, check out the official Richard Thompson website.
To hear more music, check out the Richard Thompson MySpace page.