Going his own way
I Kenny Mathieson talks to the great i guitarist and songwriter Richard 1 Thompson.
“This is a song by the blessed Richard Thompson,’ was how singer June Tabor (deserving of benediction herself) introduced her version of the masterly songwriter‘s beautiful ‘Waltzing’s For Dreamers’ during her superb Edinburgh Folk l Festival concert earlier this year. It is one é indication of the respect with which his work is j held among fellow musicians. His songs have been ; widely covered (including a couple by Elvis ‘ Costello, who knows a thing or two about ; songwriting), and he has been cited as an inﬂuence ‘ by bands as diverse as The Smiths. Los Lobos, and I REM. The wider public has been slower to respond.
Revered as a virtuoso guitarist and acerbic
songwriter (even he wouldn‘t claim he is one of the "
great singers, although he is a perfectly good one), I Thompson has a healthy core of loyal fans accrued 5 over his twenty-odd years in the business, and a lengthy string ofcritical plaudits, but has never i really broken through to mass recognition, a situation which he views philosophically.
‘I don’t think it really matters that much, to be honest. Popular music has always been populated by people of varying talents, and it isn’t always the most talented who have the greatest popular success. It is also tied up with your haircut and what kind of trousers you wear. It‘s a fashion-conscious medium, and you have to locate your own place within it, and rely on the value of your own work.‘ i
Thompson first came to attention as a member of the innovative folk-rock band F airport Convention in the late 60$, helping form the band as a seventeen-year-old in 1967. Fairport extended I
The ‘blessed' Richard Thompson
; their base in traditional English music to take in
cajun, blues, R&B, and country inﬂuences, an eclectic musical policy which Thompson continued after departing the band in 1972.
His post-Fairport career has been marked by a
series of acclaimed recordings; I Want To See The
Bright Lights Tonight ( 1974) and Shoot Out The Lights (1982), both with his ex-wife Linda. were included in Rolling Stone magazine‘s best 100 albums). The latest ofthese, RumourAnd Sigh, came out last year, while a new soundtrack recording from the Australian film Sweet Talker is due any day. His liking for diverse musical sources pre-dated the world music vogue by a couple of
, decades, but he welcomes that broadening of ; interests in the late 805.
‘I’m glad that things are a little more open. I
think the music business sometimes takes control. , and music becomes very stereotyped and quite narrow in its style and sound. A lot of popular music tends to rely on one rhythm and one sound
g and one dance-beat, and it gets pretty monotonous. The resurgence of world music is a reaction to that, and it at least shows that there are a lot ofother kinds of music which can be incorporated.’
Inevitably, his more rock-orientated style did not always find favour with those who would have i preferred to hear him stay with what they saw as his folk roots. and he admits that he still gets people saying as much to him.
‘I have always liked folk music, especially from the British Isles. but I never wanted to be a traditionalist. My interest in that music was as a base on which to build. Whatever you play. though, you have to follow your own desires. You can't just play what the audience think they want, because if you do. you are in danger of becoming very conservative.
‘I am very aware that some people like the music I play with an electric band, and others only really like it when I perform solo with an acoustic guitar, I almost to the point where I have two different
audiences. There is no real stylistic difference for me, except that it can be a little more intimate in an : acoustic setting. The difference really exists in I people‘s minds. rather than in the music.’ In a rock world which ‘has become a , multi-generational business'. Thompson sees no 1 reason to contemplate giving up the music he loves I to play. His appetite for performing and writing is undiminished, and he still cites the rapport with a I live audience as the most satisfying facet of that 1 activity. 5 His latest Scottish visit will be a solo concert, l which he tries to alternate with band tours. The E solo situation is ‘more ofa challenge. in the sense i that there is nobody else up there to fall back on. It ; stretches me more. I think, but it is also very i rewarding when it works well. At one time. ifyou got up with an acoustic guitar. people immediately I said “folk”. but that is no longer the case. Now, i even Axl Rose can prance around with an acoustic guitar, and nobody bats an eyelid!‘
I Richard Thompson plays at The Queen ’5 Hall, Edinburgh on Friday 26.
Ever wondered what the small talk might be between a Minister lor the Arts and Mick Jagger? Probably not. But on at least one occasion it might well have been worth eavesdropping. It was in conversation between the two, the minister at the time being Tim Benton, that the idea lor a National
Music Day was conceived. it was if envisaged that up and down the country people of all ages, amateur and prolesslonal alike, should make Britain alive with music on a special day.
The time for that special day has come and on Sunday 28 June there will be music of all sorts coming lrom the most likely and unlikely places you can think oi. Prize for unusual venue must go to Edinburgh Youth Orchestra who choose the seven hills of Edinburgh - Arthur's Seat, Blacklord Hill, Dalton Hill, Castle Hill, Corstorphlne Hill and l Cralglockhart Hill - tor a simultaneous
periormance by seven sections of the orchestra starting at noon. Appropriately enough, they play The Seven Hills March by Neil Butterworth. , Following this, the intricately
i planned army of mums and dads in cars ' transports players and instruments to the more conventional setting of
. Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall to join 500
. singers tor a rehearsal of Vaughan
: Williams’ Sea Symphony in
' preparation lora public performance in i the evening underthe direction oi Christopher Bell. in a display of musical energy which knows no
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bounds, they then continue to play through the night until noon the lollowing day.
And it seems like Tim Benton and Mick Jagger have kept on talking. Underthe chairmanship ol Harvey Goldsmith, a committee has been lorrned to keep National Music Day as i an annual event with luture plans including the creation ol an endowment ; scholarship and the compostion at a ' National Music Day theme tune. (Carol
' National Music Day, Sunday 28 June, various events. See music listings.
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