Linda Thompson

TrackAlbum
Blue & GoldVersatile Heart
Dear MaryFashionably Late
Dimming Of The DayDreams Fly Away
If I Were A BluebirdWon'’t Be Long Now
It Won’'t Be Long NowWon'’t Be Long Now
When I Mention LoveGive Me A Sad Song
Love's For Babies And FoolsWon'’t Be Long Now
Miss MurrayFashionably Late
Telling Me LiesOne Clear Moment
Versatile HeartVersatile Heart

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Allegiances. Beatles: John or Paul? Stones: Mick or Keef? Kinks: Ray or Dave? The Band: Levon or Robbie? The Eagles: Glen or Don? It has happened so often that fans take the side of one person or another in the inevitable feuds between creative artists. Richard and Linda Thompson were a married couple on top of that. Their final fraught 1982 tour took place just after she’d given birth to their third child and he’d just left her. The shock of it all eventually left Linda Thompson with dysphonia, a condition that meant her voice could give way at any time and be lost for a long time. I read the accounts. You’re either a Lindanista or a Richardian, and I’m firmly a Lindanista. I loved Richard’s songs and lyrics and guitar playing, but I never really liked his voice or the mildly Mummerset accent on songs, which to me always sounds slightly fake, but more, I thought her woefully mistreated. I do buy each Richard album as it appears though! But while long term fans fester over their old allegiances, things are much happier over at the Thompson’s. Richard plays guitar on Linda’s new album. They have even appeared on stage together, and their son Teddy (who has his dad’s writing talent coupled with a voice much nearer his mum’s … the best combination) has written and performed with each of them. Teddy’s also putting together the next project, a “Thompson family album,” and all five Thompsons are on Linda’s Won’t Be Long Now.

I’m ignoring the 1972-1982 duo as that’s a separate Toppermost. Linda Peters (as she was) started her career in 1968, recording with Paul McNeill with a cover of You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. Totally unavailable, as was the follow-up as Paul & Linda, no, not THAT Paul and Linda. Linda said: “I did a lot of jingles before I met Richard, quite a lot of them with Manfred Mann. In those days it was a shameful thing to do. Nowadays people kill each other to get voiceovers.” (sleevenotes to Dreams Fly Away compilation CD).

She was invited to join the ex-Fairport folk supergroup, The Bunch, on Rock On in 1972. She sang When Will I Be Loved with Sandy Denny, and The Locomotion on her own, both as Linda Peters. The Locomotion may not compete with Little Eva but it is the best “white” cover and has Richard Thompson on guitar and Roger Bell of the AWB on sax. When Will I Be Loved should go in because it has Britain’s best two female folk singers duetting on the Everly Brothers song with Richard plus Trevor Lucas on guitars. But then I had to prune the list and it went, basically because it’s not an original.

After the break up, she ironically was named “Best Female Singer of 1982” by both Rolling Stone and Time. She toured with the stage production of The Mysteries which had an album by The Home Service. One song (a mere 1m 07s) is available on her Dreams Fly Away compilation, Shay Fan Yan Ley. There was an Enya type career waiting to happen along those lines. It didn’t, and the onset of psychogenic dysphonia stopped her singing for two years.

It took three years for her to release One Clear Moment. She says the reason she signed with Warners was because they had just turned Richard down. She worked with Betsy Cook throughout. The title track, One Clear Moment, was in a commercial Stevie Nicks zone, which was probably just what Warners wanted. The standout song, Telling Me Lies, was covered by The Trio (Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris) and the cover was a hit. You need the emotion, and presumed autobiography, in her own voice:

I cover my ears, I close my eyes
I still hear your voice
It’s telling me lies

Talking Like A Man continues the theme.

Dreams Fly Away in 1996 rounded up solo material with Richard & Linda Thompson songs, focussing on their demos and live versions and unreleased material. It also had rarities from Linda, such as Blackwaterside from 1983, her first post-Richard recording, with Graeme Taylor on guitar; I Live Not Where I Love recorded with Simon Nicol in 1987; Sometimes It Happens, where she and Richard performed a Brian Patten poem (sounds stiff to me). The first two are definitely “folk”. It’s a great album for me, including so many Richard & Linda songs where Linda is to the fore. Dimming Of The Day (a Richard composition, originally on Pour Down Like Silver) appears in a 1987 re-recording with Jennifer Warnes, plus Bruce Hornsby on piano, David Lindley on slide guitar and Herb Pedersen on guitar. It’s sweeter than the original, which is of course also essential.

Give Me A Sad Song in 2001 is a further retrospective rarities collection. The first five tracks are demos from a 1970 session backed by Martin Carthy, with four well-known covers, Story Of Isaac (Leonard Cohen), Fire And Rain (James Taylor), Get Back (Lennon-McCartney) and Down River (David Ackles). Then four tracks from the Brian Patten Vanishing Trick album, and three feature Richard too. There’s an anecdote from Mark Steyn who produced it. He didn’t like Richard’s playing and suggested she get a proper guitarist like Martin Carthy on the previous session. Steyn played them to Carthy and asked if he wanted to re-do the guitar. Carthy’s only response was that Richard’s playing was “beautiful”, and no. The singing’s lovely, Neil Innes and Mike Westbrook provided the music, but they do sound like poems set to music.

A couple more songs are from an abandoned musical, both written by Richard. Two songs are from a 1983 TV documentary, and Lucinda Williams’ Abandoned fits right in with her other breakup songs, and it obviously touched a chord. Graeme Taylor’s guitar is exquisite, but I really wish she’d worked it up with a full band. There are several 80s demo tracks with Betsy Cook. Give Me A Sad Song and John Prine’s Aimless Love from 1986 are more country than folk. Her Father Was A Sailor is a Thompson-Cook song that sounds 200 years old. When I Mention Love is the sort of huge torch song you can see ten different people trying to do on a Saturday night talent show. This could have been a major middle-of-the-road hit record if promoted. Why didn’t they? It’s not her normal style but it demands a place. She says that Teddy tells her to “stop doing schmaltzy!” in her October 2013 interview. Well, OK, but she does it so well on this one.

The dysphonia was returning periodically, but she discovered Botox injections enabled her to sing again and in 2002 released Fashionably Late with help from her kids, Teddy and Kamila, with Richard playing guitar on Dear Mary the opening track, with the whole family on backing vocals. You can pick out Richard’s voice. So Dear Mary has to be in. Eliza Carthy turned up on fiddle elsewhere. The second track, Miss Murray, co-written with Teddy, is even better. On this one, Richard Greene (ex-Seatrain) plays violin.

She appeared in the various Hal Wilner Tribute to Leonard Cohen concerts, choosing A Thousand Kisses Deep and Alexandra Leaving. I saw the Brighton show (review linked here).

Hal Wilner also recruited her for Paddy’s Lamentation on the Gangs Of New York soundtrack album in 2002 … it reappears on Won’t Be Long Now.

Versatile Heart came in 2007, bookended by Teddy Thompson’s instrumental Stay Bright. It’s her most eclectic album and the range of styles is staggering. Again, Teddy and Kamila accompany her. The title track, Versatile Heart, is the first choice with the rich sound of a silver band, which takes us back to Richard and Linda and seeing those bright lights tonight. The lyrical theme is the familiar territory of betrayal too:

You should have told me, never should have sold me
Down the river …
Wasn’t fair play, and I’m going away
Goodbye …

When I sifted through the wreckage, and I read your message
It tore me apart
You’re lucky you can choose who you love and who you lose
That’s an art
It’s a screw worth turning with a bridge worth burning
You so and so
On your high moral ground worth less than the pound
And your halo.

Beauty was contributed by family friend Rufus Wainwright, with chamber quintet, and Antony (without Johnsons). Katy Cruel is traditional, and she’d known it for forty years … much more folk than she had been in recent years. Blue & Gold sounds like ancient folk, but she wrote it. The notes say, “I worked these verses up from an idea by Richard Thompson, a little known but extremely useful guitarist”. Do Your Best For Rock ‘n’ Roll is deep C&W rather than R&R, or rather it’s right at the roots of R&R. David Mansfield joins Teddy Thompson on guitars. Day After Tomorrow is the Tom Waits song. Give Me A Sad Song is written with Betsy Cook, so may date back to the One Clear Moment era. Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm Band) is on fiddle, and on guitar on the next one, Go Home. Whisky, Bob Copper & Me has Carthy & Daughter with her. I struggled to choose between half a dozen for the second selection from this album, but in the end the folky Blue & Gold gets in the list.

I’m being tight on material because only ten days into 2013’s Won’t Be Long Now I’m sure it’s going to need three slots. It was assembled over some time, with Paddy’s Lamentation dating back eleven years, and Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk, live at the Bottom Line (which closed in 2004), and sung unaccompanied.

But most is new, and most is folkier than anything since 1982. Dave Swarbrick, Martin and Eliza Carthy help out, notably on Mr Tams where Eliza duets with Linda while Swarbrick plays fiddle. Teddy Thompson wrote two and co-wrote three. It opens with Love’s For Babies And Fools which every review picks out. Linda wrote it for Rufus Wainwright, and Kate McGarrigle persuaded her to record it. If I Were A Bluebird is hauntingly lovely, and was co-written with Ron Sexsmith. Amy Helm adds backing vocals. The jaunty As Fast As My Feet should edge in on variety and unexpected nature, but the fabulous lead vocal is Kami Thompson, not Linda, who sings backing with her other kids, Teddy and Muna. Never The Bride is a Linda composition that was close to getting in. The title track closes out the album, It Won’t Be Long Now written by Teddy Thompson, with Kami and Amy Helm on backing vocals, and David Mansfield on mandolin and Tony Trishka on banjo. We’re in Dillards territory. The lyric is clear, simple and beautiful. It gets the final slot, fittingly, given the words.

The recent Sunday Times interview called her “Folk’s first lady”. Right.

Linda Thompson official website

Linda Thompson biography (iTunes)

Many other (living) contenders for Folk’s first lady on these shores, in alpha order to name but a few: Mary Black, Anne Briggs (see Toppermost #310), Shirley Collins (see Toppermost #303), Maddy Prior, Kate Rusby (see Toppermost #306), June Tabor (see Topperpost #125), Norma Waterson …

TopperPost #107

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