Richard & Linda Thompson

TrackAlbum
I Want To See The Bright Lights TonightI Want To See The
Bright Lights Tonight
Down Where The Drunkards RollI Want To See The
Bright Lights Tonight
The Little Beggar GirlI Want To See The
Bright Lights Tonight
A Heart Needs A HomeHokey Pokey
For Shame Of Doing WrongPour Down Like Silver
Hard Luck StoriesPour Down Like Silver
Don'’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your HeartFirst Light
You’'re Going To Need SomebodySunnyvista
Walking On A WireShoot Out The Lights
Wall Of DeathShoot Out The Lights

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

Has anyone else had such a profound influence on modern English music?

Between 1974 and 1982 Richard and Linda Thompson recorded six stunning albums and it is argued the first I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974) and the last Shoot Out The Lights (1982) are two of the finest rock albums of all time.

Richard Thompson and Linda Peters married in October 1972 and the following year went into the studio to record their first album together, on a shoe-string budget and in a matter of days. Island Records did not release the album for a further eight months, it is said that it was either due to the lack of vinyl following the oil crisis at the time or because the record company was not sure what to do with it.

Given its subsequent acclaim, it is hard to imagine that I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight received less than favourable reviews and limited commercial success. I’m going to take three songs from the album; inevitably, the title track and also Down Where The Drunkards Roll with the bass vocal sung by Dave Burland and finally the closest Richard Thompson gets to writing a ‘fun song’, The Little Beggar Girl. The album contains one of the bleakest songs ever written, The End Of The Rainbow, and Has He Got A Friend For Me isn’t that far behind.

Although released after the Thompsons’ conversion to Sufi Islam, much of the next album, Hokey Pokey, was written before. Again, there are dark themes but my choice is A Heart Needs A Home, one of Richard Thompson’s finest love songs.

Also released in 1975, Pour Down Like Silver which clearly has Sufi Islamic undertones and the cover illustrates the Thompsons looking out at the world in Islamic dress. For The Shame Of Doing Wrong has been covered by Sandy Denny amongst others and the album contains one of my favourite Thompson compositions, Hard Luck Stories, which just edges out Beat The Retreat.

The Thompsons then took a three year sabbatical from music and went to live in a Sufi commune in Norfolk. During this time Richard did occasional session work and a short tour in 1977.

1978 saw the release of First Light. Joe Boyd had invited Thompson to play on Julie Covington’s debut solo album and the American session players, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark and Neil Larson expressed the desire to record with Thompson. The material had already been written but Thompson latterly has expressed his dissatisfaction with the album admitting that his mind was not focused on music. Some of the tracks are said to be direct translations of Sufi or Koranic texts. Don’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart is the outstanding track from the album and was covered by The Pointer Sisters. It is a difficult album to get hold of.

Sometimes I think that Sunnyvista is the ‘forgotten album’ of the canon but maybe that is only in my mind because it’s the one I play the least. And listening to it again end to end I had forgotten how good it really is. It is more rocky than its predecessors and I had only made room for one track in my ten therefore I commend you to visit, or revisit, the whole album. Lyrically, Thompson explores darker, less obvious themes as exemplified by Borrowed Time and Sunnyvista itself. You’re Going To Need Somebody has Richard on lead vocal and Linda is joined by Kate and Anna McGarrigle to provide backing vocals. John Kirkpatrick lends a driving accordion. The album cover is a satire on the Thompson Holidays logo of the late 1970s.

By the time Shoot Out The Lights was released in 1982 the Thompsons’ marriage was all but over and the songs reflect the break-up. The opening track, Don’t Renege On Our Love, sums it up although it was Richard who had found a new love. The subsequent tour was difficult for the band with the couple barely talking, either on or off stage. Yet the album received critical acclaim and is said by some to be the best of the six. Walking On A Wire is a song of pure pain wrought out by Linda’s voice to the nth degree. It was difficult to limit myself to my two track allocation but Wall Of Death takes you to a metaphorical fairground and all the confusions that pervade the end of a marriage. It also closes the album so it is fitting that it closes this set.

Richard Thompson website

Linda Thompson website

Linda Thompson’s story is told in her own TopperPost #107, Richard’s can be found in TopperPost #120. Richard Thompson was a founder member of Fairport Convention and his influence on that band is evident in TopperPost #56.

TopperPost #158

8 Comments

  1. Merric Davidson
    Jan 4, 2014

    It’s not as straightforward as your friends might think to pick 10 tracks from 6 albums, and Ian will know what I mean. This was a powerful peak time artistically for Richard Thompson as a songwriter – arguably the greatest songs from any British songwriter over a similar period – and the sublime connection of RT and LT singing together would not be repeated for many years. I’m not arguing with Ian’s choice. Not at all. It’s as strong as any variations might be from this sextet of incredible recordings. To argue for an alternative ten would be self-defeating. But I have to lobby for one song, a song from the excellent second album from this string, Hokey Pokey, an album which is light and shade, funny and sad, and the one I play the most. Some of the great ‘perils of drinking’ songs, and many of them are folk songs (All For Me Grog anybody) are the songs that can affect you the most, and the songs you return to hoping against hope for a happier ending, which can hardly ever come. Along with Jez Lowe’s knowing, melodic Greek Lightning, the one ‘drinking’ song that trumps them all, the one I keep coming back to as the zenith of RT’s sharing songwriting is the second track on side one of Hokey Pokey, the one that begins: “Whisky helps to clear my head, bring it with you into bed, if I beat you nearly dead, I’ll regret it all in the morning.” With its plaintive guitar and perfect lyric and pained vocal with LT harmony, it sears and scars and I’ll Regret It All In The Morning is, I think, Richard Thompson’s finest hour and fiercest and saddest song.

    • Paddy Purcell
      Sep 20, 2014

      I was and still am a great fan of Richard Thompson and agree with a great deal of what you say except for one omission “Dimming of the Day” from Pour Down Like Silver. I would argue with your assertion “That this is the height of Thompson’s song writing”. Like all of the great composers he blows hot and cold but tracks like King of Bohemia, Beeswing, If love whispers your name, Saving the good stuff to you, Walking the long miles home…I could go on.
      I only ever saw them once live and it was on that American Tour though they had all but split, even still they were splendid. I got Linda to sign an album sheet “Hokey Pokey”. [It was to be stolen with my complete record colection some 10 years later if only they knew.]

      • Peter Viney
        Sep 20, 2014

        “Dimming of The Day” is in the Linda solo Toppermost here (with Jennifer Warnes, and Bruce Hornsby). Tom Jones also did an interesting version on Spirit In The Room, which also gets into his Toppermost. Maybe three would be too many, but it is such a magnificent song, and if it came down to only one version, it would be the “Pour Down Like Silver” one for me.

  2. Rob Millis
    Jan 4, 2014

    Bravo Ian, for all the reasons Merric cites above and for the strength of the decisions taken. I’ve had some flak for mine in the past, but it’s all good debate.

    WHAT! No “When I Get To The Border”?….

  3. Peter Viney
    Jan 4, 2014

    Excellent choice, Ian, and of course all this is wonderful. I believe the whole is greater than the sum of the parts with Richard and Linda. As albums go, I’d want to chuck in “Live November 1975” which came out in 2007. But on that album they miss my favourite track of all, as you do, “Just The Motion” from Shoot Out The Lights. I’ll go with Rob too on When I Get To The Border (I Want To See The Bright Lights) but we all know that everyone needs both those LPs complete. The remastered CDs add odds and bits … and Dark End Of The Street from the Pour Down Like Silver remaster beckons, but I’d avoid covers. I’ve never understood why they kept doing “It’ll Be Me” a song I don’t like by Jerry Lee Lewis or Cliff Richard either.

    • Rob Millis
      Jan 5, 2014

      Peter, I disagree on the rock and roll covers, I like them every bit as much as I like to hear The Band playing a Motown encore. There’s always room to hear RT playing some good American style guitar.

      I always thought the difference between FC and others of their ilk is that they understood rock music and others didn’t. To this day you get folk rock acts who think that having an Enya style atmospheric bit with some Pink Floyd style distorted guitar over the top of it is folk rock. Fairport knew that playing a jig through a Fender amp with the right swagger and chutzpah was the way to do it, and the crowd would bop along to it just like they would for Johnny B. Goode.

      • Peter Viney
        Jan 5, 2014

        When I say I’d avoid covers, I meant in a Toppermost, because the riches of their own material are such that why waste a selection with a cover, even of a song as exquisite as Dark End of The Street? I like them doing rock & roll too … The Bunch album is a classic, where Linda Peters as she was first appears(?) with RT.

        It’s the actual song “It’ll Be Me” I don’t like.

  4. Ian Ashleigh
    Jan 4, 2014

    This shows just how personal music can be.

    My choice for the representative of Hokey Pokey came down to either A Heart Needs a Home or The Sun Never Shines on the Poor. Although I agree with songs warning one away from the demon alcohol. RT had a mini-canon: God Loves A Drunk, Down Where the Drunkards Roll and I’ll Regret it all in the Morning.

    From ‘Bright Lights’ I nearly chose Calvary Cross and could have had all 10 or any 3 from the 10 on the original album. We could have this debate about all six albums.

    But that is what this site is all about. Suggestion, debate, discussion, counter-suggestion and the shared experience of enjoying music.

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