Born April 3, 1949 in North London, Richard Thompson remains one of modern music’s best kept secrets. The son of a policeman, Richard developed his formidable guitar style in fledgling bands like Emil & the Detectives and Tim Turner’s Narration. At seventeen he became a founding member of the band Fairport Convention, the foremost British folk-rock ensemble.
Playing an inventive musical mix of blues and West Coast style rock, Fairport Convention quickly established a reputation as the new Jefferson Airplane. They were discovered playing at the Happening 44 club in London’s Soho by producer Joe Boyd, who secured the band a recording contract and their debut album was released in 1968.
Over the next four years, Fairport Convention gradually developed a more personal and British based music including stunning arrangements of traditional songs and ballads. Through albums like What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief - all three recorded and released in 1969 - they invented the British version of folk-rock. Liege and Lief has long been regarded as a milestone recording, defining British rock in the same way that Music from Big Pink was to define North American rock with traditional roots. It was this album that finally revealed the extent of Richard’s talent as a songwriter - writing contemporary songs whilst drawing upon deep traditional modes.
Full House (1970) was Mr. Thompson’s last album with the band. It was also during that year that the group made their long overdue American debut, touring with Traffic and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Richard left Fairport soon after the tour.
Henry The Human Fly - his first solo album - was released in 1972 and is regarded by many as a classic. Songs like “Poor Ditching Boy” and “The Angels Have Taken My Racehorse Away”, instrumental colorings from accordion and silver band, all helped to establish an overtly English voice. Significantly for the once reticent singer in Fairport, this album was the first declaration of his singing abilities.
In the same year Richard married folk singer Linda Peters. The combination of her superb vocals and Richard’s talents as a songwriter and guitarist subsequently led to the recording of six albums by the duo. The first, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, was released in 1974 and met with universal critical acclaim. The title track providing a brief UK hit single.
The next year saw the release of two albums by Richard and Linda Thompson - Hokey Pokey and Pour Down Like Silver - containing such classic Thompson material as “Never Again” and “Night Comes In”, both demanded in concert to this day.
After a period of semi-retirement, they returned to live performance in 1978 and soon released First Light and Sunnyvista. The former album includes “Don’t Let a Thief Steal into Your Heart” which was later covered by the Pointer Sisters. In 1981, Richard recorded the solo instrumental album “Strict Tempo”. This is an exuberant collection of tunes from the British Isles and North Africa performed with Thompson’s by now signature guitar style. The record is also notable for it’s recording of Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm” with the well-known horn lines arranged for guitar and mandolins.
Shoot Out the Lights proved to be the Thompsons’ most successful album. Originally produced by Gerry Rafferty, but for a number of reasons unreleased, the collection was re-recorded with Joe Boyd and released on his Hannibal label in 1982. The record was a success, critically and commercially, on both sides of the Atlantic and was subsequently voted into Rolling Stone magazine’s Top Ten Records of The Decade. Although including some of Richard’s best loved songs such as the title track and “Wall of Death” and some of Linda’s finest vocal performances on “Walking on A Wire”, it was to be their last recording together.
Mr. Thompson returned to the studio to record Hand of Kindness in 1983. This album saw the introduction of a brass section for the first time, saxophones trading solos with Richard’s guitar. The resulting Big Band tour was rapturously received both in Europe and America. As a Big Band they included Glenn Miller and Lord Rockingham numbers in the set each night alongside vintage Thompson like “Calvary Cross” and “Tear Stained Letter”.
Across a Crowded Room, released by Polygram in 1985, marked the beginning of a successful association with Christine Collister and Clive Gregson. Since then Christine has appeared as a backing vocalist on all of Richard’s albums and frequently appeared in the Thompson touring ban. Thompson’s songwriting genius was by now detailing serial murders and political incest, as well as gossip and dancehall romances. This record was quickly acknowledged a critical and commercial success worldwide.
Daring Adventures (1986) marked the start of a new era for Richard, being his first recording in Los Angeles with Mitchell Froom as producer. Contributors to the album included the legendary Jim Keltner on drums and Jerry Scheff on bass - both had recorded with Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello. Constantly in demand as a live performer both as a solo artist and leading a band, Thompson now divides his time more equally between Britain and America.
The past decade has also seen the recording of several soundtracks for film and television - The Marksman, Hard Cash and Sweet Talker, and collaborations with John “Drumbo” French, Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser on two eccentric and frequently odd-ball albums - Live, Love, Larf and Loaf and Invisible Means.
Moving to Capitol records in 1988 Thompson released Amnesia, followed by Rumor and Sigh in 1991 and Mirror Blue in 1994 - a trilogy of albums that united the strengths of the LA-based rhythm sections with Thompson’s profound understanding of traditional song forms and an often humorous desire to experiment with texture and technique while in the recording studio. The Capitol albums and the three-CD Watching the Dark retrospective have consolidated Thompson’s awesome critical reputation and begun to achieve a wider commercial success.
When Thompson left Capitol after 1999’s Mock Tudor, he headed off on side projects, all of typically high quality, but not the solo albums his established cult expected. Those fans can now rejoice, because on Sweet Warrior Thompson roars back with his first electric set of originals since 2003, and it’s a winner. As the disc’s title implies, he revisits the familiar territory of love as a battlefield in these fourteen originals. The concept is emphasized by a liner photo of the singer/songwriter in army gear and camouflage flanked by two beautiful women planting kisses on either cheek. Supported by longtime backing cohorts, the guitarist adds to his six-string talents with occasional mandolin, autoharp, accordion, and even organ, all used as icing on a cake of tunes that further refine his established style. Perhaps the most startling song is the viciously anti-war “Dad’s Going to Kill Me”, about a soldier stationed in Baghdad (the “Dad” of the title), wondering if he will survive another day. “Guns are the Tongues” finds Thompson telling the tragic tale of a young man enticed by a woman’s charms ending up as a suicide-bombing terrorist. Thompson’s dramatic guitar solos are kept on low boil, occasionally bubbling up but never hogging the spotlight. They are, along with his distinctive vocals, actors in a play of characteristically classy tunes that will thrill Thompson’s fans, who have been waiting for just such a set of literate and challenging music from a musician who never delivers less.
Guitar and folk music legend Richard Thompson has a brand new studio album, Electric (2013), produced by Buddy Miller. Thompson, named one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 20 Greatest Guitarists, brings a record full of gifted songwriting and virtuosic guitar playing. Electric was made at Buddy Miller’s home studio in Nashville, Tennessee. The record features Alison Krauss on the song “The Snow Leopard.”