Friday, October 4, 2013
Sisters : Richard and Linda Thompson
Phew, I was worried I wouldn't get back on-line in time for this submission, the instantaneous thought that came to me, on reading about the theme from afar. Few can now claim to be unaware of the name Richard Thompson, the eternal critics favourite undiscovered artist, finally, finally seeming to get the attention due him, even if he is still hardly household. Indeed, he remains very much a marmite artist, to use the current british vernacular, marmite being a yeast based spread that advertises itself on the basis that you can only either love or hate it, with no middle ground. (I love it!) Elderly readers will remember him as the precocious guitar-slinger in Fairport Convention, doe-eyed and shaggy, effortlessly tossing off skewed and twisted lines, seeming to offer no links to the then received canon of blues and rock, with echoes of a deep folk mysticism, and hints of an eastern symbolism later more widely embraced. Indeed Fairport probably invented the european school of folk-rock, with their epochal album, Liege and Lief, from where this clip comes.
Following on from his exit from FP and an astoundingly unsuccessful solo LP, he teamed up with his then wife, Linda, herself already a well respected singer on the session circuit, producing 5 or so LPs, even managing a minor hit with this. During this period the couple embraced islam, even giving up the music business for a while, living on a sufi commune. The song I lead this piece with stems from this later period, which Thompson himself seems to think little of himself, it remaining resolutely unavailable on CD, re-mixed and added to or otherwise.(My purchase link comes from a later compilation of his oevre.)
They famously split up around their final LP, then experiencing an enormously vitriolic tour together to promote it.
Since then Richard has maintained a low profile permanent presence in the best of lists, whether as guitarist, songwriter or, less often, singer. Indeed, it his voice that tends to keep him away from any real chance of crossover, appealing mainly to bearded men of a certain age, perhaps explaining his place in the heart of so many music writers. Linda sort of fell by the wayside, having become prone to dysphonia, making singing live impossible. Fortunately, largely with the assistance and support of son, Teddy, she has again started to appear and perform again, and has just put out the 3rd of an occasional series of new songs. Which, full circle, includes her ex accompanying her on one track.
"Sisters" has a typically acerbic lyric, with bittersweet words of a distressed regret, fitting perfectly with the bleak vocal, and the typical spiky guitar underpinnings. A song, as are most of theirs, to listen to, to pick up all the words, all the instrumental nuances, to feel the pain and the pleasure of that pain, before committing it to fond memory for recall. Heart, head and soul music. Wonderful stuff.