Saturday, August 15, 2020


Is there a more chilling song in the the already well-refrigerated canon of Richard Thompson? No stranger to a bleak lyric, this song, from his acclaimed 1974 duet debut, alongside his then wife, Linda, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, says more in the stark description and build up than any delineation or hint of what might come next. Because it doesn't need to. Linda's icy narrative tells exactly where it is going, where Valerio is going. And with him, any dreams for a brighter future. I guess it's an allegory for the futility of love, which is as daunting a phrase to write as to consider, our hearts and souls all praying for the opposite. The album is not short on other such cheerful ditties either, End of the Rainbow being a blunt warning against any hope for anything at all.

Richard & Linda

But I have always wondered whether there ever was a Valerio and it seems there was. In 1863 it was reported that a 'dreadful accident' had taken place as 25 year old Carlo Valerio performed his high wire act at Cremorne Gardens. Here is an excellent blog article that describes it all. Thompson's skill is to weave the tale into a wider perspective, deploying the style of an ancient broad sheet ballad, the traditional folk idiom being full of songs about disasters and death, yet cataloguing a far more universal prophecy.

I have always loved the darker aspects of Richard Thompson's writing. Whilst he always comes across as less pessimistic in real life, engaging a dry wit, heavy with a shy self-deprecation, his songs lightening up (a little) over the years, it is these early shards of nihilism I enjoy(!?) the most. Not for nothing were a couple of early cassette compilations called Doom and Gloom From the Tomb, Volumes 1 and 2. Often asked why his material has such depressing content, here is as good a recent interview, with some possible explanation, as any.

Richard solo

I am an avid seeker of cover versions. So, are there any great Great Valerio's out there? Maybe a reggae version, or thrash metal? Well, if there are, I can't find 'em, most fitting into a similar niche of austerity, artists also with a trad.arr. streak embedded in their marrow. So June Tabor, Maggie Holland, even Barb Jungr; no surprises there. But Cathal Coughlan's maverick Fatima Mansions? The angry and cathartic irish rockers might seemingly have little in common with the chamber chill of this song. But you'd be wrong. OK, it seems a fairly straight facsimile, but Coughlan's voice is way more yearning than the reportage of the original. It works. Similar, yet poles apart.

Fatima Mansions

There's this and this, but you might consider this.

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