Sunday, 14 November 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee with Richard Thompson

The weeks race round and another show is ready for you and I am ready whenever you are.  Today your visitor is Richard Thompson, a brilliant singer / songwriter / guitarist, whose talents far exceed his fame.  A snippet from a review of a biography said, “Hugely respected by critics and fellow musicians …”

How unfair is life but I know you will love him.

Now the normal routine: coffee, comfy seat, sit back and relax and I’ll get the show started.

Wall of Death                                  with Christine Collister

Originally this song was on an album with his then wife, Linda, who shared the vocals.  Her place in this version is taken by Christine Collister who has a fabulous voice.

To me this seems to be a song about risk: the risk of being free versus the boredom and certainty of the safe, the routine, the familiar. 


A bit older than I – not much though – Richard John Thompson was born in London in April 1949, his father being Scottish and a Scotland Yard detective.   Music was, though, important within his family and he was exposed to the influence of Scottish music  …. among others.

Joe Boyd, the record producer said,

“In his playing you can hear the evocation of the Scottish piper's drone and the melody of the chanter as well as echoes of Barney Kessell's and James Burton's guitars and Jerry Lee Lewis's piano.”

I can’t hear this but I’ll believe him.



Our second song is a song of love, of yearning. 

Dimming of the Day

This old house is falling down around my ears
I'm drowning in a river of my tears
When all my will is gone you hold me sway
I need you at the dimming of the day

You pull me like the moon pulls on the tide
You know just where I keep my better side

What days have come to keep us far apart
A broken promise or a broken heart
Now all the bonnie birds have wheeled away
I need you at the dimming of the day

Come the night you're only what I want
Come the night you could be my confidant

I see you on the street in company
Why don't you come and ease your mind with me
I'm living for the night we steal away
I need you at the dimming of the day
I need you at the dimming of the day

This is a magical song with lyrics of poetic quality. 

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.  Over and over have I played this and over and over am I touched to the core.


That Fairport Convention was signed to a record label was down to Thompson’s skills.  Wikipedia has this,

By the age of 18 Thompson was playing with the newly formed Fairport Convention. It was Thompson’s guitar playing that caught the ear of American producer Joe Boyd. Largely on the strength of Thompson’s playing Boyd took them under his wing and signed them to his Witchseason production and management company.

Boyd: "And there was this group of very nice Muswell Hill grammar school boys and a girl playing American music. Leonard Cohen songs, and Richard Farina songs, and Bob Dylan songs, all being done in a kind of West-Coasty rock style. And then came the guitar solo, and Richard just played the most amazing solo. He played a solo which quotes from Django, from Charlie Christian, you know, an incredibly sophisticated little solo. And that really amazed me, the breadth of his sophistication... and so, you know, at the end of the gig I was in the dressing room saying 'would you guys like to make a record?'"


We have a song now which was released in 1969 by Fairport Convention as their second single. Of course, the song was Thompson’s.

Meet on the Ledge

I have no idea what this is about but it gives me a feeling of great depth and seriousness. 


Thompson stayed only three years with Fairport before going solo in 1971.  He married Linda Peters, a folk-singer, in 1972 and they recorded several albums as, unsurprisingly, Richard and Linda Thompson.   One of their tracks, the gorgeous “A Heart needs a Home” was included in my  “Old Grey Whistle Test” show.  They converted to Islam and largely disappeared from music for a few years.



Next is one of the first Richard Thompson songs I heard.  My brother bought this album – “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” and the follow-up album  - “Hokey Pokey” - which he (Richard and not my brother) recorded with Linda.  The chosen song, the last on the album, is heavy, filled with self-pity and takes a bit of listening to but keep going and I think you’ll be glad that you did.

The Great Valerio                              with Linda Thompson

Did you hear it through?  I hope so.  This entire album is recognised as a classic with no weaknesses.


The Thompsons had three children, one of whom, Teddy is a professional musician.  The last track in this show is a father and son duet.

Unfortunately the Thompsons had marriage problems but they continued to perform together with some difficulty: Richard would write songs loaded with emotional baggage and his “departing” wife would sing his words.

I’ve read over the years of how, at times, their troubles spilt over into their shows: Linda hitting Richard or tripping him up as he entered the stage.



After “The Great Valerio”  we reach the half-time break with Richard having a bit of fun.  Enjoy.

Hots for the Smarts



This is your chance to get a refill and stretch your legs.  I have just made my coffee and a couple of cheese rolls but there’s no need for you to stuff your face too. 

I’ll start again once I have sated myself but I’ll still be ready before you!

Right!  That didn’t take long for the rolls to disappear – a couple of bites for each.  Sorry, am I giving you too many personal details?


Richard kicks off again with another song of loss but a very recent video – earlier this year, 2010.

Brother Slips Away

One commenter makes the very perceptive point, “Brilliant but that's what we expect from a master.”   Oh, that was me! 


We move straight on now to a strangely name song.

1952 Vincent Black Lightning

Vincent Black Lightning

This is a song of love, a girl, death and a motorbike but not just any motorbike not just any girl.

Wikipedia has this to say,

“The Vincent Black Lightning was a British motorcycle designed and built in September 1948 at the Vincent works in Great North Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire UK between 1948 and 1952. At the time the Black Lightning was the fastest production motorcycle in the world.

Vincent Motorcycles began motorcycle production in 1928 and were well established after World War II when they launched the 1000 cc Black Lightning. This was a production version of the Black Lightning which held the world land speed record, with a similar engine specification.”


Thompson writes in the last verse,

“…. there's nothing in this world beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl”

A man can love more than one being!



In 1985, I think it was, Thompson remarried and moved to the States but little changed in terms of his career: great records loved by critics, fans and other musicians but his major breakthrough never came.



Now you get a BOGOF offer: two songs in the one video from one of Thompson’s appearance on “Later with Jools Holland”.

Between the two songs Thompson tells us what each is about.

King of Bohemia / I Can’t Wake up to Save My Life

Jools called it right when he described the first song as “very beautiful” and the second is much harsher but shows off some of Richard’s guitar skills.  Magic!


For the last twenty years or so Thompson has toured with another Thompson, the fabulous bass player – Danny.  You’ll see Danny in quite a few of today’s videos as well as in many of the “Transatlantic Sessions” videos.  My Transatlantic Sessions show can be seen here.



Cooksferry Queen

Another performance on Jools’ show and with Danny where he is so often.

This song is from an album, “Mock Tudor”, which Wikipedia says was acclaimed by critics and fans but, as usual, didn’t disturb the public.  I’m a fan and so you know what I think.

Great guitar work  ….. as usual


This week I’ve had an incredibly difficult task cutting the videos down to the normal ten.  My first cull reduced the numbers to 43 possibles and subsequent culls to 23, 19 and 13 before I reached the necessary 10.  The difficulty, however, gave me a bonus in that I had to listen over and over to Richard’s brilliance.



Here we have reached the end – I can’t believe it – with a gorgeous song, a duet between Richard and his son, Teddy.  The video is not of a great quality but the audio is fine.

Persuasion                                          with Teddy Thompson

Perfect Persuasion.


Thompson is such a great writer and guitarist:

For years, Richard Thompson resided in relative obscurity, while at the same time garnering vast critical praise for his magnificent guitar work and the dark wit and richness of his extraordinary songwriting.

that I have always wondered why he never had greater commercial success but, by putting this show together, I think the reason is clear: the songs just aren’t geared for a mainstream audience.  Fans may know they’re brilliant but unless there is a hook for mainstream audiences the songs limp by barely noticed despite their many qualities.  It’s as though he has wanted that success but could never compromise on his principles to find it.

For that I’m delighted.  I’d much rather have the full strength Thompson.

Thank you so much, Richard.


Another week – this is my 46th show – has passed, the show has gone for the moment but you can listen to the music on my YouTube channel here or at the playlist for this show here.

Have a great week and I’ll be ready and waiting next Sunday with another show.


  1. first class show again

    ...and I swear Thompson is getting better as he gets older

  2. Excellent Sunday morning coffee show! I saw Richard live about 5 years ago with his son Teddy. It was a fantastic day of musical talent. This morning I got back all those goosebumps created by the pure creativity and genius of a master of music.

    So far, my day is off to a fantastic start Thanks, Calum.


  3. Excellent stuff. And you've chosen two of my favourite RT songs in Vincent Black Lightning and Cooksferry Queen

  4. Thanks to all for your positive comments.

    JD I wish that I were getting better as I get older! :)

    Joe What good taste you've got, Joe. I've never seen RT live - pity!!

    Jams Only two? What are your other favs, Jams?

  5. Just about to make my Sunday morning coffee and enjoy all this. Thanks, Calum.

  6. James

    I hope you enjoyed your day-old coffee? :)

    And the show ....? That too I hope.