‘I’m Afraid She Didn’t Make It’: Richard Thompson Recounts Harrowing Accident in New Memoir

British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson recounts the 1969 van accident that almost destroyed Fairport Convention in excerpt from new book

By David Browne

In the spring of 1969, Fairport Convention had every reason to be hopeful. Dubbed the British version of Jefferson Airplane, Fairport boasted a lineup that included a brilliant, husky-voiced lead singer, Sandy Denny, and a guitarist, Richard Thompson, who was beginning to blossom into one of his country’s finest and often gloomiest songwriters. The band, which also included guitarist Simon Nichol, drummer Martin Lamble and bassist Ashley Hutchings, had just completed its third album, Unhalfbricking; among its tracks were Denny’s soon-to-be standard “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”, several Bob Dylan covers from his Basement Tapes era, and Thompson originals like “Autopsy” and “Genesis Hall.” The music fused rock and roll with age-old British traditional music, sounding like nothing that had come before. 

All that forward momentum halted, as least temporarily, one night in northern England. The band had just performed a show and were on their way home, with Thompson’s American girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn joining them. In this excerpt from Thompson’s Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975 (Algonquin Books, April 6th), Thompson writes about that harrowing ride — the worst nightmare for any touring band, including Fairport Convention in 1969.

Life seemed good, and things were going well with Fairport. Our new album was due out soon, and the word was that we would tour America for the first time later that year. On May 11th, Jeannie came with the band to one of our regular haunts, Mothers in Birmingham, a club we played every couple of months. We shared the bill that night with Eclection, another folk rock band with a female singer, Kerrilee Male. Sandy’s boyfriend Trevor Lucas was also in Eclection. Like Kerry, he had come to the UK from Australia. He stood out in a crowd, being tall with a mass of red hair, and he was a fine singer of traditional British and Australian songs. The show went well, with both bands getting a good reception. Sandy rode back to London with Trevor, while the rest of us piled into the Transit van and headed south down the A6 to the M1. Continue reading

Richard Thompson’s famous fans choose their favourite songs

Admirers from Robert Plant to Rachel Unthank pick the tracks from the master songwriter that mean most to them

Robert Plant

How Will I Ever Be Simple Again?
from 
Daring Adventures (1986)
“Richard’s frenetic, beautiful guitar style freed British music in the 60s from the slog of the blues. He melded his influences so impressively to history. This song speaks to me about my life, surveying myself from above and below. Richard, if you’re reading, we’ll have to stop not meeting like this.”

Shirley Collins

A Heart Needs a Home
from 
Hokey Pokey (1975)
“Richard’s still extraordinary, such a bold and muscular presence on stage, and his voice is still gorgeous. I played this again and again when Ashley [Hutchings] and I broke up. It helped me heal.”

Hugh Cornwell

Meet on the Ledge
from 
What We Did On Our Holidays (1969)
“The ledge was a limb of a tree on Hampstead Heath. I remember hearing this on the radio for the first time, that special meaning came through.”

Carrie Brownstein

Hokey Pokey
from 
Hokey Pokey (1975)
“I love the double entendre in the lyrics, the hint of darkness in the words contrasting with the music-hall feel of the tune. A good songwriter leaves you neither here nor there but someplace new, searching for more.”

David Byrne

The Calvary Cross (live)
from 
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
“Brian Eno recommended this, which led me down a rabbit hole. It’s ominous, full of dark portents. [On playing live with Richard in 1992] I remember trying to glean anything I could from a master writer and craftsman.”

Rachel Unthank

Has He Got a Friend for Me
from 
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
“A song about a girl desperate to meet someone, anyone. It’s not straightforward. It’s uncomfortable. Richard’s brilliant at capturing a moment and its emotion.”

Mark Ronson

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
from 
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
“It’s just a perfect song. It starts with this drumbeat that just makes you want to get up. The vocals are really bratty, on the verge of punk-rock and folk. It’s been my wistful dance around the kitchen in lockdown on a Friday night, so I wanted to pay tribute to it.”

Linda Thompson

How I Wanted To
from 
Hand of Kindness (1983)
[Its chorus runs: “Oh how I wanted to/ Oh how I wanted to/ To say I loved you”] “I chose this because it’s about me. Ha ha. Also, I love it.”

Source: Richard Thompson’s famous fans choose their favourite songs

Richard Thompson: ‘I had to put the pen down, take a deep breath, have a little cry’

The folk-rock pioneer has finally written his memoir, covering a life-changing crash and his fiery romance with Linda Thompson

Richard and Linda Thompson

It’s nearly 55 years since Richard Thompson began his career in music. A pioneer of folk-rock, hugely influential singer-songwriter and one of Britain’s most astonishing guitarists, he was only a month out of his teens on the morning of 12 May 1969 when all promise was nearly stopped short. His band, Fairport Convention, had been signed on the spot in 1967 when producer Joe Boyd saw his talent with a guitar at 17, and their mission to reconnect British rock with the older, beautiful songs of their home country was well under way.

He’d already jammed with Jimi Hendrix and supported Pink Floyd; now Thompson’s band had recently finished their third album, Unhalfbricking, with new singer Sandy Denny. A work full of ambitious originals and covers that still regularly appears in best British album polls, it got to No 12 in the charts then; decades later, it became a touchstone for the Green Man festival-endorsed folk-rock revival of the 2000s when everyone who liked Joanna Newsom and Will Oldham raved about it.

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