Klipsch Audio presented Classic Album Sundays at Bestival 2014, where Joe Boyd discussed the album “Liege and Lief” by Fairport Convention using Klipsch La Scala speakers. Boyd is a record producer and writer who formerly owned Witchseason production company and Hannibal Records. His impact on the recording careers of some of the world’s greatest bands is immeasurable.
Groundbreaking British DJ John Peel once called him “the best kept-secret in the world of music,” but Richard Thompson has been flatpicking raging guitar solos for more than 50 years. He burst onto London’s swinging music scene in 1967 as the teenage singer and guitarist for Fairport Convention, the seminal folk-rock band that married traditional English songs with an infectious rock groove. In the ’70s, he began singing hypnotic duets in harmony with his then-wife Linda; their best-known album, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, was released in 1974.
In the early ’80s, the singer-songwriter went solo and has regularly put out albums ever since. Though he remains relatively under the radar, the press takes regular notice of him: In 2011, Time magazine listed his 1991 fingerpicking masterpiece “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” as one of their All-TIME 100 Songs, and in 2015, Rolling Stone put him at #69 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2011 for his musical contributions.
Last September, he released 13 Rivers, his 18th solo album. It features 13 thundering, mostly minor-key songs that Thompson vaguely describes as having been written during a dark time in his life. He brings the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, with drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, to the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Feb. 14. Pasatiempo reached him by phone at his rented house in New Jersey, where he was resting up in advance of his 2019 tour.
Pasatiempo: The songs on your new album have been described as having a “grim urgency” and an “unflinching gaze,” which could also characterize much of your songwriting over your career. In the first verse of the opener, “Storm Won’t Come,” you sing, “I’m longing for a storm to blow through town/And blow these sad old buildings down/Fire to burn what fire may/And rain to wash it all away.” Are these songs for troubled times, or is this just business as usual for you?
Richard Thompson: It’s not that bad if you really listen to it. [laughs] I don’t think I’ve written literally about anything. I’ve been in this parallel world of song fiction. I’m sure all these traumas that my son has been through are reflected in there.
“The way in which I frame my past,” says Emma Thompson, sitting in her cool Manhattan hotel room on a sweltering late-summer day, “is always changing.” And yet some things stay the same. The poise, intelligence, and warmth of the British actress’s breakout early-’90s work in Howards End and The Remains of the Day has never diminished, and radiates throughout her performances in The Children Act, an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel that’s in U.S. theaters September 14 (and on DirecTV now), and as Goneril — opposite her old sparring partner Anthony Hopkins — in King Lear (streaming on Amazon Prime Video beginning September 28). Such consistent excellence is a rare thing, and as its purveyor knows, worth enjoying. “I don’t think,” says Thompson, a bawdier conversationalist than some of her screen roles might suggest, “that I have ever enjoyed being alive as much as I do now.”
Your character in The Children Act is in a marriage where the couple’s love evolves in a way that isn’t usually shown in film. Did portraying that make you think about how your own view of love has changed?
Absolutely. What we see in the film is the relationship between my character and Stan’s [Stanley Tucci’s] crumbling, and then a new one starts to grow. Which is what happens in all long-term relationships. Or if it doesn’t, someone’s in denial.
The comedian and actor on his pet hates and staying with the real Basil Fawlty
Yes, John Cleese is as tall as we think, and he still has that gait as he strides on stage to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. He obliges with occasional oral explosions and outrageous comments, as we require. As he leaves, he snatches his notes from the podium, intentionally all Fawlty-like.
He’s casual, wearing a navy polo short and jacket, and, delightfully, (I’m almost sure) no socks under what look like navy moccasin slippers.
Richard Thompson at 2018 Folk Alliance
Richard Thompson and John Oates separately discussed what’s kept their careers sustainable.
Thompson said his guitar-playing technique also evolved with the times. By using alternate tunings and bending the strings and the neck, he used the electric six-stringed instrument to create a sound “closer to the human voice” or to a bagpipe, especially when interpreting or extending Scottish folk traditions on songs like “A Sailor’s Life, “Matty Groves” and “Meet on the Ledge.”
Regarding his practice in recent decades of alternating solo acoustic performances and recordings with those of an electric band, Thompson said he likes the intimate solo concert because it’s “sort of like being in church. It’s heart to heart.”