In Conversation: Shirley Collins and Linda Thompson

Shirley Collins and Linda Thompson

The legendary folk singer is celebrated by her fan and fellow songwriter.

By: Linda Thompson

Do you know anyone who is putting out great work at 85? Me neither. Shirley Collins isn’t just anyone though. She is an important part of folk music’s history. A scholar, singer, and writer — she is also a riot. We once did the can-can for a select audience at The South Bank in London, culminating in the splits. I still walk funny.

I had seen many of Shirley’s gigs, mostly with her sister Dolly, but really got to know her when she was in Lark Rise to Candleford at The National Theatre. She was the best thing in the show. We struck up an easy friendship.

Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson were our paramours. Earnest, clever and just like converted Catholics where traditional British music was concerned. Shirley and I listened patiently to their pronouncements, having forgotten more about that music than they knew. We didn’t say so though. It was the old days after all. We smoothed our crinolines down and kept shtum (ancient Northumbrian word). Their cottage was charmingly called Red Rose Cottage, long ago that used to be the rent. One red rose.

I got close to Shirley after our respective divorces. We were hard hit, and knew almost exactly how the other was feeling. Faithless love. Funnily enough we didn’t sit around and commiserate with each other, we just got on with it. I’m not sure that’s a good idea though. It takes longer to recover.

I had suffered from dysphonia since my first pregnancy. Shirley suffered from it, too. We both shut up shop in a manner of speaking. We sang very little, we kept in touch albeit sporadically, and life continued apace.

And now. This wonderful resurgence. Shirley’s last record Lodestar was brilliant. Recorded at home, and a startling return to form.

Heart’s Ease, the new record, is even better. Recorded in a studio, with supremely talented musicians. She is confident, and she shines. Folk singers, like blues singers, get better with age.

I know Shirley is a legend, but to me she’s still the beautiful and fun woman with whom I danced at the theatre many years ago. Those days were good. The days after, even better. I am very lucky to know her.

Here are a few questions I asked Shirley about this new work.

Linda Thompson: Some of the songs I love best on the album are new. Was there a reason that you included these particular songs?

Shirley Collins: “Sweet Greens And Blues” — words written by Austin John Marshall, my first husband. He also wrote “The Whitsun Dance,” which I set to The Copper Family’s “The Week Before Easter.” He designed several album covers too. He died in New York in 2013. I decided to record these songs as an acknowledgement to A.J. — partly for the sake of our children, Polly and Robert, a sort of legacy, and to acknowledge his part in my career. In any case, they are lovely songs. The third non-traditional song, “Locked In Ice,” was written by my late sister Dolly Collins’ son Buz Collins, who took his own life in 2002. He was a prolific songwriter and singer, lived on a narrow boat, The Maid In England, on The Grand Union Canal in Loughborough. He was a bit of a loner, yet at the same time was a lively, loyal man. Continue reading

Richard and Linda Thompson: Hard Luck Stories 1972–1982 review – a tempestuous tale worth retelling

The highlight of this eight-CD box set is 31 previously unreleased tracks

Box sets often exist merely to evacuate the wallets of the faithful. Here, though, over eight CDs (or a big download) is the story of one of the most intriguing partnerships in British music: the silvery folk-rock duo Richard and Linda Thompson. It is a tale worth retelling – and shelling out for.

As vocalists, the Thompsons shared a startling contralto directness that, squared, offered up a vision of often spare, unfussy beauty at one remove from convention or theatricality. This chronology kicks off with the pair’s first casual rock’n’roll experiments for a low-key ensemble project. It ends with the duo’s live immolation, when the Thompsons fulfilled lucrative 1982 tour dates despite their relationship having, as one of their most famous songs goes, “withered and died”.

A little like Fleetwood Mac – a more lucrative British late-60s outcropping – these former soulmates sang songs about their curdled love at one another across blasted North American stages. But Stevie Nicks never gave birth in a Sufi squat without hot water or electricity, or stole a car in Canada on a bender; she may never have kicked Lindsay Buckingham’s shins while he soloed – unlike Linda Pettifer, who, pre-Richard, performed as Linda Peters.

“After I hit Richard on the head with the Coca-Cola bottle it was fine,” Linda Thompson reminisced about that final tour to Rolling Stone in 1985. “I suddenly went from being this lady with three children – covered in scarves, with my eyes turned to the ground – to stealing cars and living on vodka and antidepressants. And I felt fabulous! Hitting everybody. You know, people’d say good morning to me and I’d say, ‘Fuck off.’ It was great therapy.”

The ballad of Richard and Linda has been rehearsed a great many times before of course, and the Thompsons’ work has been amply bootlegged and box-setted previously. But there are many great verses here not previously aired.

Key to the excitement of this collection is its 31 unreleased tracks – such as Amazon Queen, an early Richard Thompson psych-pop outtake, or the demo of Dimming of the Day, unadorned and devastating, on a CD devoted to the duo’s 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver and its outtakes.

Continue reading

Review: Teddy Thompson Finds Some Solace on “Heartbreaker Please”

Teddy Thompson
Teddy Thompson

“You can actually reinvent yourself in America, step off the plane, say ‘my name is whatever,’” says Teddy Thompson. Speaking more about New York City,

“You can actually reinvent yourself in America, step off the plane, say ‘my name is whatever,’” says Teddy Thompson. Speaking more about New York City, where the singer-songwriter has lived since moving there as a teen with his parents British folks singers Linda and Richard Thompson, the city also helped him fuse together his sixth studio album Heartbreaker Please (Thirty Tigers), out May 8, as he’s dissecting his own heartbreak, unraveling a portion of it on the album’s title track. Continue reading

Stellar Line-Up for Richard Thompson 70th Birthday Show 

Special guest performers announced for Richard Thompson’s 70th Birthday bash at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

An incredible array of special guest performers has been announced for Richard Thompson’s 70th birthday celebration show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on September 30th 2019. This once in a lifetime concert will see eminent fellow musicians, friends and family grace the stage to mark the milestone birthday of this iconic and much-respected artist.

Joining Richard Thompson on an exceptional night will be: Alistair Anderson, Ashley Hutchings, Bob Mould, Christine Collister, Danny Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg, David Gilmour, Derek Smalls (formerly of the band formally known as Spinal Tap), Eliza Carthy, Hugh Cornwell, Jack Thompson, James Walbourne, Judith Owen, Kami Thompson, Kate Rusby, Linda Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Maddy Prior, Marc Ellington, Martin Carthy, Olivia Chaney, Simon Nicol, Teddy Thompson and Zara Phillips.

The show sold out swiftly when it was announced in April.

Richard Thompson’s enduring musical influence and accomplishments are unparalleled.  Having co-founded the groundbreaking group Fairport Convention as a teenager in the 1960s, he and his bandmates invented a distinctive strain of British folk-rock.  He left the group by the age of 21, followed by a decade long musical partnership with his then-wife Linda, to over 30 years as a highly successful solo artist.  Thompson’s genre defying mastery of both acoustic and electric guitar along with engaging energy and onstage wit continue to earn him new fans and a place as one of the most distinctive virtuosos and writers in folk-rock history.  Powered by evocative songcraft, jaw-dropping guitar playing, and indefinable spirit, this venerable icon holds a coveted spot on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and counts  Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Americana Music Association in Nashville and the UK Americana Music Association, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC Folk Awards, a prestigious Ivor Novello Award and, of course, an OBE, among his many accolades.

A wide range of musicians have recorded Thompson’s songs including David Gilmour, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Jones, David Byrne, Don Henley, Los Lobos, and many more.  His massive body of work includes many Grammy-nominated albums as well as numerous soundtracks, including Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.  Thompson’s latest album 13 Rivers (Proper Records) was released to widespread acclaim last September and appeared on many 2018 ‘best of the year’ lists. His accompanying tour was met with glowing reviews, including The Observer, in its Artist of the Week spread, who concluded, “Half a century after his first gig with Fairport Convention, folk-rocker Richard Thompson – trademark Stratocaster and beret intact – is as cool, energetic and contemporary as ever.”

Source: Stellar Line-Up for Richard Thompson 70th Birthday Show | Folk Radio UK