‘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: ‘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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The Story Behind The Album: Unhalfbricking, by Fairport Convention

1969 was a roller coaster year for Fairport Convention, full of triumphs and tragedies. One of its highlights was their brilliant third album. This is its story.

1969 was a roller-coaster year for Fairport Convention. In January of that year they released their second album What We Did On Our Holidays, the first one to feature singer Sandy Denny. In May they hit rock bottom with a tragedy that killed two people including one of its members. Miraculously they recovered and released the album that defines the British folk rock revival of that period, the iconic Liege and Lief. By December Sandy Denny and bass player Ashley Hutchings left the band to form Fotheringay and Steeleye Span and the classic Fairport Convention lineup was no more. And that was not all, for these events book-ended one more album that the band managed to record and release during that prolific period, one of my favorite records from that era, Unhalfbricking. Continue reading