Thursday, 24 September 2015

"Still" crazy after all these years ...

In the olden days, only obsessive diarists could look back and pinpoint a particular event 46 odd years in the past. However, thanks to Mr Google and one of his retentive contributors, on Saturday March 15th 1969, I'm able to confirm my exact whereabouts. It was Oxford Polytechnic Student's Union and I'd travelled up by coach from Victoria coach station to see my chum Jeff Long and Fairport Convention.

I can remember entering the hall during the start of the set, which was "A Sailor's Life" from the yet-to-be-released classic Unhalfbricking album. Instantly gripping was the pure and magical voice of Sandy Denny but there was something even more striking - a lone gaunt scruffy figure on the left of the stage holding a Fender copy and producing some of the sweetest and most original guitar melodies I'd ever heard. It was Richard Thompson. I immediately wanted to be Richard Thompson.

Sandy Denny sang "Meet on the Ledge" which is a simple ballad of such haunting brilliance I was later astounded to find it had been written by the 20 year old genius Thompson. It was particularly poignant that just 8 weeks after that Oxford gig the group's van would crash on the M1 killing Richard's then girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn and drummer Martin Lamble. In that same eventful year the group produced their 3 finest albums (What we did on our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief).

I became a folk-rock Fairport fan from that moment in March, but most of all I became a Richard Thompson fan. I was very disappointed when he decided to leave the group after less than 4 years but remember rushing out in April 1972 to snap up a copy of "Henry The Human Fly", his first solo album. More disappointment - his singing just didn't match the guitar virtuosity and I gave up on it (not just me - it was reportedly the worst selling album ever in Warner Brothers Records history).

The subsequent decades saw me and Richard Thompson follow different ups-and-downs, and I suppose I came back to his work mainly during the "downs". He had toured with his wife Linda and become a Sufi Muslim, even giving up music altogether for a period in the seventies. He eventually split up with Linda on an acrimonious tour of the USA in 1981 and a relationship which began with the optimism of "I want to see the bright lights tonight" was concluded with the dark brilliance of "Shoot out the Lights". 

Thompson's career continued as a solo but quirky one and he steadfastly refused to compromise or popularize his music - he just ploughed on into new grounds and let me and the general public gradually catch up with him. His singing voice matured into a wonderful rich one whilst his guitar playing just got better and better. Producer Joe Boyd said of him "He can imitate almost any style, and often does, but is instantly identifiable. 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. But no blues clichés."

I will always remember without Mr Google's help where I was on Saturday 19th September, 2015.

I was in Row W, seat 22 of the Cambridge Corn Exchange once again lost in admiration for Richard Thompson at his "Electric Trio Tour". With absolute brilliant support from Michael Jerome on drums and Davey Faragher on electric bass the trio rocked the roof off and gave a masterclass in versatility and making live music sound 100 times better than recorded. They covered several tracks from "Still", the latest (and best solo) Richard Thompson album yet - give it a listen if you get the chance.

But it didn't end there. At the end of the best music concert I'd ever attended in my life (nb I don't get out that much...) and thanks to the good offices of my brother's ex EMI friend Malcolm who appeared with VIP stickers we were ushered out the side of the hall and up through a labyryth of corridors and stairwells like Spinal Tap looking for the stage. Eventually we entered a door marked "Richard Thompson" and there was my hero, smiling gently and inviting us to partake in his (very downmarket looking) after-show feast of Fanta and cheese rolls. He chatted, shook hands and came over as one of the nicest, most generous chaps you could care to come across. When asked where he would be the next day he casually replied "The Royal Festival Hall, I think".  

I still want to be Richard Thompson but sadly all I have so far are the hats, the beard and the "blues clichés". 


Tim said...

I'm sooo envious! And you've reminded me to get 'Still'. (Shame you weren't 24 hours earlier, I was in HMV this morning wondering what to buy. Keith Richards, since you ask. I also bought Blonde on Blonde on CD, and they were playing Hendrix in the shop. Timewarp time.)

Liz said...

Like! Like! Like! (why is there no 'like' button on blogger?)

Rog said...

Tim: Ah, Blonde on Blonde! I still have my vinyl although it's looking a bit less than blonde now.

Liz: I just hope you haven't logged in from Diss ;-)

Crowbard said...

Agog with admiration, Rog. Last time I slept under a stage was back in the late 60's with 'Battered Ornament', a band called 'O' and Jethro Tull on Leicester 'Recky'.

Rog said...

Ah Mr Crowbard. That would be Pete Brown's Battered Ornaments after he left them battered and went off to write "Sunshine of Your Love" with Jack Bruce?

Z said...

Such a lovely picture, too!