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Baker's Dozen

Full House: Richard Thompson's Favourite Albums
Jude Rogers , October 3rd, 2018 11:29

As Fairport Convention alumnus and folk rock hero Richard Thompson tours his new album he speaks to Jude Rogers about 13 favourite records, from The Watersons to Squeeze, Moby Grape, Offa Rex, Marissa Nadler and Crowded House

Down the line from New Jersey on a bright Autumn morning comes one of the most polite, gentle English voices I've ever heard. "It's a pleasure to talk to you – hello!" But don't be swayed by that sweetness. Richard Thompson is folk-rock's Che Guevera-capped, ultimate founding father, whose solid CV, now spanning more than five decades, should quash any prejudices about folk being placid and anaemic. 

The 69-year-old started out in a band with Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers, when both were in their mid-teens, for starters. After both amicably parted ways, Thompson started to fuse traditional sounds together with rock, on the rougher Fender Stratocaster guitar favoured by his musical heroes (these included rockabilly guitarist James Burton, Chicago blues player Magic Sam, and The Shadows' Hank Marvin – and a battered Fender remains Thompson's preferred instrument). An original member of Fairport Convention, he was a lynchpin of the band through the imperial Sandy Denny years, and a survivor of of the group's horrific tour-van crash of May 1969, which killed his girlfriend, fashion designer and writer Jeannie Franklyn, and the band's teenage drummer Martin Lamble. Thompson himself had not long turned 20.

In the 1970s, he became a stellar songwriter and performer with first wife, Linda (I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight remains one of the greatest ever folk-rock records) and he was a session player on some of folk's weirdest, most wonderful releases, including Lal and Mike Waterson's Bright Phoebus and Shirley and Dolly Collins' Anthems In Eden. He's been a brilliant, fiery, clever solo artist ever since, undertaking ambitious projects like 2003's 1,000 Years Of Popular Music (which started with medieval round 'Sumer Is Icumen In' and finished with a cover of Britney Spears' 'Oops!...I Did It Again') and being liked by famous alternative music figures. John Peel once called him "the best-kept secret in the world of music", and when I sat watching Thompson for the first time at the 2011 Cambridge Folk Festival, and turned round to share a smile with the man in raptures next to me, I was delighted to discover it was Rough Trade Records' Geoff Travis (it's no surprise that Rough Trade have released some fantastic new folk records in recent years, I'm sure).


Thompson's new album is a roar from the depths, too. Songs like 'The Storm Won't Come' and 'The Rattle Within' sound like they could have sprung from the same well of rage as the work of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. "It's about living in strange times," Thompson says; tracks like 'Bones Of Gilead' have become oddly pertinent too. "I've been having a tough time domestically… some issues with my family [which he chooses not to go into]… but living ordinary life against this backdrop of an increasingly authoritarian world sets a certain tone. Not that this album doesn't reflect the real world exactly, but presents a sort of fictional parallel to it." As someone who has lived in the US for many years now, he describes the atmosphere in the country, with a hint of black humour, as "odd." Then a gentle sigh comes down the line. "I mean, if you've got a petulant narcissist with his finger on the red button, it's everyone's issue, isn't it?"

13 Rivers is out now on Proper Records. Richard Thompson and the Electric Trio's UK tour starts on October 11 at the Liverpool Philharmonic and continues thus

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