Guest Blog: 45 Years of Richard Thompson

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 09:23 07/11/2013

This week the inmates are running the asylum. You'll remember I asked you all to Right This Blog! So thanks go to Nathan for today's post:Richard Thompson: then

It's not easy being a Richard Thompson fan. My wife doesn't get it, very few people get it. It's taken me three years to fully get it. Richard Thompson is not just a great guitar player; he is one of the greatest. How many of the great guitar players have never used a blues or rock cliché in their playing? Only one. How many songwriters take inspiration from the last 1000 years of music rather than just the last sixty or seventy? Only one.

It is no easy thing to convey to people that there is a musician that nobody has really heard of that is genuinely on a level with the greats, not just consistent but essential and deeply varied. People tend not to believe you when you tell them that about five of the greatest albums of all time they have never even heard.*

I am writing this because you need to hear Richard Thompson. You don't read guest entries on music blogs unless you are a music fan. I want to provide you with an 'in.' Often with new music that's what you need, a song that you connect with that helps you get what a musician is about. It becomes even more essential to have an 'in' with someone who has been playing for 45 years. Knowing where to start is half the battle. 

So to the problem at hand, at what point in a 45 year career of brilliant music should you try to aceess first. Below is a selection of songs that I hope will help convert you. Simon has previously talked about how he's come to Richard Thompson through his recent output and the roll he has been on for the last 10 years, but it goes so much deeper than that. Before you right me off as a nutter or an obsessive fan-boy, take a listen.

1969: Matty Groves. First up from the acknowledged "greatest album" of English folk Liege and Lief. It'll make you want to grab the nearest Mumford and Sons fan and smack him round the head with it.

1972: Roll Over Vaughan Williams.  One of the great guitar solos. If you want to know what all the fuss is about with Richard Thompson's guitar playing, take a listen.

1974: When I Get To The Border. This song was where it began for me. From his greatest album I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, it's the whole package of great playing and songwriting.

1981: New-Fangled Flogging Reel. In case you need further convincing of guitar prowess, here is a super fast workout from his instrumental album Strict Tempo.

1982: Back Street Slide. One of the standouts from the greatest album of the 80s. Richard Thompson at his absolute best. If you don't like this, you don't like music.

1988: Can't Win. An example of masterful lyrics and playing combining.  A staple of his legendary live shows.

1993: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.  The song that has probably converted the most people to Richard Thompson. Hard to think of a single example of acoustic guitar playing this good.

1996: Sam Jones. Seriously, who doesn't enjoy a song about the trade in human bones.

1997: Big Chimney. From the masterful concept album Industry. You'll be singing "We're making pig iron" for weeks.Richard Thompson: now

2003: Outside of the Inside. A song about how the Taliban view the west. Great stuff.

2005: Miss Patsy. Another example of RT's magnificent lyrics. You know it's time to leave when they start handing out the cyanide pills.

2010: Here Comes Geordie.  Do you hate Sting? So does Richard Thompson. "Geordie, are you from Jamaic'ee?"

2013: Sally B. One of his recent cuts from Electric, Richard Thompson's first ever top 40 album in America. It's nice that after 45 years, he's finally charting and things are heading in the right direction.  It will be interesting to see if Electric is still a contender for Simon's album of the year. For me there's been nothing to touch it.

* If you're wondering what the five albums are: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Liege and Lief, Shoot Out the Lights, Dream Attic, Henry the Human Fly.

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