Richard Thompson’s musical influence is everywhere. The Fairport Convention co-founder has broken new ground with his guitar no matter what the project and continues to follow his muse wherever it takes him. This week, the new songs of ’13 Rivers’ bring him to Merseyside where he will sing and play on Hope Street. By Alan O’Hare.
Imagine being named one of ‘The Top 100 Guitarists Of All Time’. Fair enough, it was for a benign Rolling Stone magazine marketing exercise, but there stands the name of Richard Thompson alongside those of Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Jeff Beck. I thought about that as I dropped the needle on ‘The Storm Won’t Come’, the first music released from Thompson’s acclaimed new album, ’13 Rivers’. The song (listen below) opens up taut and true on electric guitars and vocals that set a mood of anticipation. Something’s happening here, Mr. Thompson: “I never really think about what songs mean,” he says. “I just write them… I follow the music, listen to the songs and let them tell me what they’re about.”
There’s a story being told on ’13 Rivers’, though. A Muslim living in America, the ex-Fairport Convention folk hero wrote his latest set of songs at home in New Jersey: “There’s a commonality to the songs,” he whispers down the phone to me in that baritone voice. “I wrote them during a six month period and they belong together in some way… they were written in the same time and space.” Unusually for 2018, they were recorded in the same time and place, too. Listen in closely and you’ll hear something startling: the album sounds like people playing in a room together! “We had a great room to record in,” he reveals. The studio – “… a funky place that was quite popular in the sixties and seventies” – was the famed Boulevard Recording in Los Angeles, known previously as ‘The Producers Workshop’, and once owned by Liberace. “It used to be ‘Hollywood trendy’, but it fell into total disrepair and has still got some gaps in the walls,” the songwriter reveals. “I like studios that are honest. It’s about the décor of the sound and there’s a specific sound to Boulevard… the engineer is a Beatles nut, so I could grab a Gretsch off the wall or dial into an amp that had and unbelievable tone reminiscent of The Beatles.”
Speaking of The Fabs, Thompson arrives in Liverpool this week to play on Hope Street at Philharmonic Hall and it’s a much-anticipated gig. Always popular among the folk and Americana contingent, the singer is constantly on the road and checks in around here near enough every tour. With that in mind, we had a chat about his new songs, the old music and coming to town…
I love it, the place is so alive and culturally great.
How are the new songs going down on tour?
My audience is fairly old, but I still play at least half a dozen of the new songs. The new songs are a surprise in a good way – they reflect my emotions in an oblique manner that I’ll never truly understand. You find deeper meaning in the best records as time goes on…
… you want fans to put in the hours in with the new stuff before the gig, then?
… the reward comes later!
Tell me more about ’13 Rivers’, where did the title come from?
There are thirteen songs on the record and each one is like a river: some flow faster than others and some follow a slow and winding current. Really, it was a pretentious afterthought!
Lovely! You must be please with that analogue sound?
Yes, the studio was the one where Pink Floyd mixed ‘The Wall’ and Liberace used to own it! It’s a great room.
You took some time off to write this record, didn’t you?
I’ve had a stressful few years. ‘The Storm Won’t Come’ references wanting to change your life, but that’s a difficult undertaking. You have to wait for it to happen naturally. You can’t force it.
The game’s changed, too…
… to earn a living, I have to play live. I’m a performer. But I don’t know how that works with the creative process. I suppose it is some kind of bizarre parallel existence!
It’s over fifty years since Fairport Convention’s debut album, how’s your relationship with the old songs?
I run a film in my head when I play them! But the set’s different when I have the band with me and we always find different ways to play the material. I want people to leave inspired as opposed to tired.
I’m sure Liverpool will be lively for you!
It always is. Liverpool is similar to Glasgow, full of the freedom of the working class.
Thursday, October 11th 2018, 7pm
Philharmonic Hall, Hope Street, Liverpool
Pic by Tom Bejgrowicz.