To listen to the music of Brit folk icon Richard Thompson one would presume a serious, brooding man in conversation. However as any who have seen him live can attest, he is witty, droll and funny.
As goes RT live, so goes RT in conversation. I unwittingly set myself up for a crack after mentioning that I am both a fan and music journalist.
“Well you can’t be both!” he laughs.
One of the unexpected delights of a Richard Thompson concert is his comic asides and irreverent comments. One might expect someone like him to go for the tortured artist effect but that’s not going to happen according to Thompson.
“I think it’s good that I go against the serious artist thing,” he admits. “I think it throws the audience a bit.”
It’s hard to find a fan or student of folk or rock music who doesn’t include Richard Thompson as a favourite listen. His songs are tender, terse, heartbreaking and wrly comical, sometimes all at once.
A founding member of Fairport Convention, he went solo in the late 60s and as a duo with then-wife Linda. Since their split in the early 80s he has been recording and touring almost relentlessly since. His solo work finds him tip-toeing deftly between folk and rock. Thomspons is that rarity: like Neil Young, he is a master of both.
On September 30th, he celebrated his 70th birthday at Royal Albert Hall in the other London with guests aplenty: David Gilmour, Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers, ‘Derek Smalls’ (aka Harry Shearer), Loudon Wainwright III, Marry Waterson, Kate Rusby and Eliza Carthy.
“Seventy is a big number,” Thompson muses. “I think 70 is the new 69.”
And yet he has no desire to slow down his steady schedule of recording and touring.
“Unless there are physical issues, I don’t see myself stopping or slowing,” he says. “I suppose I could paint or something but I don’t plan to.”
As much as Thompson is known for his guitar playing, it’s his writing that stays with you, the songs.
“I like writing and as long as I can do that I’ll keep recording and touring,” he explains. Although he usually releases original material, Thompson re-recorded some of his material about six years ago for Acoustic Classics and the followup Acoustic Classics II, a curious move for someone who constantly moves forward.
“Someone suggested to me that I re-record these songs for people to buy at my shows, as a sampler of some of the songs they may have just heard,” he explains. “And it was fun to re-record them and reinterpret a bit”. “I thought we might sell a thousand of them or so, but it turns out we’ve sold quite a few more than that,” he chuckles. “I guess my fans like them. So I also did some Acoustic Rarities recordings too which have done rather well.”
His legendary 2003 album 1,000 Years of Popular Music was a wry take on millenium-ending best of music-lists. Thompson tipped his hat to songs dating back to 1068, pulling in jazz, traditional folk and even Britney Spears with his seemingly wry take on “Oops, I Did It Again!”.
“Although Britney’s version of that song was very over-the-top, it really was a good song. I wanted to make the point that the song itself was very good.”
Asked if he would attempt a sequel of 1,000 Years of Popular Music, Thompson half sighs and says “I have so many things going on with touring and recording, I don’t know where I would find the time. But it would be fun.”
That touring of course brings him to the London Music Hall this Saturday, October 19th. He had been in London before in the 80s opening for Crowded House at Western’s Alumni Hall.
“That was a fun tour,” he recalls. “I only did a few shows with them, London, Windsor and a few others.”
“I don’t think I’ve been there since.”
Richard Thompson is performing at the London Music Hall on Saturday, October 19. Ticket information can be found by clicking here.
Featured image provided by Richard Thompson.