Richard Thompson

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At a Glance

Birthname: Richard John Thompson
Nationality: British
Born: Apr 03 1949


Biography

No artist to emerge in the second half of the ’60s has gone on to have a more productive and vital career than Richard Thompson. The England-born, L.A.-based artist has amassed an astounding body of work comprising more than 40 albums, containing artfully shaped material that seamlessly and expressively integrates traditional and contemporary modes. And Thompson is among the most distinctive of guitar virtuosos, capable of breathtaking drama and sublime delicacy, prompting Rolling Stone to hail him as “a perennial dark-horse contender for the title of greatest living rock guitarist.”

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No artist to emerge in the second half of the ’60s has gone on to have a more productive and vital career than Richard Thompson. The England-born, L.A.-based artist has amassed an astounding body of work comprising more than 40 albums, containing artfully shaped material that seamlessly and expressively integrates traditional and contemporary modes. And Thompson is among the most distinctive of guitar virtuosos, capable of breathtaking drama and sublime delicacy, prompting Rolling Stone to hail him as “a perennial dark-horse contender for the title of greatest living rock guitarist.”

While still a teenager, Thompson founded and led Fairport Convention, which was to British folk-rock what the Byrds were to the idiom’s American equivalent. Thompson’s solo albums, beginning with 1972’s Henry the Human Fly, reveal an artist of unparalleled dimension who has followed his muse as boldly as fellow iconoclast Neil Young. The series of albums Thompson recorded during the 1970s and early ’80s with his then-wife Linda, culminating in the devastating Shoot Out the Lights (1982), charted the arc of a relationship with unstinting candor. During the last two decades, he’s fired off a steady stream of critically acclaimed electric and acoustic solo albums, most recently 2007’s Sweet Warrior, whose centerpiece was “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me,” an unsettlingly vivid narrative using the actual language of soldiers in the Iraq War, which stands as the mother of all modern-day protest songs.

In 2009, Shout! Factory painstakingly compiled the comprehensive four-CD boxed set Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009—Thompson deferring to the label rather than taking an active role in digging through his massive archives. “Looking backwards is off the path, in a sense,” he explains. “It’s a pause at the side of the road. But then, you look at the road ahead, and you wonder what’s around the next bend.”

What Thompson found around that bend is Dream Attic (Shout Factory, Aug. 31), comprising 13 new songs penned by the artist specifically for the project during an inspired-three-month outpouring. The twist was that the material was recorded in real time during a series of West Coast shows earlier this year with the latest lineup of the artist’s electric band—Pete Zorn (guitars, flute, sax, mandolin), Michael Jerome (drums), Taras Prodaniuk (bass) and Joel Zifkin (violin, mandolin). The record was produced by Thompson and Simon Tassano, the latter handling the remote recording and subsequent mix, vividly capturing the inspired interaction of the players.

It’s safe to say that a generous handful of the songs of Dream Attic are destined for some future R.T. retrospective. The album opens explosively with “The Money Shuffle,” which Thompson says is “dedicated to our good friends on Wall Street who did such a fine job lately. I’m hopeless with money; I have to hand it off to somebody I trust with my savings, and invariably it’ll go south. I prefer to keep it under the mattress. It’s just a mild satire.” The resulting take is the antithesis of mild, building toward an absolutely scalding guitar solo. “Solos are supposed to continue the narrative and emotion of the song in a different way,” Thompson points out. “It should be heading in the same direction, anyway.” Does it ever, here and elsewhere on the LP.

From this bracing start, the sequence rolls through traditionally rooted balladry (“Among the Gorse, Among the Grey”), sharply drawn character studies (“Here Comes Geordie”), image-filled observations (“Burning Man”) and recollections of bygone eras (“Demons in Her Dancing Shoes,” set in the East End of London in the ’60s). “Sidney Wells” is a traditional murder ballad in modern dress, “Crimescene” is a raging reaction to the inexorable aging process.

“A Brother Slips Away” is a moving elegy to friends the 61-year-old Thompson has lost within the last year, and “Big Sun Falling in the River” is a buoyantly Beatlesque instant classic. “I really like pop-song structure and emotion, which is direct and sometimes deceptively simple,” he says of inspiration behind the last-named tune. “This one is an end-of-relationship song—bouncy, yes; happy, no.” Always quick with a droll quip, he adds, “I do two kinds of songs: downtempo depressed songs and uptempo depressed songs.” The record ends as dynamically as it began, with “If Love Whispers Your Name,” a ballad in ¾ time that works itself up to a breathtaking widescreen climax.

“The thing about recording live is that you lose accuracy but you gain energy; you lose choices but you gain immediacy,” Thompson says about his decision to work in a live setting. “In the studio, you’re creating something in which sound is a compositional component. It’s a more introverted experience, and you mustn’t dawdle in the studio or you’ll make an antiseptic product. So we’re forsaking the sound component of that process in order to go for the energy.”

To say that the plan succeeded would be a gross understatement. But at the same time, the accuracy is marvelously maintained thanks to the elevated musicianship, frequently leading to extended passages of eruptive forcefulness topped by one after another of Thompson’s jaw-dropping solo forays. Not only that, but all five players are adept singers, leading to numerous spot-on multipart harmonies hovering over the front man’s fiercely expressive lead vocals.

Thompson went into the undertaking with an open mind, his muse riding shotgun. “At the beginning,” he recalls, “I said [presumably to the aforementioned muse] I wanted to have some traditional British elements in the music, and also some dance-tune quotes here and there. I was consciously thinking about tempos, and most importantly, the lineup I’d like to use. I wanted to bring in a fiddle that we could use almost like a horn section. But the actual creation of the songs was much less conscious. It wasn’t gonna be about a particular subject or theme; wherever the songs came from, they just came.”

To preserve the freshness of the experience, the players went through minimal preparation before embarking on the eight-date mini-tour. “Having sent out the demos, everybody then did their homework and wrote up their own version of whatever the chart was, if they need that,” Thompson recalls. “Then we came together just over three days to rehearse. Certainly, the first shows we did on this recording tour felt slightly under-rehearsed. We recorded eight shows, and we took probably 85 percent of the record from the last three nights at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. We learned how to play the songs as we went.”

And that was precisely how the bandleader wanted it. “It’s good to be comfortable up to a point,” he says. “What you want ideally is to be comfortable and challenged. Sometimes you see bands that have been together for a really long time and have kind of fallen asleep. It’s just become too comfortable and there’s no challenge. I’m very happy with these guys. I’ve only worked with Taras on one previous tour, so he’s relatively new and still doing stuff that surprises me, so that’s good. And good to have Joel because he’s a whole new thing. It’s a good mixture.”

On several levels, Thompson notes, these 2010 shows felt not terribly different from Fairport’s very first tour of the States in 1970. That run of dates followed the exit of Sandy Denny, which thrust the guitarist/songwriter into the foreground for the first time. “That particular incarnation of Fairport was a very musical, well rehearsed and tight band,” Thompson recalls. “And also a pioneering band: there was no one playing that kind of music in that way at the time. There were a few baffled American audiences but, apart from that, it was fun. There was good camaraderie in that band as well.” Forty years later, he took the stage with another tight-knit band and presented audiences with another batch of unfamiliar material. For this veteran artist, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Now in his fifth decade of music making, Thompson continues to challenge himself creatively. Before embarking on the Dream Attic project, he completed Cabaret of Souls, a song cycle for rock band and orchestra set in Purgatory. As the 2010 curator of London’s prestigious Meltdown Festival, Thompson performed the piece for only the 2nd time. While preparing to take his band on the road for an extended tour later this year encompassing full performances of Dream Attic, as well as jaunt through his body of work (“We’ll play the hits, with a small ‘h’—the hitlets,” he says), he made time to begin work on what promises to be a similarly ambitious new song cycle, this one for acoustic guitar, voice and strings.

“I suppose I get bored thinking, ‘This song should reflect my life and all my previous traumas’—it seems too self-centered,” Thompson reflects. “Having written something like 400 songs, I’m always looking for new angles, new subject matter, new ways to write. I’m very excited about music and the possibilities of music, and if that changed, I hope I’d be courageous enough to say I’m in the wrong business.

“But it’s not cheating to self-stimulate,” he continues, “to ask myself, ‘How can I be more productive? What works for me as a writer?’ “I try not to go through those periods where you start waiting for the lightning bolt of inspiration to strike. I’d rather be proactive and climb up to the hilltop, where you stand a greater chance of being struck by lightning.”

Given the vital nature of recent works like Dream Attic, Thompson’s plan appears to be working stunningly well for him—and for us.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

No artist to emerge in the second half of the ’60s has gone on to have a more productive and vital career than Richard Thompson. The England-born, L.A.-based artist has amassed an astounding body of work comprising more than 40 albums, containing artfully shaped material that seamlessly and expressively integrates traditional and contemporary modes. And Thompson is among the most distinctive of guitar virtuosos, capable of breathtaking drama and sublime delicacy, prompting Rolling Stone to hail him as “a perennial dark-horse contender for the title of greatest living rock guitarist.”

While still a teenager, Thompson founded and led Fairport Convention, which was to British folk-rock what the Byrds were to the idiom’s American equivalent. Thompson’s solo albums, beginning with 1972’s Henry the Human Fly, reveal an artist of unparalleled dimension who has followed his muse as boldly as fellow iconoclast Neil Young. The series of albums Thompson recorded during the 1970s and early ’80s with his then-wife Linda, culminating in the devastating Shoot Out the Lights (1982), charted the arc of a relationship with unstinting candor. During the last two decades, he’s fired off a steady stream of critically acclaimed electric and acoustic solo albums, most recently 2007’s Sweet Warrior, whose centerpiece was “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me,” an unsettlingly vivid narrative using the actual language of soldiers in the Iraq War, which stands as the mother of all modern-day protest songs.

In 2009, Shout! Factory painstakingly compiled the comprehensive four-CD boxed set Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009—Thompson deferring to the label rather than taking an active role in digging through his massive archives. “Looking backwards is off the path, in a sense,” he explains. “It’s a pause at the side of the road. But then, you look at the road ahead, and you wonder what’s around the next bend.”

What Thompson found around that bend is Dream Attic (Shout Factory, Aug. 31), comprising 13 new songs penned by the artist specifically for the project during an inspired-three-month outpouring. The twist was that the material was recorded in real time during a series of West Coast shows earlier this year with the latest lineup of the artist’s electric band—Pete Zorn (guitars, flute, sax, mandolin), Michael Jerome (drums), Taras Prodaniuk (bass) and Joel Zifkin (violin, mandolin). The record was produced by Thompson and Simon Tassano, the latter handling the remote recording and subsequent mix, vividly capturing the inspired interaction of the players.

It’s safe to say that a generous handful of the songs of Dream Attic are destined for some future R.T. retrospective. The album opens explosively with “The Money Shuffle,” which Thompson says is “dedicated to our good friends on Wall Street who did such a fine job lately. I’m hopeless with money; I have to hand it off to somebody I trust with my savings, and invariably it’ll go south. I prefer to keep it under the mattress. It’s just a mild satire.” The resulting take is the antithesis of mild, building toward an absolutely scalding guitar solo. “Solos are supposed to continue the narrative and emotion of the song in a different way,” Thompson points out. “It should be heading in the same direction, anyway.” Does it ever, here and elsewhere on the LP.

From this bracing start, the sequence rolls through traditionally rooted balladry (“Among the Gorse, Among the Grey”), sharply drawn character studies (“Here Comes Geordie”), image-filled observations (“Burning Man”) and recollections of bygone eras (“Demons in Her Dancing Shoes,” set in the East End of London in the ’60s). “Sidney Wells” is a traditional murder ballad in modern dress, “Crimescene” is a raging reaction to the inexorable aging process.

“A Brother Slips Away” is a moving elegy to friends the 61-year-old Thompson has lost within the last year, and “Big Sun Falling in the River” is a buoyantly Beatlesque instant classic. “I really like pop-song structure and emotion, which is direct and sometimes deceptively simple,” he says of inspiration behind the last-named tune. “This one is an end-of-relationship song—bouncy, yes; happy, no.” Always quick with a droll quip, he adds, “I do two kinds of songs: downtempo depressed songs and uptempo depressed songs.” The record ends as dynamically as it began, with “If Love Whispers Your Name,” a ballad in ¾ time that works itself up to a breathtaking widescreen climax.

“The thing about recording live is that you lose accuracy but you gain energy; you lose choices but you gain immediacy,” Thompson says about his decision to work in a live setting. “In the studio, you’re creating something in which sound is a compositional component. It’s a more introverted experience, and you mustn’t dawdle in the studio or you’ll make an antiseptic product. So we’re forsaking the sound component of that process in order to go for the energy.”

To say that the plan succeeded would be a gross understatement. But at the same time, the accuracy is marvelously maintained thanks to the elevated musicianship, frequently leading to extended passages of eruptive forcefulness topped by one after another of Thompson’s jaw-dropping solo forays. Not only that, but all five players are adept singers, leading to numerous spot-on multipart harmonies hovering over the front man’s fiercely expressive lead vocals.

Thompson went into the undertaking with an open mind, his muse riding shotgun. “At the beginning,” he recalls, “I said [presumably to the aforementioned muse] I wanted to have some traditional British elements in the music, and also some dance-tune quotes here and there. I was consciously thinking about tempos, and most importantly, the lineup I’d like to use. I wanted to bring in a fiddle that we could use almost like a horn section. But the actual creation of the songs was much less conscious. It wasn’t gonna be about a particular subject or theme; wherever the songs came from, they just came.”

To preserve the freshness of the experience, the players went through minimal preparation before embarking on the eight-date mini-tour. “Having sent out the demos, everybody then did their homework and wrote up their own version of whatever the chart was, if they need that,” Thompson recalls. “Then we came together just over three days to rehearse. Certainly, the first shows we did on this recording tour felt slightly under-rehearsed. We recorded eight shows, and we took probably 85 percent of the record from the last three nights at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. We learned how to play the songs as we went.”

And that was precisely how the bandleader wanted it. “It’s good to be comfortable up to a point,” he says. “What you want ideally is to be comfortable and challenged. Sometimes you see bands that have been together for a really long time and have kind of fallen asleep. It’s just become too comfortable and there’s no challenge. I’m very happy with these guys. I’ve only worked with Taras on one previous tour, so he’s relatively new and still doing stuff that surprises me, so that’s good. And good to have Joel because he’s a whole new thing. It’s a good mixture.”

On several levels, Thompson notes, these 2010 shows felt not terribly different from Fairport’s very first tour of the States in 1970. That run of dates followed the exit of Sandy Denny, which thrust the guitarist/songwriter into the foreground for the first time. “That particular incarnation of Fairport was a very musical, well rehearsed and tight band,” Thompson recalls. “And also a pioneering band: there was no one playing that kind of music in that way at the time. There were a few baffled American audiences but, apart from that, it was fun. There was good camaraderie in that band as well.” Forty years later, he took the stage with another tight-knit band and presented audiences with another batch of unfamiliar material. For this veteran artist, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Now in his fifth decade of music making, Thompson continues to challenge himself creatively. Before embarking on the Dream Attic project, he completed Cabaret of Souls, a song cycle for rock band and orchestra set in Purgatory. As the 2010 curator of London’s prestigious Meltdown Festival, Thompson performed the piece for only the 2nd time. While preparing to take his band on the road for an extended tour later this year encompassing full performances of Dream Attic, as well as jaunt through his body of work (“We’ll play the hits, with a small ‘h’—the hitlets,” he says), he made time to begin work on what promises to be a similarly ambitious new song cycle, this one for acoustic guitar, voice and strings.

“I suppose I get bored thinking, ‘This song should reflect my life and all my previous traumas’—it seems too self-centered,” Thompson reflects. “Having written something like 400 songs, I’m always looking for new angles, new subject matter, new ways to write. I’m very excited about music and the possibilities of music, and if that changed, I hope I’d be courageous enough to say I’m in the wrong business.

“But it’s not cheating to self-stimulate,” he continues, “to ask myself, ‘How can I be more productive? What works for me as a writer?’ “I try not to go through those periods where you start waiting for the lightning bolt of inspiration to strike. I’d rather be proactive and climb up to the hilltop, where you stand a greater chance of being struck by lightning.”

Given the vital nature of recent works like Dream Attic, Thompson’s plan appears to be working stunningly well for him—and for us.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

No artist to emerge in the second half of the ’60s has gone on to have a more productive and vital career than Richard Thompson. The England-born, L.A.-based artist has amassed an astounding body of work comprising more than 40 albums, containing artfully shaped material that seamlessly and expressively integrates traditional and contemporary modes. And Thompson is among the most distinctive of guitar virtuosos, capable of breathtaking drama and sublime delicacy, prompting Rolling Stone to hail him as “a perennial dark-horse contender for the title of greatest living rock guitarist.”

While still a teenager, Thompson founded and led Fairport Convention, which was to British folk-rock what the Byrds were to the idiom’s American equivalent. Thompson’s solo albums, beginning with 1972’s Henry the Human Fly, reveal an artist of unparalleled dimension who has followed his muse as boldly as fellow iconoclast Neil Young. The series of albums Thompson recorded during the 1970s and early ’80s with his then-wife Linda, culminating in the devastating Shoot Out the Lights (1982), charted the arc of a relationship with unstinting candor. During the last two decades, he’s fired off a steady stream of critically acclaimed electric and acoustic solo albums, most recently 2007’s Sweet Warrior, whose centerpiece was “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me,” an unsettlingly vivid narrative using the actual language of soldiers in the Iraq War, which stands as the mother of all modern-day protest songs.

In 2009, Shout! Factory painstakingly compiled the comprehensive four-CD boxed set Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009—Thompson deferring to the label rather than taking an active role in digging through his massive archives. “Looking backwards is off the path, in a sense,” he explains. “It’s a pause at the side of the road. But then, you look at the road ahead, and you wonder what’s around the next bend.”

What Thompson found around that bend is Dream Attic (Shout Factory, Aug. 31), comprising 13 new songs penned by the artist specifically for the project during an inspired-three-month outpouring. The twist was that the material was recorded in real time during a series of West Coast shows earlier this year with the latest lineup of the artist’s electric band—Pete Zorn (guitars, flute, sax, mandolin), Michael Jerome (drums), Taras Prodaniuk (bass) and Joel Zifkin (violin, mandolin). The record was produced by Thompson and Simon Tassano, the latter handling the remote recording and subsequent mix, vividly capturing the inspired interaction of the players.

It’s safe to say that a generous handful of the songs of Dream Attic are destined for some future R.T. retrospective. The album opens explosively with “The Money Shuffle,” which Thompson says is “dedicated to our good friends on Wall Street who did such a fine job lately. I’m hopeless with money; I have to hand it off to somebody I trust with my savings, and invariably it’ll go south. I prefer to keep it under the mattress. It’s just a mild satire.” The resulting take is the antithesis of mild, building toward an absolutely scalding guitar solo. “Solos are supposed to continue the narrative and emotion of the song in a different way,” Thompson points out. “It should be heading in the same direction, anyway.” Does it ever, here and elsewhere on the LP.

From this bracing start, the sequence rolls through traditionally rooted balladry (“Among the Gorse, Among the Grey”), sharply drawn character studies (“Here Comes Geordie”), image-filled observations (“Burning Man”) and recollections of bygone eras (“Demons in Her Dancing Shoes,” set in the East End of London in the ’60s). “Sidney Wells” is a traditional murder ballad in modern dress, “Crimescene” is a raging reaction to the inexorable aging process.

“A Brother Slips Away” is a moving elegy to friends the 61-year-old Thompson has lost within the last year, and “Big Sun Falling in the River” is a buoyantly Beatlesque instant classic. “I really like pop-song structure and emotion, which is direct and sometimes deceptively simple,” he says of inspiration behind the last-named tune. “This one is an end-of-relationship song—bouncy, yes; happy, no.” Always quick with a droll quip, he adds, “I do two kinds of songs: downtempo depressed songs and uptempo depressed songs.” The record ends as dynamically as it began, with “If Love Whispers Your Name,” a ballad in ¾ time that works itself up to a breathtaking widescreen climax.

“The thing about recording live is that you lose accuracy but you gain energy; you lose choices but you gain immediacy,” Thompson says about his decision to work in a live setting. “In the studio, you’re creating something in which sound is a compositional component. It’s a more introverted experience, and you mustn’t dawdle in the studio or you’ll make an antiseptic product. So we’re forsaking the sound component of that process in order to go for the energy.”

To say that the plan succeeded would be a gross understatement. But at the same time, the accuracy is marvelously maintained thanks to the elevated musicianship, frequently leading to extended passages of eruptive forcefulness topped by one after another of Thompson’s jaw-dropping solo forays. Not only that, but all five players are adept singers, leading to numerous spot-on multipart harmonies hovering over the front man’s fiercely expressive lead vocals.

Thompson went into the undertaking with an open mind, his muse riding shotgun. “At the beginning,” he recalls, “I said [presumably to the aforementioned muse] I wanted to have some traditional British elements in the music, and also some dance-tune quotes here and there. I was consciously thinking about tempos, and most importantly, the lineup I’d like to use. I wanted to bring in a fiddle that we could use almost like a horn section. But the actual creation of the songs was much less conscious. It wasn’t gonna be about a particular subject or theme; wherever the songs came from, they just came.”

To preserve the freshness of the experience, the players went through minimal preparation before embarking on the eight-date mini-tour. “Having sent out the demos, everybody then did their homework and wrote up their own version of whatever the chart was, if they need that,” Thompson recalls. “Then we came together just over three days to rehearse. Certainly, the first shows we did on this recording tour felt slightly under-rehearsed. We recorded eight shows, and we took probably 85 percent of the record from the last three nights at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. We learned how to play the songs as we went.”

And that was precisely how the bandleader wanted it. “It’s good to be comfortable up to a point,” he says. “What you want ideally is to be comfortable and challenged. Sometimes you see bands that have been together for a really long time and have kind of fallen asleep. It’s just become too comfortable and there’s no challenge. I’m very happy with these guys. I’ve only worked with Taras on one previous tour, so he’s relatively new and still doing stuff that surprises me, so that’s good. And good to have Joel because he’s a whole new thing. It’s a good mixture.”

On several levels, Thompson notes, these 2010 shows felt not terribly different from Fairport’s very first tour of the States in 1970. That run of dates followed the exit of Sandy Denny, which thrust the guitarist/songwriter into the foreground for the first time. “That particular incarnation of Fairport was a very musical, well rehearsed and tight band,” Thompson recalls. “And also a pioneering band: there was no one playing that kind of music in that way at the time. There were a few baffled American audiences but, apart from that, it was fun. There was good camaraderie in that band as well.” Forty years later, he took the stage with another tight-knit band and presented audiences with another batch of unfamiliar material. For this veteran artist, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Now in his fifth decade of music making, Thompson continues to challenge himself creatively. Before embarking on the Dream Attic project, he completed Cabaret of Souls, a song cycle for rock band and orchestra set in Purgatory. As the 2010 curator of London’s prestigious Meltdown Festival, Thompson performed the piece for only the 2nd time. While preparing to take his band on the road for an extended tour later this year encompassing full performances of Dream Attic, as well as jaunt through his body of work (“We’ll play the hits, with a small ‘h’—the hitlets,” he says), he made time to begin work on what promises to be a similarly ambitious new song cycle, this one for acoustic guitar, voice and strings.

“I suppose I get bored thinking, ‘This song should reflect my life and all my previous traumas’—it seems too self-centered,” Thompson reflects. “Having written something like 400 songs, I’m always looking for new angles, new subject matter, new ways to write. I’m very excited about music and the possibilities of music, and if that changed, I hope I’d be courageous enough to say I’m in the wrong business.

“But it’s not cheating to self-stimulate,” he continues, “to ask myself, ‘How can I be more productive? What works for me as a writer?’ “I try not to go through those periods where you start waiting for the lightning bolt of inspiration to strike. I’d rather be proactive and climb up to the hilltop, where you stand a greater chance of being struck by lightning.”

Given the vital nature of recent works like Dream Attic, Thompson’s plan appears to be working stunningly well for him—and for us.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

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