Born April 3, 1949, in London, England; son of a police detective; married Linda Peters (a singer), 1972 (divorced, 1982); married Nancy Covey, 1985; children: (first marriage): Muna, Adam, Kamila. Religion: Muslim. Addresses: Residence-- Los Angeles, California. Manager-- Gary Stamler, 2029 Century Park East, Suite 1500, Los Angeles, CA 90067. U.K. Manager-- John Martin, Eleventh Hour Management, P.0. Box 252, London SW17 8RQ, England.
Richard Thompson has made a career of confounding musical categories and forcing critics to strain their vocabularies to describe his music. He has been likened to a "sixteenth-century Jeff Beck" and "a Delta bluesman from Lebanon," by Steve Simels and Louis Meredith of Stereo Review; and he has been called "a card-carrying guitar hero" and "a songwriter whose roots draw equal nourishment from Scottish folk reels and American rockabilly" by Jon Young and Mark Rowland of Musician.
Other influences that can be traced in Thompson's composing and playing are the free jazz of John Coltrane, the electric guitar explorations of Jimi Hendrix, the modal drone of Celtic bagpipes and fiddles, New Orleans rock and roll, the country ballads of Hank Williams, traditional jazz, and Arab folk music. His lyrics reflect what Steve Pond of Rolling Stone called his blackly humorous, oblique yet emotionally charged sensibility," drawing on the imagery of English folk songs to tell stories that can be grim or whimsical. Thompson told Rowland in Musician: "I like to think that everything is based on or comes back to traditional music.... [But] it's the hybrids that excite--where African music meets European in New Orleans and it's jazz, or hillbilly music meets the blues in Memphis and it's rock 'n' roll. Cross-fertilization is the exciting stuff of music."
Thompson began his musical career at the age of eighteen, when he co-founded the seminal folk-rock band Fairport Convention. The British blues revival of the 1960s was in full swing and, as Thompson told Terri Gross of National Public Radio's "Fresh Air," "I was slightly repulsed by the blues revival.... There were suddenly thousands of British kids playing what were really inferior versions of Howling Wolf and B.B. King and Otis Rush.... So I sort of went the other way, really. I think the blues revival and the popularity of soul music in Britain in the sixties really drove Fairport to traditional music."
The Fairport Convention sound, as heard on the two albums widely considered to be their definitive work, Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief, was based on traditional ballads and dance tunes like "Matty Groves" and "The Lark in the Morning," as well as original songs in a traditional vein. But the songs were played with rock energy and instrumentation: electric bass, drums, electric fiddles and mandolins, and Thompson's dense, skirling guitar lines. Fairport's influence can be heard in British and Irish bands as diverse as Jethro Tull, U2, and the Pogues.
Thompson left Fairport Convention in 1972 to record a solo album, Henry the Human Fly. Linda Peters was hired to sing backup vocals, and a short time later she and Thompson were married and began recording and performing as a duo. Their first album, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, was praised by Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone, who wrote: "One of those LPs with not a single track that's less than luminous, it captures the Thompsons at the top of their artistic form: rooted in Celtic folk, reveling in the possibilities of rock and pop and radiant in the spiritual obsessions that characterize so much of their best work."
The Thompsons' career as a duo lasted eight years, culminating in Shoot Out the Lights, considered by many to be their finest work. Sam Sutherland, in High Fidelity, called it "a riveting array of uptempo rock, lambent ballads, and puckish folk dances ... addressing the turmoil of collapsed emotional commitments." Stereo Review named it an "album of the year," and Rolling Stone ranked it ninth among the hundred best albums of the decade: "Richard's lyrics are crystal-clear portraits of dissolving relationships ... and riveting tales of death and violence.... The poignancy of English folk music is evident in songs like Linda's heartbreaking 'Walking on a Wire' and Richard's caustic 'Back Street Slide.' The latter, the album's hardest rocker, modifies an Anglo-Irish folk melody with an odd-metered, almost Zeppelinesque riff pinched from a tune the guitarist had heard on Algerian radio." Rolling Stone also praised the record for Richard's "most inspired and unrestrained guitar playing since the glory days of Fairport Convention."
During the recording of Shoot Out the Lights and the stormy tour that followed, the Thompsons' marriage was disintegrating. Some have seen the album as a reflection of the turmoil in their relationship, but Richard has insisted that he doesn't write autobiographical songs. He told Terri Gross: "I've never really enjoyed that thing where you write about your own life.... It's interesting to use ... other characters as a way of expanding what you're able to write about.... Obviously if you're writing for a man's voice and a woman's voice, you have to write some songs from a woman's point of view, so it almost looks as though you're writing a kind of soap opera." And he told Bill Flanagan, author of Written in My Soul: "When you're on stage or singing on a record, you're wearing another hat.... You're assuming some kind of role. This doesn't mean you're not sincere about what you sing ... but it's not necessarily the truth as lived by you in your life."
Thompson's subsequent recordings have also met with enthusiastic reviews, but only modest sales. His eclectic approach does not fit neatly into any radio format, and on the release of Rumour and Sigh, Hank Bordowitz of CD Review noted that Thompson "is a living definition of 'cult artist....' He does so many things so well and--here's the rub--with such a surfeit of intelligence and wit that he's bound to leave the average pop fan bewildered.... Rumour and Sigh will do little to change this--even though the disc is one of the most devastating and varied efforts since Shoot Out the Lights." Simels, reviewing Thompson's previous album, Amnesia, in Stereo Review observed that Thompson "does not mince words or melodies.... He lays bare his heart, soul, brain, and guts. Maybe that's why this magnificent artist has never sold many records: His music is dangerously strong."
by Tim Connor
Richard Thompson's Career
Learned to play the guitar at age 10; also plays mandolin, concertina, accordion, hurdy-gurdy, and hammered dulcimer. Founding member of folk-rock group Fairport Convention, 1967-1972; recorded and performed with wife Linda Thompson, 1974-1982; solo recording artist and concert performer, 1972--.
- With Fairport Convention
- Fairport Convention Cotillion/Atlantic, 1968.
- Fairport Convention (U.K. title: What We Did on Our Holiday ), A & M, 1970.
- Unhalfbricking A & M, 1970.
- Liege and Lief A & M, 1971.
- Full House A & M, 1972.
- Angel Delight A & M, 1972.
- The History of Fairport Convention Island, 1972.
- The Fairport Chronicles A & M, 1975.
- House Full Hannibal, 1977.
- With Linda Thompson
- I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight Island, 1974.
- Hokey Pokey Island, 1976.
- Pour Down Like Silver Island, 1976.
- Live (More or Less) Island, 1977.
- First Light Chrysalis, 1978.
- Sunnyvista Chrysalis, 1980.
- Shoot Out the Lights Hannibal, 1982.
- Solo Albums
- Henry the Human Fly Reprise, 1972.
- Richard Thompson Island, 1976.
- Strict Tempo! Island, 1981.
- Hand of Kindness Hannibal, 1983.
- Across a Crowded Room Polydor, 1986.
- Daring Adventures Polydor, 1986.
- Amnesia Capitol, 1988.
- Rumour and Sigh Capitol, 1991.
- On Video
- Across a Crowded Room Sony, 1986.
August 9, 2005: Thompson's album, Front Parlour Ballads, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/index.jsp, August 18, 2005.
- Flanagan, Bill, Written in My Soul, Contemporary Books, 1987.
- The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles, Rolling Stone Press, 1983.
- CD Review, August 1991.
- Detroit Free Press, July 31, 1991.
- Down Beat, February 1985; March 1987.
- High Fidelity, September 1983; December 1983; May 1985; March 1987.
- Musician, December 1988; January 1990; June 1991.
- New York, November 1983.
- Rolling Stone, March 29, 1984; March 28, 1985; May 9, 1985; September 25, 1986; August 27, 1987; November 16, 1989; July 11, 1991; August 22, 1991.
- Spin, August 1991.
- Stereo Review, October 1983; May 1985; April 1986; January 1989.
- "Fresh Air," National Public Radio, June 28, 1991.