Singer, songwriter, guitarist
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.
For the Record…
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.
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—.
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.O. Box 252, London SW17 8RQ, England.
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.”
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.
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.
Across a Crowded Room, Sony, 1986.
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;
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.
"Thompson, Richard." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thompson-richard
"Thompson, Richard." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved May 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thompson-richard
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Thompson, Richard 1951-
Thompson, Richard 1951-
Born January 7, 1951, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; son of an oilfield worker; married Maggee Spicer (a teacher and writer); children: Jesse (daughter). Education: College of New Caledonia B.A. (early childhood education), 1980.
Home—Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. Home and office—195 Allstate Parkway, Markham, Ontario L3R 4TB, Canada.
Children's book author and storyteller. Formerly worked as a restaurant cook and daycare worker; Oscar O's Family Daycare, operator for six years; Story Vine Nursery School, teacher until 1989; full-time writer and storyteller, beginning 1989. Member, Prince George Storytellers Roundtable; speaker at schools and libraries throughout North America.
Jenny's Neighbours, illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
Sky Full of Babies, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
Foo, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988.
I Have to See This!, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988.
The Last Story, the First Story, illustrated by Ruth Ohi, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988.
Gurgle, Bubble, Splash, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.
Effie's Bath, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.
Zoe and the Mysterious X, illustrated by Ruth Ohi, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
Jesse on the Night Train, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
Frog's Riddle, and Other Draw-and-Tell Stories, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
Maggee and the Lake Minder, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
The Gastank of My Heart (story collection), Caitlin Press (Prince George, British Columbia, Canada), 1991.
Tell Me One Good Thing: Bedtime Stories, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.
Jill and the Jogero, illustrated by Françoise Durham-Moulin, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.
Don't Be Scared, Eleven, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993.
The Ice Cream Bucket Effect (story collection), Caitlin Press (Prince George, British Columbia, Canada), 1993.
Who, illustrated by Martin Springett, Orca (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1993.
Cold Night, Brittle Light, illustrated by Henry Fernandes, Orca (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1994.
(With wife, Maggee Spicer) Fishes in the Ocean, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
Then and Now, illustrated by Barbara Hartman, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.
There Is Music in a Pussy Cat, illustrated by Barbara Hartmann, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.
The Follower, illustrated by Martin Springett, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
(With Maggee Spicer) We'll All Go Sailing, illustrated by Kim LaFave, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
(With Maggee Spicer) We'll All Go Flying, illustrated by Kim LaFave, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
The Night Walker, illustrated by Martin Springett, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
(With Maggee Spicer) We'll All Go Exploring, illustrated by Kim LaFave, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
(With Maggee Spicer) When They Are Up …, illustrated by Kirsti Anne Wakelin, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.
(Self-illustrated) Draw and Tell: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Viewing, Shaping, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988.
Foo, Sky Full of Babies, I Have to See This!, Jesse on the Night Train, and Gurgle, Bubble, Splash were adapted for audiocassette, Annick Press, 1990.
Devoting his career to inspiring young children with a love of story, Richard Thompson worked as a day-care provider and even started his own nursery school, until his family's prodding and the acquisition of a computer convinced him to devote his full time to writing and telling stories. Beginning in 1989, Thompson created dozens of tales for young children, and also spent sixteen weeks a year traveling throughout his native Canada and the United States to share his stories and his creative ideas with school and library groups. "My school visits have given me a chance to explore new storytelling ideas and to find out first hand what ‘works’ for both myself and my audiences," he noted on his home page. "And, of course, sharing stories with enthusiastic and appreciative audiences is a very rewarding process in itself."
Among Thompson's books for young children are picture books and beginning readers for younger children such as Then and Now, The Follower, Fishes in the Ocean, and When They Are Up …, the last two coauthored by his wife, Maggee Spicer. Story collections for older elementary-graders include The Gastank of My Heart and The Ice Cream Bucket Effect. Praising the coauthors' adaptation of a traditional nursery rhyme in When They Are Up …, Bina Williams described the work in School Library Journal as a "merry book [that] will make an active storyhour even more fun." A slightly scary mystery that offers up clues on every page, The Follower was praised by Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld as a "charming, not-too-spooky story." In her School Library Journal review of the same book, Margaret Bush wrote that, with its nighttime "images richly rendered" in both Thompson's text and Martin Springett's "surreal" art, The Follower serves up "fine read-aloud fare."
In the trio of books that include We'll All Go Sailing, We'll All Go Flying, and We'll All Go Exploring, Thompson's rhyming text, with its singsong question-and-answer structure, follows the adventures of the young narrator and his friends Maggee and Jesse (characters named after Thompson's wife and daughter). In We'll All Go Sailing, which features bold, heavily outlined art by award-winning illustrator Kim LaFave, the three sailors launch their small boat and discover a host of amazing sea creatures, introducing children to basic color concepts along the way. We'll All Go Flying finds the trio soaring up through the clouds and then into outer space in their hot air balloon, while hiking is the preferred form of transportation in We'll All Go Exploring. "The repetitive verses and simple rhymes will make this a favorite of young naturalists," concluded a Kirkus Reviews writer in an appraisal of We'll All Go Exploring. Noting that the lift-the-flap pages of the book allow Thompson to expand his introduction to various forest ecosystems, Kathleen Kelly McWilliams wrote in School Library Journal that the collaboration between author and artist serves as an effective way to "introduce basic ecology" while "maintaining a light-hearted appeal."
Although retiring from his work as a traveling storyteller in 2006, Thompson continues to inspire children and teachers alike through his interactive home page, www.drawandtell.com, which includes word games, puzzles, magic tricks, and other mind-stretchers, as well as draw-and-tell tales and other stories for use in story-hour groups.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 15, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Follower, p. 823; May 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of We'll All Go Sailing, p. 1755; May 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of We'll All Go Exploring, p. 1603; September 1, 2003, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Night Walker, p. 131.
Canadian Review of Materials, June 8, 2001, review of There Is Music in a Pussycat; June 22, 2001, Catherine Hoyt, review of We'll All Go Sailing; November 29, 2002, review of The Night Walker.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of The Night Walker, p. 1858; April 1, 2003, review of We'll All Go Exploring, p. 540.
Publishers Weekly, June 4, 2001, review of We'll All Go Sailing, p. 82.
Quill & Quire, October, 2000, review of Follower, p. 44; April, 2001, review of We'll All Go Sailing, p. 33.
Resource Links, February, 1999, review of Fishes in the Ocean, p. 2; December, 2000, review of The Follower, p. 41; June, 2001, Linda Ludke, review of We'll All Go Sailing, p. 6; December, 2002, Isobel Lang, review of We'll All Go Flying, p. 18; February, 2003, Ann Ketcheson, review of The Night Walker, p. 7; October, 2003, Kathryn McNaughton, review of We'll All Go Exploring, p. 9; April, 2004, Lori Lavallee, review of When They Are Up …, p. 8.
School Library Journal, December, 2000, Margaret Bush, review of The Follower, p. 126; July, 2001, DeAnn Tabuchi, review of We'll All Go Sailing, p. 100; December, 2002, Carol L. Mackay, review of We'll All Go Flying, p. 110; April, 2003, Kathy Piehl, review of The Night Walker, p. 140; May, 2003, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of We'll All Go Exploring, p. 129; May, 2004, Bina Williams, review of When They Are Up …, p. 136.
"Thompson, Richard 1951-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/thompson-richard-1951
"Thompson, Richard 1951-." Something About the Author. . Retrieved May 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/thompson-richard-1951
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Born: London, England, 3 April 1949
Genre: Rock, Folk
Best-selling album since 1990: Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson (1993)
Hit songs since 1990: "I Feel So Good," "Hide It Away"
Afounding member of the seminal 1960s British folk rock group Fairport Convention, Thompson traded on a personal folk rock style that won critics over but did not produce a mass following. Critics hailed Thompson, sometimes called the British Neil Young, for his brilliant guitar work and the lyrical richness of his extraordinary songwriting.
Thompson joined Fairport Convention in 1967, recording five studio albums including Fairport Convention (1968) and What We Did on Our Holiday (1968). But by 1971, Thompson, feeling his songwriting was ill-suited for the group, opted out to pursue a solo career. His first solo album Henry the Human Fly (1972) was released on the Hannibal label and sold poorly. Over the next twenty-five years, Thompson produced thirty-odd albums, almost equally divided between solo work and various collaborations.
One of his early landmark albums, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974), is a collaboration with his first wife, singer Linda Peters. Her powerful and passionate vocals are perfectly suited for Thompon's dark compositions. In tunes like "Has He Got a Friend for Me" and "The Little Beggar Girl," somber lyrics of solitude and longing are counterbalanced by blissful and memorable rhythms. "Down Where the Drunkards Roll" is a sympathetic description of the drunk's life, written by a man who never drank alcohol.
The Thompsons would produce five more critically acclaimed, but marginally selling, albums, including Pour Down Like Silver (1975), which is highlighted by the tune "Dimming of the Day." A familiar "please-come-back-I'm-nothing-without-you" lament, the tune is elevated by Linda's emotive vocals.
After a brief recording hiatus while the couple joined a communal Muslim sect, the Thompsons recorded their last collaboration in Shoot out the Lights (1982). Since the album was recorded while the couple worked through a divorce, many critics assumed its songs chronicled their rocky separation. Actually, they had been written two years earlier for another project that was eventually discarded. While marital discord, death, and stormy relationships had always been part of Thompson's thematic repertoire, there is conspicuous, perhaps creative, tension in these songs. In the end, the couple's separation added poignancy to the proceedings. Highlights include "Wall of Death," a thrilling, guitar-fueled rush about the irony of feeling "the nearest to being alive" while riding "on the wall of death one last time." The title track refers to the injustice and sadness felt by many when Soviet troops went into Afghanistan. Ultimately, Linda's sweet but husky vocals contrasted with Richard's dark lyrics and ringing guitar work to produce unforgettable music.
Richard Thompson's solo career resumed with Hand of Kindness (1983). With titles like "Tear-Stained Letter" and "A Poisoned Heart and a Twisted Memory," critics speculated the songs were more grievances from a spurned lover. But Thompson was already happily remarried. While Thompson's strength lay in dark tales, he was not immune to simple joyful tunes like the Cajun-flavored "Two Left Feet," in which the narrator, atop infectious rhythms, rebukes a partner for below-par dancing.
In an interview with the London daily the Independent, Thompson defended his often gloomy lyrics. "There's something very appealing about sad music. It is a way of dealing with sadness, rather than wallowing in it, and a way of sharing it. As a songwriter, through looking into yourself and having courage, you can express the unexpressed. You can say things that need to be said, but that people don't always say. You can hold them up to an audience and say, 'look, this is inside everyone, this is a common experience, let's have a look at it in the comfort of our living room armchairs, or in the comfort of our theatre seats'—and it's a pleasant way of dealing with this, let's deal with it as entertainment."
Thompson teamed up with producer Mitchell Froom on Amnesia (1988), a decidedly more upbeat album. On the urgent "Jerusalem on the Jukebox," Thompson criticizes television evangelists, while on the mellow "Can't Win," he describes the futility of growing up. But Thompson did not forget his morose side, and chose to include the dark "I Still Dream" and "Waltzing's for Dreamers," which features the haunting lyrics: "One step for aching / Two steps for breaking / Waltzing's for dreamers and losers in love."
Thompson peaked again on Rumor and Sign (1991), a more lyrically upbeat and polished work featuring eloquent treatments of romantic misadventure. The follow-up, Mirror Blue (1994), shines with brilliant, though melancholy, songs like "King of Bohemia" and "Beeswing." The latter is a moving account of love lost on the road not taken.
You? Me? Us? (1996) is a nineteen-track double disc, again produced by Froom. Uneven, it still displays Thompson's strengths, including his deep baritone, dark wit, and piercing guitar. Over a thirty-year career, Thompson carved out his spot in folk rock music with a body of work that reveals him as a pensive songwriter/philosopher and an excellent guitarist.
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (Hannibal, 1974); Pour Down Like Silver (Hannibal, 1975); Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal, 1982); Hand of Kindness (Hannibal, 1983); Amnesia (Capitol, 1988); Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson (Rykodisc/Hannibal, 1993); Mirror Blue (Capitol, 1994).
"Thompson, Richard." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/thompson-richard
"Thompson, Richard." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved May 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/thompson-richard