Richard Thompson - (guitar, vocal) A Collection Of Unreleased And Rare Material 1967 -1976 (Island)

Richard Thompson – (guitar, vocal) A Collection Of Unreleased And Rare Material 1967 -1976 (Island)

OK, so perhaps the title does give it away, somewhat. However this re-issue (on vinyl, natch) of a compilation of material recorded over the space of a decade and first issued in 1976 should not be viewed (or should that be listened to) as being from the cutting room floor. Some compilations really stand up as works in their own right (though if I suggested that best-of compilations might appear in best ever lists I’d probably get under someone’s skin), and have material that might not belong with the original parent album.

To put it in some kind of context, these ten years was a hugely creative period for Richard Thompson, during which time he was a founding member of Fairport Convention, before leaving to become a solo artist, then going into collaboration with his wife, Linda, and then going into semi-retirement when they embraced their Sufi faith and went to live in communes in London and Norfolk. At the time this may well have been a way of drawing a line under a decade of amazing music, and a very English form of folk rock, which was at odds with the prevailing trends of much of the period, glam-rock, prog and the nascent heavy metal scene.

Running pretty well chronologically, the compilation starts off with six tracks from the Fairport days, including the vocals of Sandy Denny on three tracks, most spectacularly their take on Roger McGuinn‘s ‘The Ballad Of Easy Rider.’ As we move into the solo/Linda years, there’s some amazing work. Sure, Thompson’s live rendition of Chuck Berry‘s ‘Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller‘ seems a bit like a cordon bleu chef attempting to cook a burger, but listening to Richard and Linda harmonising on a live version of ‘The Dark End Of The Street‘ (first recorded in the ’60s by the American R’n’B and soul singer James Carr) is a truly special take on a classic, and one from a genre that might seem rather removed. Then again, the solo arrangement of the traditional ‘Flee As A Bird‘ is seemingly out of kilter with a superficial knowledge of the period, but it’s a reminder (do you you still need one) of just what a great guitarist Richard Thompson is period.

At this point in time, people are probably unlikely to buy an album purely for one track, but it’s the closing live rendition of ‘Cavalry Cross‘ which is the standout here. Clocking in at a jaw-dropping thirteen and a half minutes, this rework of the track from I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight is an example of just why Thompson is such an amazing guitarist. Take the time to listen to the whole thing properly, which was recorded at a gig at Oxford Polytechnic in November 1975.

By this stage, the Thompsons were withdrawing from the music scene, but what might have seemed permanent would see them making music before the decade. The Thompsons would not stay in the communes for long, and while Richard has remained a committed Muslim, if quietly, Linda has been quoted as saying that living there was largely ‘white middle-class people trying to punish themselves, and everybody else. It taught me a lot. To stay away from sects, mostly.’

Maybe this isn’t where a lot of people will start with Richard Thompson’s music, but it’s a helluva lot more impressive than most rare and unreleased-type compilations. It’s a brilliant appendix to an era that is acknowledged but not given half as much respect and acknowledgement as it deserves half a century later. One for the fans, perhaps, but as his fanbase continues to grow even into his seventies, it is to be hoped that others will pick up this compilation and enjoy investigating a substantial and brilliant back catalogue.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.