Answers Feb/Mar, Part V
5/6/2009 (updated 5/6/2009)

I've followed your career since Fairport's gig at the Swindon College Rag Ball, circa 1967. It's always been thought provoking, amusing, amazing ( to an upside down, left- handed picker, still trying to perfect 'Streets of London'). I saw a baffling comparison with Steely Dan while browsing Beeswing recently: for what it may be worth, and I hope not odious, I would mention Ry Cooder as someone for whom I have similar respect.

Couldn't think of a killer question so, do you know of Chris Smither, who I have belatedly discovered, and if so what do you think of his work? He seems to me to have a similar wry take on the big issues. Mike Messam

Wonderful singer/songwriter/guitarist, one of the best around, and a nice man to boot.

I asked the following question on the RT list:
But have we already seen or heard a reasonable explanation for the total absence of "Front Parlour Ballads", or did I miss something? Can't be a rights issue, so would RT really dismiss it completely now? I'm waiting for the press release with an augmented tracklist, but so far nobody came up with any ideas, so presuming that RT had a hand in the tracklisting I politely ask the same here. vriendelijke groeten, Arie Euwijk

This is Shout Factory's compilation, and their track selection. I had small input on the songs, but it is really their call.

1. Richard, I've only recently discovered the "Rock Band" game and was gobsmacked to see "The Way That It Shows" added to the list of songs (I hope to have it waiting for me to play when I get home tonight-- though I expect to fail quite a few times before I get it!). I want to thank you for that, and greedy sod that I am, I have to ask if there may be more on the way.

I must wait for the gaming gods to smile on me.

2. Really left-field question: I recently checked out Pentangle's CD "Open The Door" from a local library. Since the booklet was missing, I had no information as to who was in the band at the time, but on several tracks I could have sworn I heard your playing. I've since learned that, for that particular album, John Renbourne was replaced by violinist/guitarist Mike Piggott, so I suppose it's him. But if so, it's an amazing likeness. Are you on there anywhere at all? Brian Burns

It sure isn't me.

Richard, I have two cross-cultural questions. First, I just heard Del McCoury doing a rousing version of Vincent; it sounded completely natural. Looks like the two continents share some roots after all. Have you ever thought about recording an album with bluegrass musicians, not specifically writing for them, but letting them do what they do to your music?

That kind of experiment exists on The Transatlantic Sessions, where Scots and Irish team with Americans to explore their common roots, and a few differences. I prefer, on the whole, to emphasise the non-American aspects of my music.

Also, as a transplanted Angelino, I'm curious if you have developed a taste for Mexican food and specifically cilantro. Seems like all of my friends and family from east of Arizona think it tastes like soap while folks who grew up with Mexican food can't get enough of it. Just curious what one of my favorite songwriters thinks of cilantro. Thanks, Jonathan Read

We've had the leaf and seed of the coriander plant over here in Europe certainly since the Romans, and even in my house as a kid, where the cuisine was far from adventurous, it was a common embellishment. So I like it, and I like Mexican food, and eat it on a regular basis. Observation: Mexican food gets worse the further from Mexico you travel. This is not true of, say, Indian food or Thai food. A Mexican restaurant in Edinburgh, or Ottawa, is a depressing experience, and there must be a cultural reason for this - or perhaps supply of fresh ingredients is a problem?

Just wondering how you come to decide which tuning you will use when you are composing new material. Cheers, Antonio Bachini

Either you start in a tuning, and things about that tuning lead you to certain musical avenues that are fruitful, or you get frustrated in a tuning, and decide to explore another one that may suit the song idea better. This also applies to keys and fingering - changing the left hand shapes by picking another key can have a big influence on your ideas, and how a song sounds and develops.

I caught your last show in Toronto, and I have two questions coming out of it. First, I have to admit that on first listen Sweet Warrior didn't hook me immediately as other releases have. After hearing the songs again live, however, I dug out the CD and it's been in regular rotation ever since. I wonder if you've found that happens with your own material, you stumble across an old song or arrangement that you'd consigned to the "discard" pile and been pleasantly surprised?

Yes, it happens to me. I can forget about songs, and find them again or be reminded of them, and put them back into rotation.

The next question, and if it's too personal forgive me, but I was very moved by your rendition of Sandy's "Who Knows Where The Time Goes." The song has added poignancy since Sandy is no longer with us, and it struck me that while I feel sadness at the loss of her talent, my connection with her is only as a fan. I never knew her personally. Where does that song take you when you sing it? Can it conjure up pleasant memories? Thank you. For everything.

I am always conscious of Sandy when I sing the song. I always have pictures of her in my mind, and I'm hoping she might be around the auditorium somewhere, to help me with the tougher notes!