Q&A May 2011, Part II

Michael Jerome ( I like his drumming much) is not only a member of your band, but is also playing live a lot with John Cale (whose work I have been following through the years with great interest too). Looking back at the old records from the 70s I realized that you both shared the same backing group in Timi Donald and Pat Donaldson back then. That leads me to the question, whether you know John Cale personally ( you might have met end of the 60s doing same sessions for Nick Drake??), and if so, did you make any recommendations for these musicians?

I know John from the 60s, from being around Island records and Witchseason. I've always liked him and enjoyed his music. The rhythm section thing is probably coincidence, or I could speculate that it is not uncommon, when asking to work with, say, a drummer, to ask them if there is a bass player that they enjoy working with, or any such combination. Rhythm sections acquire reputations, and that can be seen as a short cut to getting a solid foundation to a band.

Another question I have, that you might be able to answer, is (because Cale comes from Wales) if there is a genuine Welsh folk music? Since I am German I never heard anything about that. Thanks for a kind reply! Karsten from Hanau-Wolfgang (Germany)
P.S. I got a ticket for the solo show in Wien and plan to go to Waidhofen too.

There is welsh folk music! Because Wales has a strong choir tradition, these are often the renditions that you hear, rather than the farmers out in the fields.

I am a student of music at the University of Liverpool and i am starting a project on the "cannon" (as in set songs) and the "values" that go into the English Folk genre as a whole. It would mean a great deal to me if you could spare any time you have to answer a few simple questions on the subject just so I could have a professional prospective on the situation. Any type of answer you could give would be greatly appreciated. The questions are:

1. What do you think makes a song an "authentic" Folk song?

To answer that, you would have to define 'folk music'. Traditionally it is defined as the music of the underclass, or the working class. I'm not entirely satisfied with that, as some popular music and a lot of rap might fall into that description as well. All the singers of traditional music I ever met also sang popular songs, music hall songs, anything they enjoyed singing - they weren't precious about it. Some folk songs started out as Art Music, composed by trained musicians, and filtered down into the folk tradition over hundreds of years, becoming simplified on the way. I suppose my answer would be that I'm not comfortable with the definition of folk song, and I'm glad I don't have to think along those lines, and I'm glad there are people like you who will come up with the answers.

2. How long, in your opinion, does it take for a new song to become a Folk song?

Bearing in mind the objections above, let's say it's as long as it takes for people to sit around in a folk club, or at Glastonbury, or in a somebody's bedroom, and sing a recent song and not know who wrote it, because they've learnt it from other singers, and the song has passed into the cannon and become common currency. It could be 2 years, 10 years. 20 years.

3. What 3 core elements, if you can pin them down, would you say go into a Folk song?
Thank you very much for your time, any answer long or short would mean a great deal to me. Yours Sincerely, Samiran Culbert.

Singability, communicability, timelessness.

Is Richard still active in the sufi tradition? Sean McGown

A bit lapsed at this point.

Re: Coping with being Richard Thompson
I'm sorry if this has been asked many times before. But, modesty aside, do you accept that you are one of the most important and influential British musicians of the last few decades? And if you do, as you surely must, have you given any thought as to why? Is it just hard work? Or genetics? Good luck? Extraordinary manual dexterity? I've played guitar for 30 years, and I know where I fit in the firmament. It doesn't make me unhappy. But I'd love to know what you think about being exceptional. And why you are, and most of us are not. Rupert Winchester

If you think you're great, you're never going to get anywhere, unless you're Ghengis Khan, or Alexander The Great, or - OK, there's a long list - but I am riddled with insecurities, and also have what I would consider to be a true perspective on my abilities, which is far less positive than your own view. I think what I am good at is being different sometimes, that's all.

Re: Burn's Supper
Have you ever considered doing an album of Burn's songs (or even a cover of Hamish Henderson's Freedom Come All Ye ) I think you would do a great interpretation of them. ps. Your songs make me weep. Even the cheery ones. Chunk, Glasgow

So glad I can make grown men cry, without having to stand on their foot. I love Burns, but would feel slightly inadequate besides the likes of Dick Gaughan in giving extended interpretations of the Bard's work. I might get away with a single song here and there, now and then.

In the 1000 Years of Pop performances, you draw from many different eras, styles and influences. In the late 50's and early 60s the understated satire of Flanders and Swann was very popular in Britain. Have you every considered performing one of their songs - and if so what about "Slow Train" - a gentle lament for the loss of so many branch railways under the Beeching cuts, and for the loss of a slower pace of life.  It sounds about right for your voice, and the Piano part being mainly chordal ought to adapt to guitar fairly well.  I look forward to seeing you perform in Australia again sometime. David

Thank you for this insightful suggestion. I've always enjoyed F and S, and have considered them for 1,000 Years in the past, but have usually gone with others in the same school, like Gilbert and Sullivan or Noel Coward. I like Slow Train, and will give it a fair hearing when we next gear up for the show.