INTERVIEW: BOMB - Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson Interview

Beginning with Fairport Convention in 1967, Richard Thompson has, with a stately assurance, taken his guitar and preternatural capacity for songcraft to some astonishing heights. From Fairport classics like "Meet on the Ledge" and "Sloth," to the Sufi-inflected gravitas of his work with Linda Thompson, to the vivid, tragic storytelling of solo songs like "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and "Beeswing," Thompson's songwriting is pure, visionary, and indelible. His latest record, Electric, released earlier this year, marks no exception. At points rollicking, then resigned, and with a signature economy, it contains some truly great songs, the lilting "Salford Sunday" just one among them. I spoke to Richard a bit about his history, about songs, and about some of the people that he has worked with along the way.

KC: My next question is less about history and more about the idea of these songs, of which you have so many. I’m assuming you have to revisit them to get them into shape to play live. What are your thoughts about the role that memory plays in these songs that you’ve written? Are they places that are always there that you can revisit? It must happen habitually for you that these songs arrive and that you come to a point where you can record them, but then they continue to exist in all these years of passing. Here's this long songbook that you have.

RT: As a singer-songwriter, you're in a unique position because you revisit your catalog nightly from all different temporal points. You might still be singing a song you wrote when you were 18 years old when you're 60 - the audience wants to hear it and perhaps you have a desire to play it as well. Perhaps it's a song you're proud of and you still have a relationship with it. If you paint a picture and you sell it, then you might never see that picture again, but if you write a song that becomes popular, then you might be singing it the rest of your life. It's a strange and unique thing.

Is it memory? I don't know. Songs are partly about you, probably, and then partly fiction - they continue to mutate. A song you wrote a long time ago, you thought of in one way - you saw certain images and pictures in your head as you sang it. But 40 years later, you might be seeing a whole different set of images, and you might interpret the song in a different way because you’ve changed. You're more mature, you've seen more of life, and you might find different things in the song. If the song is any good, you can find different ways of interpreting it. But then there are also songs that you sang when you were younger that you can’t find anything to invest in anymore, so you stop singing them even if the audience wants to hear them. It's kind of dishonest to keep singing a song that you no longer relate to. When you're young you write naively. It’s hard to maintain a relationship with every song that you write.

Keith Connolly, Bomb