Answers Jan/Feb 08, Part VI
3/23/2008 (updated 3/23/2008)

I get such pleasure from your music, I'm on a Celtshmerz kick now, but would like to ask a non-music question. Your lyrics are so literate, album titles drawn from literature -- I heard an interview in which you talked about the draws of London in your youth, you mentioned the music scene and great art galleries in the same sentence. From what I know of your background, I assume you did not attend a posh public school (do I have the terminology right?).

Having experienced the British educational system as a student, and the US/California system as a parent, how would you compare them? As a US citizen, I'm not impressed -- I certainly don't have the breadth of knowledge of literature that you do, and my daughter is not getting that either from her US education. Are you disappointed, comparing your kids' schools to what you learned? Thanks, Matt Orth

This raises a lot of points. It’s hard to compare between countries and between generations, but I’ll make a few comments based on my own experience.

I went to a Grammar School in the UK, which is the middle ground between state school and private school. I was a lousy pupil, but still managed to absorb a lot while looking out the window. We learned a lot of things by rote, like times tables, poetry, and Latin verbs, most of which I can still regurgitate at the drop of a hat. There was very little communication between school and home, and if you fell behind, there wasn’t much of a system to bring you back. It was impersonal, clique-ridden, and a little brutal.

My 16 year-old goes to a ‘progressive’ school in California. It offers a wide range of Arts and Sciences, and fantastic after-school activities. If you fall behind in anything, they spot it immediately, and try to haul you back. The teachers are friendly, and everything is on first name terms. It is insanely expensive. My son knows more Maths than I ever learned, and more Biology, but less poetry and literature. Socially it is well-blended and supportive, on the whole.

I used to read three books a week, the allowance on my library card. My son hardly reads books at all, only when required for school, or on holiday. He reads a great deal on line. My Daughter Kami, who went to school in England, played Viola in Twelfth Night at age 12. In California, Shakespeare isn’t tackled until 9th grade (15) – “Too hard for kids to understand”.

I would say that European kids know more, generally speaking, than US kids. One reason is that they spend more time per year in school – by age 18, they’ve had a year’s extra schooling. They seem a year or two years ahead by university level. Background culture, I believe, plays a big part. Most European kids speak 2 or 3 languages, which is just the reality of having all those countries jammed up next to each other, and learning languages is very good for the neural pathways. French, Italian, German families all eat together, and discuss things like politics and culture. TV in Europe doesn’t talk down to you as it tends to in the US, and advertising doesn’t assume you are an idiot.

So just some comments, no conclusions. I’d love to hear other peoples’ experiences.

I am a longtime fan and very fortunate to be amongst that elite number of people who own The Guitar of Richard Thompson, put out by Homespun tapes some years back. I still love listening to it and have learned a lot from it. You may have answered such a question before, but do you ever envisage doing something similar in the future, perhaps including insights into your guitar playing as it has developed since then and with reference to your more recent recordings? I realise that it must be way down the list of your priorities but it may at least serve to put a stop to so many guitar questions on your site! Would you ever consider coming to New Zealand ? We'd love to have you here with your band or solo. And if so, would you be good enough to sign for me the booklet that came with the tapes. Thanks for your time in answering these questions. Best wishes, Colin Dowsett

Thank you for all the years of listening pleasure. I have a question/request. Would you consider doing a DVD/video version of the 'The Guitar of Richard Thompson' instructional tapes you did a long time ago? I like them so much I've bought both tape and CD versions... but seeing your fingerings would be a service to the world. Or, at least to me. Patrick Morrison

At some point, I’d like to do a more updated instructional video, but I’m too busy just now. Hope to see you in NZ – I want to bring the band.

Is there any chance that a live solo version of Matty Groves being Made available either on a CD or as a download? I saw him do it at Tarrytown, NY and it was absolutely mesmerizing. It's been months since I saw it, and I can't get it out of my head; not that I want to. Thanks, Gray Young

I only perform that song to highlight what an influential band Fairport was, and what a great singer Sandy was. I don’t think that much of my version, but it could appear on a live CD if there is demand for it.

Thank you for being so responsive to your fan's questions. Your answers give us real insight into the man behind the music. When thinking about this access we have to you, I was wondering what questions you would have for some of your musical idols that you never had the opportunity to ask. Thanks for the great music, David Zipkowitz

I would be most interested in the connections – what they were listening to, who they played with, but most of that stuff is available in a good biography.