August/September Q&A, Part V
10/4/2008 (updated 10/4/2008)

An early memory was seeing Fairport on a couple of occasions (Full House line-up) at the National Stadium in Dublin, circa 1972. The shows were sensational, as were the pints of Guinness on the way home. Richard, were you aware of such Irish bands as Planxty and the electric Horslips – a folk-rock band that threatened to become huge but didn’t? Many thanks for the great pleasure your music has brought me (Crazy Man Michael is the greatest song ever written, play it every day and always find new meanings). Hope to see you at the Fly-By-Nite in Fremantle real soon. Paul

The first time we played The National was in 1969 or 70, with The Chieftans opening (those were the days!). There’s nothing quite like walking down the street in Dublin with The Dubliners….Sweeney’s Men were great favourites of ours, from whom Ashley poached Terri Woods for Steeleye. I loved Planxty, probably still my all-time fave Irish group. Never got into Horselips though – sorry.

Hi Richard, I have a question for you about the Martin 000-18 guitar. I know that you played one of these in your earlier days. I purchased a 000-18 back in ’69 for $200 – I picked the 000-18 mostly because it’s price matched the number of dollars in my pocket that day. I still own and play this guitar, and I have sort of a love/hate relationship with it. The guitar has a rather “small” sound that is perfect when I am sitting around noodling by myself but very challenging whenever I am playing with other musicians. But…this guitar has almost 40 years of history with me now, and all the scratches and worn spots are….mine. I have tried lots of other instruments, they have come and gone, but the Martin 000-18 remains.

I’m just wondering how deep a bond you form with your instruments, and how you reach a decision that it is time to set a loyal friend to the side. I’m also very interested in any personal comments that you might have on the 000-18 model. Why did you play it, and its suitability for different styles and venues. Thanks! Rich

The 000 size is very well balanced between treble and bass, and records really well. Mine needs a lot of restoration work after a hammering on the road – the sides are very thin mahogany, and are quite damaged.

I’ve lost or broken a few guitars, so I try not to get too attached. I love them as working companions, but don’t go for the tree of life up the fretboard, if you know what I mean.

I'm curious about how the ongoing collaboration with Judith Owen came about. Were you friends with Harry Shearer and then met Judith Owen through him? Or were you aware of her first? Do the Thompsons and the Shearers hang out together when they're all in the L.A. area, or is it strictly a professional collaboration?

I think I first met Judith at Capitol Records – we were both signed at the time – and she had worked with Mattacks back in the UK. Then I think she and Harry came to a few shows, and I went to a few of hers, and I got her to sing on a record or two. The Thompsons and Shearers are good friends – Harry recently, and generously, drove us around the 9th Ward in New Orleans, which was an eye-opener – and we all went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Carmina Burana (8 percussionists - divine!). Jude and I share a love of opera (her Dad was at ROH) and Pete and Dud.

And in a related question, what was the greatest Spinal Tap moment in your own career? Thanks! Bill Kirkpatrick

Fairport did a BBC radio show in front of a live audience, must have been 1970. Mott The Hoople, then little-known, opened for us, but their fans snapped up all the free tickets, so they went down a storm, and we died the death. Thinking our careers over, we repaired to the pub, got plastered, and mused on the fickle nature of the pop world. We decided that we needed a bit more showmanship in the act, and thought that Mott’s stage antics, i.e. knee-length boots, choreographed guitar moves, rubbing fretboards together, head-banging, etc., would be the way to catch the next generation of fans. Sure enough, next show, which I think was Leicester, a couple of the band had got the boots, and towards the end of the set, we started to ham it up, pissing ourselves with laughter, of course. Needless to say, it went down an absolute storm. The crowd went wild. This was very depressing, and confirmed our suspicion that audiences were gullible idiots. We tried it one more time after that, and then settled on careers of mediocre sales and obscurity.