Richard Thompson is definitely a unique talent. I came to him by way of Fairport Convention at Cropredy banging out Fire In The Engine Room one hazy memoried evening in the 84.
I immediately ran out and purchased Across A Crowded Room and was not disappointed. There then followed a series of gigs in Southport and Manchester and other places. That blood spattered guitar strap and the searing solos are still stuck in my mind.
In those days the purchase of a record was a serious matter, as a poor student who was more interested in beer and curry, buying a record dug into much needed finances. Usually an album would be borrowed from the library and recorded to one of countless C90 cassettes that ended up littering the floor. However in 86 Hannibal records re-released a record that looked so intriguing in a bizarre way, entitled Richard Thompson starring as Henry The Human Fly.
It was the oddest looking thing I had ever seen and inside was a strange mix of sounds ranging from lovely folk melodies to brass arrangements that are ever so slightly discordant.
The refrain however from the first track Roll Over Vaughn Williams of “Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear.” has always stuck with me. Fairport had been folk-rock but this was folk rock’n’roll. Yes there were folk songs like the Poor Ditching Boy and The Old Changing Way, there were however strange rock songs like Roll Over Vaughn Williams and the Angels Took My Racehorse Away. This was literally music made by a unique individual who saw the world through a lens that the rest of us could only guess at.
It is however the last song on the album Twisted that made me a fan and to this day I can’t really say why but every time I hear it I stop what I am doing and listen.
Over the years I learned all sorts of things about Thompson. I also learned that inexplicably to me this album was the worst selling record Warner Bro’s ever released. It is hard to reconcile the brilliance of the record, the strange confluence of harps, brass music, concertinas and electric and acoustic guitars and the failure of the record to sell. I have carried this record around for almost thirty years now, at some point it lost it’s sleeve so I had to borrow the picture from Amazon and now all I have left is the vinyl and a nice new inner sleeve to keep it in.
Tonight when my middle son called me up with some bothersome news I sat down and grabbed the old friend from the stack and listened to that strange comforting album. While it didn’t change things for me it did make me think that somewhere out there Thompson may empathise with the feeling of being a little uncomfortable in the skin we wear and living in fear.