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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 182 - 07/15/11

Richard Thompson featuring Linda Thompson
Live At The BBC
Universal Music Operations Ltd.

For most people nowadays, Linda and Richard Thompson are probably most renowned as the Ma and Pa of Teddy and Kamila Thompson. Well, for some old farts like me, the parent generation is still held in high esteem. They and their music have both aged with grace. Richard is still one of the greatest guitarists around, anywhere, and his song writing abilities are beyond any question. Likewise, Linda's voice is one of a kind, in the same folk tradition as her late silly sister Sandy Denny. Unfortunately her voice was harmed due to singing her heart out without any amplifying at crowded and smoke-filled clubs throughout the 1960s and 70s, with the result that she has only released three solo albums since 1985. But the last one as recent as in 2007, the praised Versatile Heart, in collaboration with Teddy, Kamila and others.

When we visited Richard's previous album Dream Attic back at the full moon of September 2010, I had a wish that he re-launched his entire studio back-catalogue and included simple guitar and vocal demo versions of the songs. Well, to some extent Live At The BBC fulfils part of my dream. Here are mainly simpler arranged versions of 80 songs spread over three CDs and one DVD. The first CD includes his years with Linda, from a John Peel session recorded in January 1973 until their break-up in 1982. The second includes Richard with and without a band in 1985 and 86. The third is only Richard solo with his acoustic guitar between 2005 and 2009, whereas the DVD spans the years 1975-85 with and without Linda and with and without a band. And only very few of these recordings have been commercially available earlier. Great!

I recently revisited Richard's first solo album Henry The Human Fly and, although being reckoned eccentric when it was released in 1972, it sounds remarkably similar to his albums of recent years. Well, it is probably easier to detect which band he had played with for about four years on this album than the later ones, but not that easier. He's always been there between British folk, rock, singer-songwriter and a bit American based folk thrown in for good measure. His song writing has probably developed less than his vocal and guitar playing through the years. I guess it has to do with the standard of his songs from early days on. His songs sometimes reach the top, but very seldom the bottom or mediocre. They can seem similar at the start; they need time, but gradually stand out as soon as you get them under your skin. I'm more in doubt about his abilities as an arranger. The sparser the arrangements, the brighter the songs shine, if you ask me. The same goes for his guitar playing.

Well then, I'm not that fond of the first half of the second disc with a full American sounding band including some so-so backing vocals. It makes me wonder if Richard was a founding member of The Band instead of Fairport Convention. It doesn't suit him well. The second half of the disc and the third one, on the other hand, are pure solo and top notch. And disc no. 1 includes quite naked arrangements of songs, though the band threatens to take control here & there at a live gig with audience at The Paris Theatre in 1982. The majority of songs from this disc originate from the more or less classic albums with Linda: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974), Hokey Pokey (1975) and Shoot Out The Lights (1982). The DVD also includes several delightful sparsely arranged songs with and without Linda. The band performances with her are quite exquisite, while I swiftly skip a stint with Richard's full-blown band from 1985.

coverpic The songs then. Well, obviously there are less hits here that on the previous combined live audio and DVD release of Richard's from 2003, 1 000 Years Of Popular Music (his personal interpretation of favourite songs of the genre from medieval times until a contemporary Britney). The title track from Linda's and Richard's debut duo-album I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight is probably the closest self-penned one to a hit, included here in three different recordings: two band versions with Linda (1974 and 1981), the first one with brass in accordance with the original studio recording, and one with Richard on his own with the acoustic guitar from 2005. "Shoot Out The Lights" and "Wall Of Death" (both from the 1982-album) are other recurring issues, whereas there are no less than four versions of "She Twists The Knife Again" (from Across A Crowded Room, 1985). Some songs occur twice, but no need to worry; the remaining are only given one go. So about 60 songs spread over 80 tracks ain't half bad. Of special interest for Thompson fans are a few songs and an instrumental medley that has never been released earlier. Especially his go at the traditional "William Brown" and his own "Time's Gonna Break You" only armed with his acoustic guitar can be recommended. For the Sandy Denny devotees among us, there are a couple of gems: a faithful and sad-sad version of her late composition "I'm A Dreamer" sung by Linda a couple of years after Sandy's untimely death and a Richard solo "Meet On The Ledge". The latter was originally sung by Ian Matthews and Sandy on the second Fairport Convention album What We Did On Our Holidays. I don't think it's performed so often willingly by its composer, but it's developed into the national anthem of Fairport Convention. There has hardly been a concert by them during the last 30 years without this song as one of the encores. On the other hand, Richard has some thoughts about this particular song in the booklet of the box. He reckons it to be immature and naïve, written by a boy with only 18 years of life experience.

Time for a conclusion... Live At The BBC might not be the most representative Richard Thompson album, weather it is with or without Linda. On the other hand, it gives a great overview of their duo and his solo carrers except for the 1990s, mostly great economically arranged versions that brings out the best of the songs, the couple's voices and Richard's guitar playing. For the hardcore Thompson senior fans it's surely a wet dream come true.

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