In the 1970s I spent hours in record shops, flicking through the racks – rarely buying, just reading the backs of the album sleeves. Thus I was aware of Richard Thompson – ex-member of Fairport, played in the Albion Country Band but left before they recorded Battle of the Field – long before I had ever heard his music. I think the first time I heard him on record would have been on Morris On, or possibly Liege and Lief – in either case several years after those records were originally released. The first time I heard him centre stage was the Richard and Linda Thompson album Hokey Pokey. They had a copy of that in the local record library. It stood out because of its eye-catching cover, but also grabbed my attention because I knew of several of the supporting musicians (Aly Bain, John Kirkpatrick, Simon Nicol) from other records. That record gets a bit of a bad press from some critics, mainly because of the inclusion of several rather lightweight songs, like ‘Smiffy’s Glass Eye’ and ‘Georgie on a Spree’. OK, those tracks might not appear in a Richard Thompson Top 20, but they’re perfectly good songs. I have always had, and still have, quite a soft spot for the album. And it certainly isn’t without a few RT gems: ‘Never Again’, ‘A Heart Needs a Home’ and the dark self-loathing of ‘I’ll Regret It All in the Morning’. (Incidentally the library’s copy jumped in a couple of places on the title track; when I bought myself a clean copy from a stall in Ashford market it took some while to get used to hearing the line “It’s the best that they ever did sell”, which previously I’d always heard as “It’s the bell”).
If asked to name my favourite Richard and Linda Thompson album I might mention Shoot out the lights but would probably plump for the austere beauty of Pour down like silver. But actually that’s mere posturing. Deep down everyone knows that their greatest album was the first, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. That’s one of those records where it’s not just a case of saying “there’s not a dud track on it”; every song is a Thompson classic: ‘The Great Valerio’, ‘Withered and died’, ‘Has he got a friend for me?’, the title track and, of course, this song, which – understandably – has become a folk club standard. I don’t think I have anything to say about the song itself, except to note in passing that, for a man who doesn’t drink, Richard Thompson has written a lot of good songs about drunks.
This recording was made a couple of weeks ago when we went to stay with our very good friends Nick and Liz Passmore in Powys. I took the opportunity of Nick’s multi-instrumental talents to record a few songs for the blog, and these will be dropped in at strategic intervals over the next few months (one, in fact, has been earmarked as appropriate to mark the end of the fourth year of this blog). I don’t think Nick and I had ever played any of these songs together before, but we’d known them for 35 years or more – i.e. for at least as long as we’ve known each other.
You may have seen Nick dancing with the Shropshire Bedlams. He featured on (indeed he played one of my compositions on) the Fflach squeezebox compilation Megin. In the late 80s / early 90s he was a member of what I think was the final line-up of Crows, and also played alongside Chris Wood, Chris Taylor and me in the dance band Polkabilly. And if you were around in the Canterbury area in the 1970s you would have known him as one of the mainstays of Duke’s Folk, the renowned folk club run by Dixie Fletcher at the Duke of Cumberland in Whitstable. That club was a veritable hotbed of talent, including among its regulars Fiddler’s Dram, and the members of the Oyster Ceilidh Band. In those days Nick mainly played guitar, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, whistle and flute. Since then he has added anglo-concertina, melodeon and fiddle to the list (and quite probably several others) while with Polkabilly he’d also play a bit of piano, if the venue had one. When we played the Dance House in Cricklade, while we played the final waltz the piano was actually lifted off the stage by several strong men, to make sure the Town Hall caretaker didn’t realise it had ever been lifted onto the stage in the first place… Fortunately Nick was playing one of his other instruments at the time.
Down where the drunkards roll
Andy Turner – vocal
Nick Passmore – guitar