The young Richard Thompson did not have to travel far in the 50s and 60s to soak up a plethora of musical influences. He had the nearby Whetstone folk club where he got early exposure to the thriving melting pot of traditional and contemporary folk strands that caused excitement and argument in equal measurement at the time. Even before that local suburban journey, he had listened to the wireless and investigated his policeman father’s rich record collection. Whilst I easily recall Jimmy Shand’s ‘Bluebell Polka’ on Children’s Favourites, Thompson was already digging much deeper into swing, polkas, reels, ballads, waltzes, jigs and sundry other dance tunes.
His early days with Fairport Convention did not allow much space for these influences, although there were moments, as with the atmospheric ‘The Lord Is In This Place’ on their second album, but once he had begun to build his solo career he was able to look back properly with this instrumental LP from 1981. Working with just the assistance of drummer Dave Mattacks, also from a dance band tradition, Richard played and overdubbed all the other instruments on a TEAC 8-track. That it was a labour of love is evident on every track, as he mixes electric and acoustic guitars with banjo, mandolin, mandocello, dobro, harmonium and hammered dulcimer to produce a joyous set of a dozen intricately played tracks. Moods change with the free flow of Irish jigs, slow and romantic airs, Spanish North African-influenced classical musical through to a trio of Scottish waltzes that include distinct echoes of Duane Eddy.
Anyone who has seen Richard Thompson playing at any stage of his career will have marvelled at the quality of his playing as he seems to insert melodies within melodies and all often at bewildering speed. He has always had the ability to work within a range of time signatures that would elude most, exemplified here with the 9/8 time on ‘The Random Jig / The Grinder’, and to be able to evoke moods, obscure musical memories and oblique imagery. With this album it is as if he is offering us a glimpse into his family musical scrapbook for us to understand where he is coming from. Indeed, the man himself writes in the notes of how pleased he is that it is now available again after three decades. Via our link with the US Omnivore label, Ace is delighted to bring the work once again to the market this side of the pond, which in this case is certainly where it should be.
By Kingsley Abbott