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This is a review of the 2004 Island Records remastered C.D
'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight' was Richard Thompson's first collaboration with his wife Linda, though he wrote all the material, Linda's pure and beautiful folk voice provided the perfect showcase for her husband"s songs. After Richard's debut 'Henry The Human Fly' had sold very poorly he was perhaps beginning to regret his decision to leave Fairport Convention, a band he co-founded in 1967 at the tender age of 17. But this album confirmed that his decision had been correct with many 'Thompson standards' contained within. I love the album and listen to it on a pretty regular basis, in fact this is my second C.D copy of the album!, with a slight improvement in sound quality over the original Island C.D release. Island records in the 70s really was a hotbed of excellence: Free, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Bob Marley, Traffic, Cat Stevens, John Cale, Richard and Linda Thompson, Sandy Denny.....the list goes on, Chris Blackwell was a genius at spotting talent to sign. Richard and Linda slotted in nicely with this company, tales of discussions over tea in the Island canteen between the above artists makes fascinating reading. It's a fact that the roster of artists all had enormous regard for each other, Richard Thompson has played on several great records from the 70s, his reputation as a guitar player appreciated by his fellow musicians even if not by the public at large.
Richard Thompson selected engineer John Wood [who had done Nick Drake's albums] to work with him on producing the album and Sound Techniques studio in Chelsea London was the location, as with many classic Island records of the era. Thompson called upon his old mate from Fairport Simon Nicol to assist on rhythm guitar and John Kirkpatrick one of England's foremost traditional instrumentalists to provide accordion and concertina playing where needed. That's one of the main joys of 'Bright Lights' as an album, the fusing of folk with a modern singer/songwriter sensibility. I'm not sure anyone has ever done it as well as Thompson [Bob Dylan is an obvious exception], these songs sound like they were traditional standards in fact they are contemporary Thompson compositions.
1. When I Get To The Border
A great opener, Thompson sounds almost nervous as he takes the vocals, this is a personal favourite of mine, it sets the tone well for the album. Overall the songs are sombre in tone with a couple of brighter moments, I spose Thompson's voice can take some getting used to, but I really like it now having listened to it for some time, it's an acquired taste though.
2. The Calvary Cross
This becomes a huge guitar work-out when performed live, here in its shorter version Thompson displays only a brief glimpse of his guitar wizardry with a great intro, bending strings in a way possibly not heard before on record!. Another great song.
3. Withered And Died
A great piece of songwriting, covered by other artists such as Elvis Costello and Kate Rusby and this is the kind of thing that gets covered by american country artists like say Emmylou Harris or Linda Ronstadt, which shows the broad appeal of the song, certainly not 'strictly' english folk. Linda does a superb job with the vocals here.
4. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
The title track is another classic, again heavily covered over the years by a mixture of english and american artists. Often Richard would sing on the 'rockier' numbers leaving the ballads to Linda, but there's a nice reversal here as Linda is left to sing the line 'couple of drunken knights rolling on the floor, is just the kind of mess I'm looking for!'....A great shuffling rhythm, also a cool 'getting ready to go out song'!!....
5. Down Where The Drunkards Roll
Another superb combination of songwriting with a great vocal performance from Linda, a sympathetic low-key backing lets Linda's voice really shine here.....I'm all out of accolades!.
6. We Sing Hallelujah
This may be where some listeners 'get off the bus' with a more obviously 'english folk' sound this is one of the 2 weaker tracks on the album, it's relative though, I still sing along to this one when it comes on!...a more 'sing-along' folk number, still I'm fond of it personally....a lighter tone here
7. Has He Got A Friend For Me
A return to the more introspective sombre tone of 'Down Where The Drunkards Roll', Linda takes on the role of a lonely woman wondering if 'he's got a friend for me?'. It's another flawless vocal performance though and reminds me of Sandy Denny, a close friend of the Thompson's.
8. The Little Beggar Girl
Before the emotional wallop of the album's last two tracks there's some light relief here, one of the two weaker tracks, this is still good fun. Richard joins Linda on the chorus of 'I'm only a poor little beggar girl', definitely in the english folk vein again, another 'sing-song' track.
9. The End Of The Rainbow
I don't see how anyone wouldn't think this was a great song, folk fan or not. A very dark lyrical tale as Richard sings to an unborn child: 'life seems so rosy in the cradle, but I'll be a friend I'll tell you what's in store, there's nothing at the end of the rainbow, there's nothing to grow up for anymore....' Probably not one to hear if you're feeling depressed!, great song though...
10 The Great Valerio
Linda arguably saves her best performance to the end here, backed mostly just by Richard's acoustic guitar this sombre ballad closes out the album in great style. A song about a trapeze artist?, powerful stuff nonetheless.....
If you hadn't already guessed I'm a massive Richard Thompson fan, I've seen him live 3 times and hopefully off to see him again in a couple of weeks. He's a recording artist that has stayed true to his songwriting muse and hasn't become swayed by fashions or fads. He's crafted a unique sound as a guitarist blending the modal scales of folk music with blues and rock, certainly a lot more original than the usual blues chunking which people go crazy over. The songs are the 'business' though, if you don't like Thompson's voice [as many don't with Dylan] there will be someone with a more palatable voice out there who's covered a lot of his songs anyway. There's almost 40 years of brilliant music awaiting those that want to jump in....
Can be bought for about £5 on Amazon UK
A compilation of songs by Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson taken from material written during the fairport covention and later solo work. The songs are all performed and re recorded by Richard and Linda Thompson (not original recordings).
Richard Thompson was a member of the popular folk group Fairport Convention of the late sixties and seventies. After he left he produced recordings as a solo artist and with Linda Thompson. This album contains music of the same genre (folk rock) and includes hits from the days of Fairport convention.
In my opinion this album does not reflect the brilliance of some of Richard Thompson's solo work and it lacks the feeling and character of the original versions. I don't feel that Linda Thompson contributes to the level of her solo work either and I think that although this is a good album by most standards, it would be a very poor example of either artist's full potential.
The songs are all lacking in a certain something that made the originals so good.
Overall, it is not an unpleasant album but by no means either of their best. If you want to sample Richard Thompson's work I would recommend either his Mock Tudor album or Mirror Blue. I only have a compilation of Fairport Conventions work so can't suggest an album, but the songs I have heard from them are better than the reproductions of them on this cd.
Even after thirty years or so, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Richard Thompson is still one of our best-kept musical secrets. Hes never had (and probably doesnt want) a hit single, and none of his albums sold in enough quantities to make even the lower reaches of the album chart until the late 80s. He was a founder member of evergreen folk-rock institution Fairport Convention, though he left them around 1971 to perform first a solo career, then work as a duo with his first wife Linda, then after they split, as a soloist again.
'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight', from 1974, was the first of six albums Richard and Linda recorded as a duo. It was quite unlike almost anything else in the British music scene at the time, and it established them as critical favourites whom fellow performers and the likes of John Peel adored but whose records barely sold at all.
Take Richards voice, often described as sturdy yeoman, and Lindas much purer, sweeter (but not sickly) vocals, go together a treat. Take his wonderful songs, and his instrumental talents lead and acoustic guitars, mandolin, hammered dulcimer and add a few guests on concertina and crumhorn, plus a silver band, and what have you got? Youve got a record which is now rightly recognised as one of the seminal British folk-rock classics, if not indeed one of THE great British albums of its age.
There are ten tracks altogether. Linda takes lead vocal on six, Richard on the others, though on each theres a certain amount of harmonising between them. Taking Lindas songs first, they include the title track, which was almost a hit when covered by Julie Covington in 1978 (and Richard played guitar on that too), is a bittersweet, rather cynical song which could celebrate either the joys of a nine-to-fiver letting his or her hair down at the weekend, or alternatively a lady of the night looking for business, while the big boys are all spoiling for a fight. Its up to the listener to make their own interpretation. A wonderfully infectious chorus line is a complemented by a slow rhythm which verges on reggae and the CWS Manchester Silver Band.
Withered And Died is a wistful song, almost waltz-like in tempo, about the loss of dreams and innocence as a child, with the gentlest of acoustic guitar and accordeon in the background. Down Where The Drunkards Roll and Has He Got A Friend For Me are both in the same low-key vein. Lindas voice is generally suited to the slower songs like these, and in my view the only slightly weak spot is the final track The Great Valerio. A song about a tightrope walker, its the longest of all (nearly five and a half minutes), and doesnt quite gell in the way the others do.
That leaves one more Linda vocal, the sprightly The Little Beggar Girl. Its almost like a turn of the century music hall number with its playful mood, singalong chorus and niftily-picked mandolin plus a kind of sea-shanty feeling thanks to the accordeon. If youre familiar with the work of Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span, its quite similar.
As for Richards performances, first theres When I Get To The Border. Musically this is probably my favourite on the album I love the way the instrumental break switches between accordeon, mandolin, almost blood-curdling lead guitar and crumhorn in quick succession. His weeping guitar on the downbeat Calvary Cross is wonderful too. Lyrically, he doesnt get much more powerful than on The End of The Rainbow. This one is, well, rather chilling stuff. Written from the viewpoint of a father talking to his newborn baby, its full of sombre lines like "Life seems so rosy in the cradle, but I'll tell you what's in store. There's nothing at the end of the rainbow, there's nothing to grow up for any more." Something I expect many of us can identify with. (Call me an old misery and see if I care).
Lest you think Richard makes even Victor Meldrew sound jolly, theres always the one remaining track, We Sing Hallelujah. Theres something rather hymn-like about this one, but in the best possible way. A man is like a rusty wheel on a rusty cart, he sings his song as he rattles along, and then he falls apart. Cue crumhorns and some stirring vocal harmonies from Linda on the choruses again. Its wonderfully uplifting without being frothy.
Overall, the album is rather sombre in mood. Its not exactly one you would necessarily put on a party theres a time and a place for everything. On second thoughts, though we never did, I can imagine it being the kind of record my best Bob Dylan-loving friends at college and I might have put on at about 1.30 a.m. when those of us who hadnt crashed out wanted something a little more thoughtful. (Ahhh, sweet student days from the mid-70s )
Note this CD has appeared in two versions. The one Ive reviewed, now deleted, is a straight CD reissue of the original 1974 album, with lyrics. There is a newer remastered edition (Amazon £6.97) which also includes new booklet notes, archive photos, and three bonus live tracks, much to the annoyance of Richard himself who was not consulted. In a Q & A page on his website, he was quoted as saying an album is an album, and was intended a certain way.
But whichever version you get, unless its not your thing at all, it could very well be an album youll come back to time and time again. Its not one of your instant hey this is fantastic listens, but one that gets better with time.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 When I Get To The Border
2 The Calvary Cross
3 Withered And Died
4 I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
5 Down Where The Drunkards Roll
6 We Sing Hallelujah
7 Has He Got A Friend For Me
8 The Little Beggar Girl
9 The End Of The Rainbow
10 The Great Valerio
11 I Want To See The Bright Lights
12 Together Again
13 The Calvary Cross