RICHARD THOMPSON INTERVIEWED (2001): Short and bitter-sweet

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RICHARD THOMPSON INTERVIEWED (2001): Short and bitter-sweet
Singer/guitarist Richard Thompson almost single-handedly invented British folk-rock with Fairport Convention.

He has a reputation as the King of Misery, and is admired by the likes of Neil Finn, Bob Mould, REM and others.
He also has a legendary following of obsessive fans, a vast back-catalogue of modestly-selling albums and almost universal acclaim from critics.

He can also be sly, wry and funny – although that rarely comes across on the printed page.

So read the following fast-fire Q&A with that in mind.

You are an Englishman but divide your time between the States and Britain. What percentage of your time are you in the States?
Probably two-thirds of the time. You go where the audience is and there are a lot of places to play here. I'll play anywhere that'll have me but I don't get too many calls from Ulan Bator. The past 18 months have been the busiest ever. It was self-inflicted. I had a lot of faith in the last album Mock Tudor so was determined to tour it to death, and we did three or four band tours and three or four solo tours. It was intense. I thought it was a strong record. On a record you are striving for three things, the songs, performance and production have all got to be good, and I think on that all were strong. I thought I had a good shot and was keen to push it hard.

Did it do the business anticipated?
Well no, it didn't, so I thought to hell with the world, I'll go and sulk for a few decades. I'm ready to record again but am just jumping labels and it depends where I land. The music business, not just record companies but agents and radio, has become so corporate that until the money people move out I think I'll keep my head down.

You could have your head down for a long time.
RT_MockTudorI don't know, the suits move in and fleece something for all it's worth, then move on. Perhaps they'll move back to hamburgers. It's always an exercise in trying to find your audience and it trying to find you.

You have a very loyal audience. Isn't self-distribution through the net a possibility?
Yeah, that's something we do but it can never be the whole picture. Internet sales are only about 3 per cent of the whole of retail, unless you are a niche artist like me where it might be 20 per cent. But you still have to deal with retail.

Your audience can be quite obsessive. Why do you bring that out of people?
I wish I knew, then I could exploit them. I think people identify with songs sometimes. People can be drawn to you in different ways, sometimes in some disturbing ways.

You get nutty letters, I guess.
Whoever you are you get a bit of that. Usually it's something to do with lyrics. You try to write the story of someone's life, but when you succeed it can have ramifications. It must be hard to be a high-profile female artist. There are a lot of cranks out there. 

You have been described as the king of drizzle yet the times we've spoken you have a good sense of humour.
I'm just trying to write stuff to entertain myself. To me it's not miserable, it's about life. Also in folk music, mining disasters, shipwrecks and hideous murders are normal so I don't think there's anything really strange in writing about dark things. But I happen to be in the broad area of popular music where that is uncommon. But lyrically I think anything goes.

Any regrets?
Oh, I think so. I'd do records again and tours again and sign different contracts. I wish I'd been more focused at various times and been efficient.

What do you listen to these days when you go on tour or drive around the States?
I don't take anything on tour usually but listen to music a bit at home. Last thing I bought was Gracie Fields. In my car I've got the Incredible String Band's 5000 Layers of the Onion, some Django Reinhardt and Britney Spears. I quite enjoyed her, listening to the production and that. And [jazz pianist] George Shearing.

What will you play in your solo concert here?
I'll play whatever's appropriate but I have been playing a lot of that last album. I also trawl back to Fairport and I may even do some new things.


There are a number of album reviews and interviews with Richard Thomson at Elsewhere starting here

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