Chris Thompson: Chris Thompson (Sunbeam)

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Chris Thompson: Where is My Wild Rose?
Chris Thompson: Chris Thompson (Sunbeam)

Although it is common enough to acclaim great New Zealand bands from the late Sixties/early Seventies -- especially those with an acid-rock tinge -- as never quite getting their due internationally (Human Instinct, Ticket, the Fourmyula etc), the story of folk singer Chris Thompson has rarely been told.

I have just the one album by him -- the hugely impressive Minstrelsy from '77 -- but (as with multi-instrumentalist Robbie Laven of Red Hot Peppers in the same period), Thompson's work is rightly spoken of in awe by those who know of his small, neglected catalogue.

This double disc should start to put things right because here was a guitarist whose style sat comfortably alongside his early Seventies models (Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, John Renbourn) and whose pastoral lightly-delic lyrics were the equal of anything by Donovan (eg Three Kingfishers) in that period.

He so impressed Julie Felix when he opened on her '71 tour of New Zealand that she invited him to join her touring band and so Thompson fetched up in Britain where he played with Graham (both of them interested in Indian microtones and odd tunings) and had Bert Jansch recommend him to European tour promoters.

The album he recorded at the time however all but disappeared due to label problems and Thompson returned to New Zealand to tour, record a few albums (Echoes From the Pit, Minstrelsy, The Natural Bues) and he opened for Stevie Ray Vaughan in '84, an odd pairing given Thompson's quiet and considered style.

He moved to Raglan to raise a daughter, recorded a couple of albums and his song Hamlton ("greatest little town in New Zealand, but I'd do anything to get away") written in the manner of Peter Cape became something of a cult hit amongst the cognoscenti.

In the liner notes to this collection he concedes he "went off the rails a bit" after his marriage ended but last year he managed to graduate with a BA in screen and media studies (despite never watching television and not having an internet connection).

This collection pulls together that UK album from '75 where his introspective Anglo-folk style has tinges of Indian music (tabla, tambura, interesting tunings) and you could imagine him confidently sharing a stage with Nick Drake or Davy Graham. There is also equally fine material from his solo albums -- as well as When I Am Dead (lyric by Christina Rossetti) recorded last year with his daughter Lora (who is bassist in a heavy metal band).

Thompson was always a romantic and often his lyrics resonate with eloquently simple emotions of love (The River Song and Love, both here with alternate takes) but he could also be blunt, as on the memorable Don't Be Afraid ("Get down off that cross boy, why you have to act that way . . . nobody's gonna thank you for being such a drag, I've got better things to do than watch you sag . . . your fans will find another to crucify before long")

There is a lot of fascinating, inventive listening here (note, the track Back in the City credited on the first disc appears on the second) and Thompson's work has been long overdue for recognition.

You could fairly wonder why you don't know of him. Now you have no excuse. 

This album is available through Sunbeam Records.

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