In 1974 I went to see Van Morrison at The Hammersmith Odeon. It was a sensational concert, starting with four acoustic songs including “Astral Weeks” and “Madame George”. In the second half, he played a selection of well known songs and he also played two Ray Charles songs. He then played a song which I thought was called “Caledonia”. This corresponded to the name he had given his backing group, The Caledonia Soul Express. (In 1973, his backing group was called The Caledonia Soul Orchestra because it included a four piece string section). At the end of “Almost Independence day” from “Saint Dominic’s Preview”, he sings of sailing to Caledonia. Subsequently I found that the song he was singing was actually called “Caldonia” and was written by Louis Jordan. It had never been released but, excitingly, I was soon able to purchase it as a single from “Recordwise” in Egham. It was quickly withdrawn and it is a relatively rare single. At the time I first heard it, I never expected to hear it again.
One of my favourite Bob Dylan songs is “Visions Of Johanna”. One of my favourite Bob Dylan concert records is the “Live 1966” box set which comprises of 36 CDs including 19 different versions of “Visions Of Johanna”, each of them being over 7 minutes long. At the time of these concerts, “Blonde On Blonde” had not been released. I imagine the audience sitting there, listening to the torrent of words, wondering which parallel universe they had landed on and whether they would ever hear this song again. It must have been a careful mixture of bewilderment, excitement and enjoyment.
The last concert I went to before lockdown was Chris Wood at The Komedia in Brighton. There were probably only about 30 people there including Peter and me. Chris Wood was in a very curmudgeonly mood but he played some beautiful songs that he has not released so far. His last record was released several years ago – maybe he won’t release any more records? He appeared on the “Folk On Foot Front Room Festival 2” recently, wearing brown dungarees and sitting in a wheelbarrow but he didn’t play any of the new songs that had captivated me so much. I may never hear them again.
I was reminded of this by Rob’s comments on The Small Glories, comparing them to Richard And Linda Thompson who started releasing records together in 1974 with “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight”. They followed this with “Hokey Pokey” (April 1975) and “Pour Down Like Silver” (November 1975). In 1974, Richard Thompson converted to Islam and moved to a Sufi community, dropping out of the music business for a while. In 1977, he wrote some new songs and went on a short tour with Linda, including appearances at The Drury Lane, London and Birmingham Town Hall. At these concerts he played a bunch of new songs that have never appeared on record. He is quoted as saying that “Some songs deserve to fall off the radar.” Paul and I went to see him in Birmingham and we both remember the new songs as being magical.
I’m very excited because, in preparing this blog, I have found YouTube recordings of these songs from the Drury Lane concerts. To listen to them all, search for “The Madness Of Love”. I never imagined that I would ever hear these songs again. After 43 years, it’s a real treat. Here is the best one (in my opinion).
“Pour Down Like Silver” has one of the best record sleeves of all time. Huge close ups of Richard (on the front) and Linda (on the back).
The mood of this magnificent record is sombre with some wonderful harmonies and amazing guitar work. Richard Thompson is quoted as saying “It was a stark record, but I think it was by accident in a sense – we were intending to have Simon Nicol come and play rhythm guitar but he wasn’t available so everything ended up sounding very stark and I was always going to overdub rhythm guitar and stuff, but we thought we’ll just leave it, what the hell”. In my opinion, either Richard’s memory is false or he is exaggerating or he is a liar (see yesterday’s blog) because this record has a carefully constructed mood which means that it all fits together like a perfect jigsaw. Listening to it over the past couple of hours has been wondrous.
The first song on side 1 is “Streets Of Paradise”. It appears to be a paean to his spiritual search. “I’d trade my silver mansion with a guard on every door. I’d trade my wealth and treasure and the sash my father wore. I’d trade my little sister and my brother who went before to be walking down the streets of Paradise.” There is some wonderful accordion played by John Kirkpatrick, some sympathetic drumming from Dave Mattacks and some trademark beautiful harmonies from Richard and Linda. The song ends in a one minute fade out that leads nicely into…
“For Shame Of Doing Wrong” which was covered by Sandy Denny. There’s a whole evening’s pub discussion to be had, comparing Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson. My favourite of the two is Linda Thompson because of the emotion, sadness and beauty in her voice. I know, it’s like comparing Harvey’s and London Pride – both are magnificent but one just edges it. Linda’s vocals on this song are among her very best and Richard sings a counter melody in the verse. It’s an immensely sad, regretful song. “Bus wheels spinning, songbirds singing, break my heart. Take me back to old remembered days. Remind me of the times we spent together. Times before we went our separate ways”. Again, there is a long fade out which includes some incredible, understated electric guitar work from Richard.
If that wasn’t sad enough, the third track on Side 1 is “Poor Boy Is Taken Away”. Linda takes the lead vocal but when Richard comes in for the harmonies towards the end of each verse, it’s breathtaking. This is a very slow song and features some mind blowing quiet guitar work from Richard. “No use crying in a room full of memories. You never will find yesterday. And the poor boy is taken away.” One dreads to think of exactly what happened to the poor boy.
“Night Comes In” is just over 8 minutes long and completes side 1. Wikipedia describes it like this: “‘Night Comes In’ is another song of profound personal significance and recounts Richard Thompson’s formal initiation into the Sufi faith. The song is also notable for several prominent passages of electric guitar playing notable for their lyrical intensity – especially the closing, multi-tracked solo.” When performing this song live, this song was often extended, being a vehicle to showcase Richard Thompson’s extraordinary, unflashy, yet incredibly exciting, guitar playing. There is a great, 12 minute, version of this song on the retrospective double album “Guitar, Vocal” released in 1976.
Wow. Side 1 completed. Every song amazing. It’s tempting to play it again and not to turn over to side 2 but further magnificence awaits.
“Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair” is almost jaunty. There are incredibly synchronous harmonies from Richard and Linda and some swooping accordion from John Kirkpatrick. I’m guessing that the song is about his conversion to Islam. “Here comes the real thing. I’ve been waiting for so long, for so long. I’ve been looking for a love like you.”
“Beat The Retreat” is another slow paced work of beauty. It is entirely sung by Richard. Linda Thompson, who now takes a rather cautious view of this time in her life has said that “‘Dimming of the Day’, ‘Beat the Retreat’, ‘Night Comes In’, they’re all about God, and considering they’re all about God some of them aren’t bad.” It would be easy to assume this song is a love song to a lover but reading that it is a religious song, the meaning becomes clear. For example: “I’m trailing my colours back home to you. This world is filled with sadness. I’m running back home to you”
“Beat The Retreat” is the title of a great tribute album released in 1994 featuring performances by R.E.M., Los Lobos and Loudon Wainwright amongst others. Graham Parker performs “The Madness Of Love”, one of the unreleased songs from Drury Lane in 1977.
“Hard Luck Stories” is the other jolly sounding song (after “Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair”) featuring a great lead vocal from Linda on the verses and excellent harmonies on the choruses. It’s more up tempo than anything else on the record and features yet another outstanding guitar solo from Ricard. Lyrically, it’s not at all jolly; ‘vitriolic’ would be a better word. “You don’t like one thing, you don’t like another. You don’t like anything that looks like bother. Everyone don’t like something and we all don’t like you.” This doesn’t sound very forgiving to me.
“Dimming Of The Day/Dargai” completes side 2. It’s a haunting work of beauty. Linda sings to the accompaniment of Richard’s intricate acoustic guitar. “This old house is falling down around my ears. I’m drowning in the river of my tears. When all my will is gone, you hold me swaying. I need you at the dimming of the day.” It is apparent now that this is another hymn to God. The pace is as slow as it’s possible to get. Richard sings harmonies to “Come the night, you’re only what I want. Come the night, you can be my confidant” and it’s genuinely jaw dropping in it’s beauty. After nearly 4 minutes of this, the song draws to an end but there’s still more to come – another 3 minutes of Richard playing solo acoustic guitar with a song called “Dargai” written by James Scott Skinner, who was a Scottish dancing master who died in 1927, aged 84. As Wikipedia writes, “Dargai” perfectly matches the mood of the “Dimming Of The Day” and serves to bring the album to a contemplative conclusion.
When a whole collection of musical pieces come together to form something as fantastic as “Pour Down Like Silver”, it’s tempting to think that some out-of-this-world exterior force is at work. This is album number 93 in my blog. Has there been a better one?