Roo and I have a subscription to The Guardian which means that we get vouchers for each paper at a discounted price. We give these vouchers to the newsagent who then forgets to scan them, resulting in us getting huge paper bills. On Sunday and Monday our paper didn’t arrive because our account had been suspended. A phone call didn’t seem to resolve things, so I had to walk into Hassocks to sort things out. I didn’t want to go at 8:30 because the village gets very busy at that time with parents taking their kids to school. There’s also a need to avoid all the teenagers walking to Downlands School at that time of the morning. I went anyway and was amazed to find the streets deserted. I couldn’t understand why there were no children around until I realised that it was half term. I’ve only been fully retired for six months now but I’ve completely forgotten about school holidays. In fact, if it wasn’t for Marcus Rashford’s initiative to feed hungry children over half term I would never given half term a thought.
I was thinking about how I’m now out of the habit of thinking of my life in six week chunks between holidays. I did a shift at Samaritans yesterday and my fellow volunteer asked me if I missed teaching. On the phone to Pete this morning, he asked if I had any thoughts about going back to BHASVIC. I certainly don’t want to work with things as they are now, when you can’t walk around a classroom, talk to students or help them with their Maths by solving a problem together. The following thought experiment is interesting though – would I want to still be teaching if there was no pandemic? It’s hard to answer this because, as it stands, I miss the social contact with other teachers and students and so the easy answer is that, yes, I would love to go back to teaching at BHASVIC. However, the truth is more complex: if there was no pandemic, I would be having more social contact and so these needs would be met in other ways. If there was no pandemic, would I have started this blog? The answer is that probably I wouldn’t have. Abstract thought experiments are just that: abstract and not rooted in reality. The truth is that I’m retired – get over it.
When I properly retired last July, my colleagues very kindly had a collection and gave me some presents. I then went back for three months between January and March to cover a maternity leave and wasn’t expecting another present. However, I was surprised and pleased to be given a voucher from Resident Records which I used to get a magnificent Richard And Linda Thompson box set consisting of eight CDs. The box set consists of each of their albums plus over fifty additional tracks. I now have another copy of the best album ever (“Pour Down Like Silver”). Disc 5 of this box set consists of eleven songs, all previously unreleased. The first five songs are live performances from 1975 and the other six songs are live performances from 1977. I’ve already referred to the songs from 1977, recorded at The Theatre Royal, when I wrote about “Pour Down Like Silver” on June 22nd. At that time, there were three songs that were only available on lo fi quality from YouTube. Now these three songs, which I heard in 1977 and never since, have been cleaned up and sound great.
To clarify: the box set consists of eight CDs and I am only going to write about Disc 5.
The five songs from 1975 have all been released on previous albums. “Dargai” is the instrumental track that ends “Pour Down Like Silver” and is played by Richard Thompson on an acoustic guitar. At the time of this live performance, it had not been released. There is no doubting that he is a very proficient and sensitive guitar player and it’s a lovely, short, start to this CD. “Never Again” was originally released on “Hokey Pokey” and was written after a motorway crash in 1969 which killed Richard Thompson’s girlfriend Jenny Franklyn and Martin Lamble who was Fairport Convention’s drummer. Richard Thompson introduces the song as being all about memories and Linda Thompson’s vocals are truly heartbreaking as she sings “Oh, who will remember? Oh, who will be sure? And still feel the silence as close as before and was there a season without any rain? Ah never, oh never, oh never again!” The only musical accompaniment is Richard Thompson’s acoustic guitar and the combination of his guitar and her singing are truly powerful. “Dark End Of The Street” is a song that was written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and has been recorded by many people, including The Flying Burrito Brothers. Another version of this song was released on a career retrospective called “Guitar, Vocal” which was released a year after this concert. This song has everything – Richard Thompson’s majestic guitar playing, Linda Thomson’s heartbreaking singing and hair raising harmonies from the two of them. “Beat The Retreat” was also unreleased at the time as “Pour Down Like Silver” was not released until 1976. Richard Thompson sings lead vocals on a song which celebrates his return to spirituality as he beats a retreat, burns bridges, trails colours and follows a drum back to God. I’m not always a fan of Richard Thompson’s voice as, sometimes, it can be a little flat, especially on faster tracks, but on this song and this version in particular, there’s no doubting his sincerity. After listening to one song after another, it can be easy to overlook how sensational his acoustic guitar playing is. “The Sun Never Shines On The Poor” is from “Hokey Pokey”. It’s not a particular favourite of mine but this version is very likeable with more great harmonies. Richard Thompson introduces it by joking that on the strength of this song, they have got a record deal in Russia because it has a Balkan swing. The theme of the song is summed up by the title. I wonder if Richard Thompson, writing this in 1975 would ever have imagined that the UK Government forty five years later would be reluctant to ensure that children didn’t go hungry in school holidays?
Between 1975 and 1977 Richard and Linda Thompson became Muslims and lived in a commune near Diss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. When they returned to playing in 1977, they toured with fellow musicians from the commune. At the time, the concerts were dismissed as an aberration but the six songs on this disc are essential listening. “If I Were A Woman And You Were A Man” is a jolly song with lyrics that wondered what it would be like if Richard and Linda Thompson swapped genders. For the subsequent songs, they played as a band with extra musicians on bass, keyboards, percussion and drums. “The Madness Of Love” features a great vocal and a spiralling insistent electric guitar from Richard Thompson, excellent harmonies from Linda Thompson on the choruses, and lyrics that could have been written by Bob Dylan about the second coming. “The whole town was lovesick. They gathered at the crossroads. The rich and the poor they began to weep. The gutters ran with tears. It was like judgment day. No one could hold back when they heard him speak. Oh the madness of love”. The song was unreleased until this box set appeared. “Night Comes In” was also on “Pour Down Like Silver” but what makes this version great is that Linda Thompson takes lead vocals and Richard Thompson sings harmonies in the choruses as well as playing breathtaking electric guitar. This version is nearly thirteen minutes long and the instrumental breaks when Richard Thompson’s electric guitar and Abdul-Latif Whiteman’s keyboards play against each other is out of this world. The intensity of the song slowly builds and the playing of the two musicians becomes more interweaved and intricate until a climax of emotional passion is reached before Linda sings the last verse and one last guitar solo brings the song to an end. Paul and I went to one of the concerts on this tour and listening to this song, it’s no wonder that over the subsequent forty years, we have talked about how much it affected us at the time.
The next two songs on the CD had never been released until the arrival of this box set. “A Bird In God’s Garden” has lyrics that were inspired by Rumi, an Islamic scholar from the 13th century. The song is nearly ten minutes long and starts with Richard and Linda Thompson singing unaccompanied harmonies before Abdul-Latif Whiteman’s keyboards start an insistent groove that punctuates the rest of the song. Mighty Baby were a band from the Sixties who were formed from members of The Action. One of the members of both of those bands was Ian Whiteman who, after living in the commune in Diss with Richard and Linda Thompson, changed his name to Abdul-Latif Whiteman. He subsequently became a much sought after typographer and Islamic designer. Haj Amin Evans’ (who as Mike Evans was also a member of The Action and Mighty Baby) bass playing is also phenomenal on this track.
“The King Of Love” is nearly seven minutes long and features more scintillating guitar work from Richard Thompson. The song is, frankly, pretty ordinary but I can never tire of listening to Richard Thompson’s guitar playing. “Layla” was released a year later on “First Light” and the lyrics are based on an Arabic story from the 8th century. As with the previous song, this is a bit noisy but Richard Thompson’s extended guitar solo makes for a suitably exciting finale to this great CD.
Reading The Guardian today, government ministers are disputing who said what about providing food to hungry children. The sun never shines on the poor. Indeed.