One of Richard And Linda Thompson’s greatest songs is “The End Of The Rainbow” from “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight”. It’s a song addressed to a newly born baby, who is referred to as a “little horror”. The baby’s father is a “bully” and “your sister is no better than a whore”. The chorus starts “There’s nothing at the end of the rainbow. There’s nothing to grow up for any more”. When Richard Thompson write the song in 1973, Linda Thompson was pregnant with their first child, Muna. Teddy Thompson was born in 1976 and Kamila (Kami) was born in 1983. I wonder what his children thought of the sentiments behind the song when they first heard it.
“Family” is an album that features compositions and recordings by various members of the Thompson family. Teddy Thompson said “there was definitely something about the fact that I was trying to knit my family together, musically.” He sent out emails to his family members asking them if they would like to get involved, having conceived of the idea that each member of the Thompson family would record two songs each. “I was feeling very ‘up’ that day and I sent a very positive email as if we were the von Trapp’s or something. The next day I thought ‘why did I do that?’ I thought it was a terrible idea”. My Mum replied within 12 seconds, my Dad took a week and Kami took two months”. Teddy Thompson said “I thought that everyone in the family was in a good place, musically. Not personally, obviously”. In an interview for the film that accompanies the album, Linda Thompson confirmed that everyone did two songs. “Richard had written two songs. Quite good”, and then she sniggers. The songs were recorded in seven different locations and it was all pieced together by Teddy Thompson. He said “When I was a kid and my parents split up, I felt out of control. It was enormously satisfying to be in control”. In the sleevenotes, he wrote “I named myself producer and Lord of all that surrounds me and went to work adding other instruments and deleting lots of things I didn’t like. There’s nothing so satisfying as erasing your parents.” In an interview on NPR, he added, “how’s that for an Oedipal moment?” In an interview for the accompanying film, while sat alongside his mother, Teddy Thompson joked to his mother that after receiving the initial tracks, he would “replace all your parts with some professional singers”.
Richard and Linda Thompson split up in 1982. Richard Thompson subsequently married Nancy Covey and they had a son, Jack, who composed the instrumental song, “At The Feet Of The Emperor”. It’s not clear whether or not this is an ironic description of the playing on the song; Jack Thompson plays bass while Richard Thompson plays acoustic and electric guitars.
After her marriage dissolved, Linda Thompson developed spasmodic dysphonia, a condition in which the muscles that generate a voice go into periods of spasm. This prevented her from performing. Causes of this condition include upper respiratory tract infections, heavy vocal use and stressful events. It’s not known if any of these apply in her case. She has released four solo albums in the last 37 years, “One Clear Moment” (1985), “Fashionably Late” (2002), “Versatile Heart” (2007) and “Won’t Be Long Now” (2013). There is so much to admire about Linda Thompson. She is very funny in interviews, she is self-effacing, she clearly loves her family but most of all, as Teddy Thompson sings in the opening song, “Family”, she “has the most beautiful voice in the world”.
Linda Thompson sings on two songs on “Family” and both of them are outstanding. Either could have appeared on any Richard and Linda Thompson album. “Bonny Boys” is co-written with her grandson, Zak Hobbs, who plays acoustic guitar. She directs some advice towards her male offspring as they set out in the world. She tells them to play fair, find a girl “whose heart is not for sale” but not to worry about her because “I am at peace”. Anyone doubting that she has “the most beautiful voice in the world” should give this song a listen.
“Perhaps We Can Sleep” was co-written by Linda and Teddy Thompson, who plays piano and electric guitar. It’s a song of reconciliation, wishing for peace and contentment after times of trouble. “After all is said and done, when there’s a fable we’ve agreed upon, perhaps we can sleep”. It’s too easy to interpret every song on this album in the context of the Thompson family history but it may not be too far fetched to think of this as Linda Thompson forgiving Richard Thompson for abandoning her. (I prefer to interpret “sleep” as relaxing, rather than dying.) In the end, the exact meaning is immaterial because this is another beautiful song with a haunting melody and outstanding vocal performance from Linda Thompson.
When Richard Thompson heard the song “Family”, he said he was taken aback because he wasn’t ready for a song “that tells it like it is. Sometimes songs have veils over them”. The song was written and sung by Teddy Thompson, describing each member of his immediate family. Richard Thompson is “one of the greats to ever step on a stage”. Linda Thompson has “the most beautiful voice in the world.” His elder sister, Muna, is “prettier than you’d believe” and his younger sister, Kami, is “prettier still and can sing”. In an interview with UNCUT, Teddy Thompson said “Believe me when I tell you that it was better this way round. Kami would have been far more upset”. In the song, he also describes himself as “betwixt and between” his parents and identifies with Sean Lennon. He says that he was “born to the manor and never quite clamouring free”. He also describes his grandmother, who looked after him and his siblings when their parents were on tour. He thanks her for all the love she showered upon him but says “she never dealt with her pain and I’ve done exactly the same. Pushing it down or trying to drown it away.” I hope that making this album was a cathartic experience for Teddy Thompson and he found peace and harmony through exposing his insecurities and lack of direction in such an articulate way.
Richard Thompson said “I’m very proud of my children and grandchildren. I think it’s great that they chose not to go into banking and accountancy like I hoped they would. I’m sincerely glad that they went into the music business because they have the talent to do it. To hear the family harmonise is wonderful”.
Linda Thompson described the difference between Richard and Teddy Thompson. “Richard would just go ‘yes, that’s fine’, but Teddy is a perfectionist”. She was asked who he got his perfectionism from, if not from his Dad, to which she looks thoughtful and simply says “Oh”. As well as contributing the title song to this album, he also wrote “Right”, which rocks out more than anything else on the album.
Teddy Thompson sometimes plays with Richard Thompson, either as a member of his band or in a duo. Roo and I were lucky enough to see them perform together in October 1999 at The Festival Hall. Richard Thompson said on the film “It’s something we don’t do, that often. We felt that Teddy should build his own audience”. Teddy Thompson interjected with “That’s the problem. I tried to build my own audience but it didn’t work out so I’m back on tour with my Dad”. He also said “There’s one thing I’ve noticed is that my Dad likes to think of us as fellow performers, as mates. He’ll say ‘How are you doing, mate.’ I want the opposite. I want him to say ‘Hey, son. How are you?’ That’s what I crave still, as an adult. I’ll never get away from it.” The first of Richard Thompson’s two songs on the album is “One Life At A Time” which starts with the same guitar refrain as “Don’t Renege On Our Love” from “Shoot Out The Lights”. Lyrically, it’s a put-down of someone who is trying to control him. It includes a wonderful electric guitar solo. Of course it does.
Teddy Thompson said “If you’re singing and playing it right, music is emotional. Family emotions heighten things”. The second Richard Thompson song on ”Family” is called “That’s Enough” and is a rant against people in power telling lies, throwing fairy dust in our eyes, and not giving us enough money to feed ourselves. The song was written in the dark days of 2014. Another remarkable acoustic guitar solo is one of the highlights of the album.
When Teddy and Linda Thompson heard Kami Thompson’s and James Walbourne’s songs for the album, they were bowled over. “I think they might have won in the songwriting stakes”. When she sent in the first song, “I Long For Lonely”, Linda Thompson heard it and thought “Oh my God. We are going to have to up our game. This is the last thing we wanted because it is so good.” Kami Thompson jokingly said that her original idea was to write a Jekyll and Hyde suite of songs about her brother.
Kami Thompson and James Walbourne met during the recording sessions for Linda Thompson’s album, “Versatile Heart”. They met again four years later and formed The Rails. They married a year later. With reference to “Shoot Out The Lights”, Kami Thompson has jokingly said that the aim of The Rails is “to make the perfect divorce album”. This ironic, self deprecating humour appears to be a characteristic of every member of the Thompson family. The Rails have released three excellent albums, “Fair Warning” (2014), “Other People” (2017) and “Cancel The Sun” (2019). Their albums are replete with clear sounding intelligent folk-rock. They harmonise beautifully and tend to avoid the sad, haunting style that made her parents’ music so unforgettable. “Careful” is a breezy up-tempo song and the album close, “I Long For Lonely” is more introspective.
“Family” is an excellent album with a variety of different styles. The Guardian review included this sentence: “You wouldn’t want to share a group therapy session with them, but it makes for a musically fabulous and lyrically compelling album“