Chrysalis Records CHR 1177 (LP/cass., UK, November 1978)
Recorded at Britania Row, Olympic Chelsea and Basing Street Studios;
Engineered by John Wood, assisted by Jerry Wing and Andy Lunn;
Produced by John Wood & Richard Thompson for Jo Lustig Ltd.
Linda Thompson, vocals;
Richard Thompson, vocals, guitar, mandolin, hammered dulcimer, Roland guitar, synthesiser, whistle;
Andy Newmark, drums;
Willie Weeks, bass;
Neil Larsen, keyboards;
Simon Nicol, guitar, dulcimer;
Chris Karen, Dave Mattacks, drums;
Dolores Keane, whistle;
John Kirkpatrick, button accordion;
Dave Brady, Heather Brady, Dave Burland, Bill Caddick, Philippa Clare, Julie Covington, Andy Fairweather-Lowe, Trevor Lucas, Ian Matthews, Maddy Prior, Peta Webb, backing vocals
Strings transcribed and conducted by Robert Kirby
|Side 1||Side 2|
All tracks Richard Thompson pub. Beeswing Music except
Track 4 trad. arr. Richard Thompson pub. Beeswing Music;
Track 8 Richard and Linda Thompson pub. Beeswing Music
Richard and Linda Thompson occupy an unique place in contemporary British music. One shies away from the phrase `cult' because it has been abused so often in the service of performers who simply don't have many followers. In the Thompson's case it means that they are household names in the households of musicians, critics and those listeners capable of taking decisions independent of the charts and media. There are quite a few of these, and they do not hesitate to wield superlatives. Richard is a guitarist, a songwriter's songwriter, and a glance through his press cuttings turns up no shortage of observers ready to lay it on the line that he is literally the best that England has come up with.
The musical partnership of Richard and his wife Linda is fortuitous. He is not an easy man to match, and he is not the sort of composer to adjust his writing to the singer. Luckily, compromise is not needed here. Linda's unadorned, true voice - suited equally to ballads and rockers - commands attention through its simplicity and sympathetic grasp of the song's meaning.
The release of First Light is an event. It will not have escaped the notice of the Thompson's audience that they haven't recorded a studio album since 1975. For much of that time, Richard was giving serious thought to what direction his career should take. Thankfully he has chosen to carry on developing his dramatic, intensely personal - and intensely British - music. For the first time he has employed American players on the backing tracks - Andy Newmark on drums, Willie Weeks on bass, and Neil Larsen on keyboards. Long-time associates Simon Nicol and John Kirkpatrick are also to be found along with various luminaries on backing vocals including Julie Covington, Maddy Prior, Ian Matthews and Trevor Lucas. The results are mighty.
His lyrics have lifted away from their past preoccupation with down-and-outs. Too discreet to browbeat people with his faith, he instead speaks of his own conversion, phrasing it so seductively it comes out as love songs - Sweet Surrender, Layla and First Light. He has extended his folk heritage with an original slip-jig, The Choice Wife, which leads into Died for Love - a ballad written in the traditional style, on a universal theme.
A gripper. Richard's wistful, baleful and ungovernable imagination range over Restless Highway, Strange Affair and House of Cards while Pavanne (co-written with Linda) achieves the most extraordinary effect - menacing and compelling - by allying a tale of modern terrorism to the most formal and archaic melody. No-one in the world but the Thompsons could have conceived of this. To top all these off, there is even a song irresistible enough to be a single, Don't Let a Thief Steal into Your Heart. All muscle and momentum. The arrangements on First Light are denser, more fleshed out, than have been the ones on the Thompsons' previous, more spartan albums. The results are gratifying to the point of revelation.
The Thompsons' progress has been followed with the keenest interest by the musical fraternity with whom it is an accepted face that at whatever point in time Richard should rise up and really use his gift, it would prove nothing short of thrilling. Well, he has made his choice. Almost incredibly, he is still just in his 20's. And he stands now on the threshold of what must be one of the most exciting, lifelong careers in music of our time.