According to unimpeachable sources one of the most frequently asked questions of any library’s adult services desk is, “Who was the fifth Beatle?
Holmes, inhaling sharply, retorts, “Egad Watson, I never thought to hear such folderol from your lips. I will concede Stuart Sutcliffe as a far-fetched possibility, but never this!”
That’s how it goes in my mind at any rate.
Perhaps this bit of common knowledge is not so common. Let’s start over.
While everybody’s heard of Paul McCartney, very few unimpeachable people of any importance know the name of the British guitarist who is sometimes referred to as the John Mayall of folk rock. His name is Richard Thompson, his career spans five decades (so far), and his songwriting and guitaristing, while bringing him neither fame nor fortune, make him one of the most talented musicians of his lifetime.
Thompson’s influences flit from genre to genre like intoxicated honeybees sampling from a rainbow panoply of flowers. In “The Calvary Cross,” for example, you can hear his guitar imitating the drone and chanter of bagpipes. Rotate 142° to experience the boogie woogie piano feel of Jerry Lee Lewis steamrolling a traditional British melody in “Cooksferry Queen.” And execute a quarter turn to hear 1960s hard-edged rock coalesce with British folk music in “Roll Over Vaughan Williams.” Thompson’s lyrics, often exquisitely beautiful, tend to unfold dark tales of bitterness and longing.
A most excellent starting point for experiencing the amazing art of Richard Thompson is found in the career-spanning collection Walking on a Wire (1968-2009). And if, upon finding your curiosity piqued, you would like to delve deeper into his music, the library has a wide selection of his offerings.
So what have we learned today? It’s elementary, my dear readers.
Firstly, not everything we “know” to be true is actually true. Conversely, some things we do not know are very important indeed. So introduce yourself to the music of Richard Thompson. Then there will be one less important thing you do not know.