Book Review By Eric Sandberg
Folk Rock guitar and songwriting legend Richard Thompson's new memoir reflects on the beginnings of his musical career as a band member, fledgling songwriter, collaborator, sideman and session man and leaves off at the start of his lengthy, critically acclaimed, solo career.
Much has been written about the British music scene between 1967 and 1975 and, for the most part, Thompson's recollections jibe with the consensus. He goes into great detail about the formation of Fairport Convention and provides an insider's view of the band's interrelationships and musical ambitions. It is often funny and occasionally tragic as he goes into painful detail about the van crash that took the life of his then casual girlfriend from California and Fairport's young drummer Martin Lamble.
Thompson provides the whys and wherefores related to Fairport's ever shrinking lineup, including his own eventual departure, while clarifying his relationship with, and admiration for, fiddle and mandolin player, the late Dave "Swarb" Swarbrick.
Richard Thompson on stage at the Teragram Ballroom, 2019. Photo by Eric Sandberg
As the book finally arrives to his brilliant musical partnership with, and marriage to, Linda Thompson [nee Petifer], I couldn't help but notice that there weren't terribly many pages left in the book. This concerned me because this is the period of his life [and hers] that I knew the least about.
To my dismay, Thompson glosses over much of this momentous period, giving Linda perhaps even less shrift than his previous romantic dalliances. Thompson covers his embrace of Sufism, including the Haj he [and Linda, I suppose, as he barely mentions her] undertook in support of their adherence to Sufism.
There are some interesting tidbits about a misguided attempt at farming and a year spent buying and selling antique furniture and, by the way, 'my marriage with Linda ended. I suppose it could have been my fault but, whatevs.'
Linda and Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson chose to name his memoir Beeswing after one of his most beloved songs about a woman who lived free and refused to be tied down. He shares the story of an itinerant man who sometimes did odd jobs for him and Linda around their farmhouse and was partial inspiration for the song.
I find this interesting because, in choosing this title and referencing this song, Thompson is either consciously or unconsciously referring to himself. Although he summarizes his lengthy solo career in the Afterword and thanks his current partner Zara Phillips, Nancy Covey, the woman he fell in love with in America while still married to Linda, and was married to for over thirty years, is never once even alluded to.
The only oblique hint of his relationship with Covey comes when he name checks only four of his children while maintaining that he has a good relationship with all five of them. From what I know about Thompson's personal life I've always had the sense that there is an element of narcissism in Thompson's character — that his needs, and desires and comfort take priority over doing the work required to stay in a relationship, so he flees...just like the woman in the song.
All in all the book is an engrossing read and well worth your time if you're a fan of Richard Thompson's, in which case you've probably already read it.
Richard Thompson with Scott Timberg
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.