NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 12, 2014

A musical taste of Britain

Renowned folk-rock artist back in Port for solo acoustic show

By James Pouliot
Correspondent

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Internationally acclaimed British folk-rocker Richard Thompson returns to Newburyport next Friday night.

Thompson will sing and play solo acoustic guitar in the theater at Newburyport High School, where he will be joined by “violin troubadour” Joyce Andersen.

Named “the finest rock songwriter after Dylan and the best electric guitarist since Hendrix” by the Los Angeles Times, Thompson emerged in the late 1960s as one of the vanguard musicians of the United Kingdom’s folk-rock movement.

After being kick-started by revolutionary artists like Bob Dylan and The Byrds, British folk-rock found its greatest inspiration in European folk influences. Thompson’s music centers around his voice, backed by either acoustic or “clean,” undistorted electric guitar in the foreground.

“This is rock music with a slightly different root,” Thompson said. “It’s more in the British tradition: Celtic music, English music, Scottish music. ... It uses different modes sometimes. There are different melodic ideas, different song structures, and lyrically, the language is a little more British.”

His latest album, “Electric,” showcases a trio of Thompson, drummer Michael Jerome and bass player Taras Prodaniuk, with additional vocals by bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss and guitar by country artist Buddy Miller, who offered his own home as a recording studio.

“Electric” was written over the course of three months and often gives the impression of nostalgic folk band overlaid with a driving-but-lighthearted drumbeat. Though songs like “Sally B” present a full-bodied interplay between the bass and electric guitar that wouldn’t be out of place in the hardest edges of The Beatles’ songbook, just a few tracks later, “Another Small Thing in Her Favor” paints the picture of a lonely Thompson, strumming out a classic “lost-love divorce” country lament and feeling Americana to the core aside from the hint of an accent.

“I think the title of the record is actually misleading,” Thompson said. “There are a bunch of acoustic or semi-acoustic things on it. I grew up playing acoustic music, hanging out in that sort of club, as well as playing electric stuff and listening to The Who. There’s the whole range on this record.”

Thompson’s Newburyport performance will focus on his acoustic talents as a solo act.

While American folk-rock bands were getting their inspiration from acts like Bob Dylan in the folk music revival of the 1960s, Thompson said his movement carried an element of international response. The rise of folk-rock in the United Kingdom was both a salute and a counter to the overwhelming saturation of talent in stateside genres.

A founding member of Fairport Convention, the band that brought British folk-rock to the forefront in the late 1960s, Thompson wanted to play something more original than the covers that he and his then-bandmates were doing.

“It started with a dissatisfaction with being imitators,” he said. “We loved the blues, we loved R&B, we loved Otis Redding, but for music to play ourselves, we felt slightly cheated: We would never play the blues as well as Muddy Waters, we would never play soul music as well as James Brown.

“‘What’s something that we could excel at ourselves, and not feel second-rate?’ We started to perform music that was more from the British Isles,” he said. “And as writers, to write music that was more influenced by the British Isles. That’s how the whole thing started.”

The band was composed of teenagers at the time. Thompson continued with Fairport Convention through its first major trauma — a van accident that killed the drummer and Thompson’s girlfriend — and went on to write some of its first original material for “Liege & Lief,” considered among the band’s highlights.

From there, Thompson split off, selling solo work on the strength of his guitar playing and building songwriting skills through a number albums that, despite often achieving critical acclaim, failed to find commercial success. A marriage and professional relationship with singer Linda Peters saw Thompson strike gold with the album “Shoot Out the Lights” just as the duo was torn apart by marital tensions and divorced.

Encouraged by the success, Thompson was buoyed on to greater audiences through the jazz and rock ’n’ roll scene of the 1980s, touring America and Europe with the Richard Thompson Big Band and eventually moving away from the big labels.

Thompson’s entrance to the independent scene was met with praise on both sides of the Atlantic, and he’s continued to perform both solo and with various unofficial groupings.

Over his lifetime of singing, writing and playing, Thompson has been nominated for a Grammy for his 2010 album “Dream Attic”; received a Lifetime Achievement Award from BBC Radio; been named among Rolling Stone magazine’s top 20 guitarists by writer David Fricke; and had a documentary, “Solitary Life,” made about him by the BBC.

Though he lives in Los Angeles and regularly travels internationally, Thompson has been a regular fixture on the Newburyport music scene for about a decade, by his own measure. He remembers the city fondly.

“It’s a good crowd, I’ve always had good crowds in the Boston area,” Thompson said. “It’s a good show. People rarely throw rotten fruit, which is good.”

During his Northeast trip, Thompson will make also stops at the Clearwater Festival in New York and teach guitar playing and songwriting at his own summer camps.

If you go

What: Richard Thompson solo acoustic show, with special guest Joyce Andersen

When: Friday, June 20, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Newburyport High School, 241 High St.

How much: $42, with tickets available at www.heptunesconcerts.com