Over the course of his more than 50-year career, Richard Thompson has established himself as a virtuosic guitarist and a gifted songwriter. But in 1976, less than a decade into his career, he and his then-wife Linda announced that they were retiring from the music business to devote themselves to Sufism. Fortunately, they reconsidered after just a couple of years, but to mark the occasion of Richard’s retirement, Island Records issued (guitar, vocal) A Collection of Unreleased and Rare Material 1967–1976 (Island/UMe), a retrospective that covered every phase of Thompson’s career up to that point, from his beginnings with Fairport Convention to his work with Linda.
Rather than just a collection of Thompson’s greatest hits culled from the albums he had released thus far, Island opted to take an unusual approach of compiling two albums’ worth of unreleased tracks, many of them covers. As such, the album, which has been out of print for many years but has recently been reissued, has been of much more interest to fans than a compilation of songs with which they were already familiar. And even though several of the cuts on (guitar, vocal) have found their way onto other releases in subsequent years, the album’s return to circulation is certainly warranted and definitely welcomed.
The first of the album’s four sides is comprised of mostly outtakes from Fairport Convention, the band Thompson cofounded in 1967 and who became known as progenitors of British folk music. When the band first started, though, they were known for favoring American styles, and that influence can be heard in their cover of Emitt Rhodes’ “Time Will Show the Wiser” from their self-titled debut and the original “Throwaway Street People,” a B-side from the “Meet on the Ledge” single, and even more obviously on the Chuck Berry cover, “Sweet Little Rock ’n‘ Roller” that leads off the second side. Sandy Denny was partially responsible for bringing the folk influence when she joined the group and that sound is more prevalent on the cover of The Byrds’ “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” an outtake from the sessions for their seminal Liege & Lief album featuring Denny on vocals. The standout Fairport track, though, is “Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman,” a cut that probably should have been on the Full House album. Thompson’s guitar work is particularly fiery and the track also features Linda Thompson on backing vocals.
Indeed, some of the best work of Thompson’s career was with Linda Pettifer. Included here are an alternate take of Hokey Pokey’s “A Heart Needs a Home” and a stripped-down run through “The Dark End of the Street,” both sung by Linda. The latter was recorded live at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 1975. Meanwhile, the second record includes two lengthy tracks recorded at Oxford Polytechnic the same year. There’s a 12-minute version of “Night Comes In” (from Pour Down Like Silver) and a version of “The Calvary Cross’ nearly 10 minutes longer than the original recording from the seminal I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. Among the record’s highlights, this rendition of “The Calvary Cross” is fittingly epic.
Richard also recorded two solo tracks specifically for the record, two instrumentals: “Flee As a Bird” and “The Pitfall/The Excursion.” Both show off his nimble guitar playing, while the latter emphasizes traditional British music tropes. Taken as a whole and with the advantage of hindsight, (guitar, vocal) feels very much of a time and place. Thompson has, of course, expanded his repertoire tenfold and his songwriting has only grown richer. That said, there’s no denying the brilliance contained in these grooves, and this collection shouldn’t be overlooked.