Stub Heaven: The Review And The Stub To Prove It: Linda Thompson At The Bottom Line, Saturday, October 26th, 2002
There may be a better English folk singer than Linda Thompson but if there is one she died in 1978. Other than the great, late, and well lamented Sandy Denny -who Linda knew well, even performing in a band with her, Linda is the greatest English vocalist. I might mean of a type, a vocalist seeped in rock and roll as English folk music, as opposed to a traditionalist like June Tabor. But of a type and place, Linda is astonishing. You can hear it on the 2013 not dark yet Won’t Be Long Now, an album that can’t have you help but wonder about the woman behind the voice, a voice that has the power of delicacy and the strength of a storyteller, with a pure sense of this is a real story and I am telling it and of a life lived, it sounds old but not aged.
I was a fan long before that, though, to be honest, it was that brace of albums she recorded with her ex-husband Richard Thompson that is an entrance into eternal glory. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974), Hokey Pokey (1975), and one of the greatest albums of all times, Shoot Out the Lights (1982): in the broadest strokes from dates to love to next.
I was a huge friend but I hadn’t managed to catch the legendary Shoot Out The Lights tour (so broke I couldn’t afford a ticket and couldn’t find any publication willing to finance me,) and if Linda ever performed locally after that I must have missed it. A peek at her solo albums suggests I didn’t:
One Clear Moment (1985)
Fashionably Late (2002)
Versatile Heart (2007)
Won’t Be Long Now (2013)
I know Thompson didn’t tour behind Versatile Heat and I KNOW she didn’t tour behind Won’t Be Long Now, that seventeen years between her first two solo albums suggest her absence from the pop world, which means the show I did see, Linda’s October 26th, 2002, performance at the great Bottom Line, was probably my only opportunity. I am happy I didn’t waste it.
All I See
Want You Back
The Banks of the Clyde
Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk
Dear Old Man of Mine
Never the Bride
Nine Stone Rig
Telling Me Lies
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Dimming of the Day
That is the setlist from a 2002 London concert but the Bottom Line gg was close if not the same. With nine songs off Fashionably Late. Thompson was obviously pushing the product, but it is a good product, and with a singer as great as Thompson it matters a lot less what she was singing as opposed to that she was singing at all, lovely, sad neo-folk songs as though the past had stopped. You might notice that her son Teddy Thompson, who co-wrote some of Fashionably Late, was first on the bill. A handsome kid back in the day with some of his pops’ cheekiness, but another comparison comes to mind. I saw June Carter Cash at the same venue (here) in 1999 and June’s relationship with her son and band leader John Carter Cash, the careful affinity, was very moving. Teddy and Linda also saved us from a problem: the respect for Linda is close to reverence, and Teddy, a man who once called his Mom “Shozzy,” because she “looks like Sharon (Osbourne) and is confused like Ozzy,” played interference for us.
Linda sings sad songs sadly, “Dimming Of The Light” is an end to the story, “Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk” is not the fun you might think it is (she would cover it on record in 2014) being the story of a woman being beaten by her husband, “The Banks Of The Clyde” leads right to where you imagine it does, and if the the performers weren’t enjoying themselves it would have made for a long evening. There is fun but it was a serious and darkly lovely set. Her voice had care as well, the sense of a life being lived. I was sorry we didn’t get “Powder And Beauty” (co-written with Rufus Wainwright -a lot of mothers and sons, Linda would one day cover Martha’s “Fast As My Feet”).
Ninety minutes and Linda was gone, who knows when we will get her again? When The Thompson Family performed at City Winery a couple of years ago (both her son and daughter followed in the family business -personally, if I was related to Linda I’d have become a plumber rather than deal with the comparisons), Linda didn’t sing despite being on the album. Given her catalog a retrospective is in order, I am only asking for a night at Carnegie Hall…