Richard & Linda Thompson : Down Where The Drunkards Roll

Some of us move surefooted through this wicked world.

Insouciantly dodging the broken pavements, the hidden potholes and the disguised ditches.

Most of us get by more or less intact.

Sometimes tripping.

Sometimes stumbling.

Sometimes falling flat on our face.

Everybody, everybody, Falls.

We get by because we are uplifted, caught, by a net of love and affection laid down by  our family and friends.

The cuts and bruises, initially so dramatic, fade away and heal.

Barely limping we march on down life’s highway.

But, there are others among us for whom no net is spread or for whom no net is strong enough – so fast and surely do they Fall.

These afflicted Souls have always lived in some dark corner of every town, in every land, in every era.

You probably know where they congregate in your town.

Though you may pass by at speed you’ll know where The Drunkards Roll.

You may have been, in your days of youth, one of those regularly out walking, dressed up, gallant, cheerily passing, night after night, the keg of wine from hand to hand.

Except, for you, it was a spree you left behind which you now recall half with a smile, half with a shudder.

Not for you the DTs, the shakes and the horrors.

But one or more among you never returned to the broad highway.

One or more among you returned again and again to the dark end of town until it became their physical and spiritual address.

Where’s Bill these days?

Where’s Alice?

Whatever became of Phil?

You’ll never guess where I saw Mary!

Down where the Drunkards Roll.

Down where the Drunkards Roll.

Ah but every one of those Souls has a tale to tell you about how their fall, their particular fall, was so certain, so sure and now it seems so final.

Who will listen?

Who will listen to those tales and retell them with respect?

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Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – an orphan who though sent to, ‘A Home’  never, never, found a home and a family to love him and for him to love?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a girl who learned at unbearable cost that some sacred trusts are betrayed and can never be spoken about out loud or sober?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a priest who found he could just about bear the secrets he was told but who broke down because of the weight of the secrets of his own?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a rain sodden, once ramrod straight soldier with medals flashing in the sun, who now after so many deaths, so much loss, shambles along shouting oaths to the winds in stained pants?

Who will hear these shouts, these blasted cries and curses and hear in them some echo of hymns and praises?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – the gambler who drew losing hand after losing hand until there was nothing left for her to lose?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – he sports a Sailor’s cap and in raddled talk he tells of exotic ports and tropical island girls he left behind; yet he knows and we know he never left dry land?

Maybe, only Lord Jesus will truly understand.

Who among us now will see and sing and try to understand?

Who among us will see, sing and tell their tale?

See, sing and tell their tale?

 

 

Richard and Linda Thompson from their stunning 1974 debut Album, ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’.

A radical, clear sighted, aching tenderness suffuses the whole record.

It’s present in every note of Richard’s limpid guitar.

It’s present in every syllable of Linda’s heart wrenching vocals.

In Down Where The Drunkards Roll they achieve a rare state of musical empathy and grace.

There is nothing voyeuristic or callous here nor any empty greetings card sentiment.

Richard Thompson accepts that the world can be a desolate place filled with dread.

Not shrinking from the fathomless cliffs of fall he yet conjures consolatory beauty.

He has heard and not shrunk from midnight’s broken toll.

Staring into the darkness with a steady heart he can write, sing and play songs that honour the Drunkards and the ‘confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse’.

Oh, and if you ask me, if you’re looking for Lord Jesus, I wouldn’t go looking on 5th Avenue or Bond Street, Passeig de Gracia or Arbat Street.

No.

No, I would cross to the far side of the tracks.

I would seek the alley where no lights shine.

The place filled with gamblers who never drew a hand.

With sailors who never left dry land.

I would look in the slums and the favelas.

I am as certain as certain can be you’ll find him Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

And, if you need to fortify your Soul as you journey here’s a song to keep in your heart.

 

 

Notes :

I listened to many very fine versions of this song including solo live versions by Richard, The Thompson Family, Loudon & Rufus Wainwright, Jon Boden and Bellowhead.

They all have something to recommend them.

None however can match the plangent perfection of the original which also features Simon Nichol and Trevor Lucas.

Sandy Denny : Who Knows Where The Time Goes

 

Darkness.  Darkness.  Darkness.

Silence.  Stillness.  Stasis.

BANG!

Light.  Space.  Time.

Travelling towards Darkness again.

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

Who knows where the Time goes.

It’s not dark yet. But it’s getting there.

Across the evening sky all the birds are leaving.

Who knows where the time goes

Who knows where the time goes.

If I ventured in the slipstream.

The bloom hung along the bough.

Each Spring a miracle.

How many more?

How many more?

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

It’s not dark yet – but it’s getting there.

Who knows where the time goes.

Kids out in the street collecting bottle tops.

Dry your eye. Say Goodbye. Wonder why.

Nothing but a stranger in this World.

At my back I hear …

Sad deserted Shore.

Who knows where the Time goes.

Who knows where the Time goes.

 

Soft sift in an Hourglass.

Soft sift.

Come the storms of Winter.

The days are hastening on.

Hastening on.

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

Who knows where the Time goes.

 

In the beginning was the Word.

Through a glass darkly.

Now and at the hour of our death.

Now and at the hour of our death.

Is now and ever shall be.

Is now and ever shall be.

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

It’s not dark yet – but it’s getting there.

Before the Winter fire.

The swift flight of the Sparrow.

The swift flight of the Sparrow.

Ye know not when the Time Is.

Who knows where the Time goes.

Who knows where the Time goes.

 

Notes :

Who Knows Where The Time Goes was the second song Sandy Denny ever wrote.

It will outlast The Pyramids.

The first version featured here is the classic version to be found on the Fairport Convention     Album, ‘Unhalfbricking’ from 1969.

This is one of those recordings that has a magic which cannot be analysed only surrendered to.

Sandy’s vocal and Richard Thompson’s Guitar outshine the stars.

The second version is a searching solo version for the John Peel radio show.

The third version was recorded during Sandy’s brief tenure with The Strawbs.

It has a tremulous charm that will never leave you once heard.

In writing this Post I found myself crafting a patchwork quilt of poems, prayers and songs that called out to me as I listened to, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’.

So proper acknowledgement should be offered to:

The King James Bible, The Venerable Bede, A E Houseman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Andrew Marvell, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.

The first image that appeared was that of ‘The Flight of The Sparrow’ from Bede’s  great work, History of The English People’ – a Book that is one of the glories of Civilisation.

I recently completed a once every 40 years ‘thinning out’ of my bookshelves with some 800 volumes sent to my favourite Charity.

I still kept 3 editions of Bede.

Through the wonders of the Internet I found this reading in Old English which now echoes in my mind.

Across the Centuries there is a telling here about the mysteries of  life and time that still calls out to us today.

Springsteen, Bowie, Richard Thompson & The EasyBeats all have Friday on their minds!

Damn that alarm! Always too early. Every day. Every day.
 
Funny how I know the alarm is bound to ring yet somehow it’s always a surprise.
 
Another day. Here they come, rolling out their carpet of misery.
 
Mournful Monday. Terrible Tuesday. Woeful Wednesday. Tormenting Thursday.
 
Still, still … I got Friday on my mind. Friday on my mind.
 
Guess Mama was right – I should have listened in School.  
 
Maybe then I’d have a job that meant something to me instead of this endless grind where I’m treated as if I’m no more than a cog in a wheel.
 
Got to get through.

Monday morning punch the clock.
 
Monday night punch the clock.
 
Tuesday morning punch the clock.
 
Tuesday night punch the clock.
 
Wednesday morning punch the clock.

Wednesday night punch the clock.
 
Thursday morning punch the clock.
 
Thursday night punch the clock
 
Friday Morning punch the clock.
 
Friday night punch the clock.
 
One of these Friday nights I’m really gonna punch that clock!
 
 

 
 

I do my job. As well as they’ll let me.

Anyway they ain’t said I broke no rule.

Maybe one day if I keep my nose clean I’ll get that raise in pay they been promising for so long. Maybe.

Until then I’ll keep my mind fixed on Friday when I ain’t just one more guy on the shift.

My time. Off the clock.

My time. Off the clock.

Friday on my mind. Friday on my mind.

An undeniable hit from the first second of the intro!

And, a massive 1966 worldwide hit it proved. Top 20 in the USA, top 10 UK, No 1 in The EasyBeats Australian home and also in Holland.

In Australia it’s an iconic symbol of the emergence of a far away continent into pop culture consciousness.

So it’s been voted Australia’s best song of all time as well as being safely lodged in their National Sound Archives Registry.

The song was written by Henry Vanda and George Young lead and rhythm guitar respectively. Dick Diamonde held down the bass with Gordon Fleet behind the drums. The impassioned vocal courtesy of Stevie Wright.

All their energy and talents mesh together here perfectly to lay down a pop classic that always comes up no matter how many weekends it has kickstarted.

Friday on my mind is a wonderful adrenaline rush of a song that sums up a universal feeling. The sense of gathering excitement is brilliantly realised.

Perhaps they were able to capture such a feeling because as the sons of migrant families to Australia they were hyper alert, as migrants often are, to the signals of culture all around and desperate to make their mark in their new world.

They met up at Villawood Migrant Hostel and via intense practice and stints at ‘Beatle Village’ venue in Sydney they became a formidable live band ready to conquer a continent and take on the world.

Their second Australian release in 1965, ‘She’s So Fine’ had launched them into pop orbit and brought them adulation at near Beatles level at home.

But the epicentre of the pop world in 1966 was London. So it was there in September with Shel Talmy (producer of hits for The Kinks) at IBC studios that they recorded the record that will always define their career.

Let’s return to the term, ‘hyper alert’. Perhaps the single artist in the modern era who most exemplifies that quality is David Bowie.

Sharply intelligent, artistically omnivorous and hugely ambitious he hoovered up every influence in the 1960s air (and in all the decades thereafter) right up to his majestic sign off with, ‘Blackstar’.

His 1973 record, ‘Pin Ups’ celebrated the 1964 to 1967 world that David Jones/Bowie moved in before his own career ascended to the stratosphere.

Bowie lends, ‘Friday On My Mind’ his own wild glamorous sheen.

Now, The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, is well known to be tuned in to the blue collar life.

Growing up in New Jersey his ears will have pricked up at the skewering of working class realities captured by The EasyBeats.

And, Bruce pays his dues. So, arriving to tour Australia he has no hesitation in pulling out, ‘Friday On My Mind’ and bringing the full force of his personality and the drive of the E Street Band to lift the roof off!

As the 21st Century approached Playboy Magazine decided to ask a series of musicians for their choices for the music of the millennium.

Playboy assumed that the responses would be choices of music from the 20th century and for all but one contributor the assumption proved correct.

The exception was the list provided by English guitar and songwriting genius Richard Thompson.

Richard must have delighted in producing a list that included both, ‘Sumer is Icumen In’ and, ‘Oops! … I Did It Again’.

Richard as a teenager was playing and attending the iconic 1960s clubs like the UFO. And, who,knows that he crossed paths with The EasyBeats. He certainly recognised a classic guitar figure when he heard one.

There’s a caricature of Richard a misery laden, doom and gloom merchant. In truth he’s a serious musician with well honed wit who can turn his considerable gifts to any subject he chooses.

Listen to him give Friday another dimension.

Few songs appeal so powerfully to so many artists.

Vanda and Young with The EasyBeats have succeeded in keeping Friday on our minds eight days a week.

Richard Thompson Acoustic Classics : A Life in Music

‘We are all falling. See my hand: it bends.
And look at others: It’s in all their calling.
And yet there’s One, who’s holding all this falling
Endlessly tender in his upturned hands .. ‘.

(Rainer Maria Rilke. Translation Walter Aue)

‘ The artist is not meant to be a judge of his characters and what they say; his only job is to be an impartial witness … Drawing conclusions is up to the jury, that is the readers. My only job is to be talented, that is, to know how to distinguish important testimony from unimportant, to place my characters in the proper light and speak their language.’

(Anton Chekhov: letter to Alexi Suvorin May 30 1888)

Vocation: A person’s main occupation especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication. From the Latin, ‘Vocare’ – to call’

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‘I still have to practice a lot. You have to keep yourself going and moving and then you are going to be looking for new things … You have to keep exploring and finding new shapes and new versions, new melodic ideas. Keep at it all the time.’

(Richard Thompson interviewed by Martin Chilton for The Daily Telegraph February 2013)

Richard Thompson’s latest CD, ‘Acoustic Classics’ is the hard won though lightly borne product of a career that has involved more than forty-five years of ceaselessly seeking to write, perform, record and renew songs that honour the call he has heard to tell stories through his pen, voice and guitar about the thrilling, tender, terrifying and tormented experiences humankind is heir to before that last breath.

‘Acoustic Classics’ contains no new songs yet it is one of the most vital creations of Thompson’s storied and stellar career.

It displays his considerable gifts as an artist and can be listened by the casual listener or fellow practitioner as a kind of vade mecum or handbook of the craft of songwriting and acoustic guitar playing.

Given Thompson’s immersion in and importance as a musician within the tradition of British folk music the CD might otherwise be described as a wandering minstrel’s chapbook for the ages containing tales, ballads, jests and fables illuminating the victories, defeats, joys and betrayals of an everyday life that would in its emotional essentials have been as recognisable to Chaucer’s pilgrims as it is to today’s citizens of London, Sao Paolo, Sacramento or Sydney.

Thompson is rightly proud of his songs and one of the purposes of this set is surely through the deft drama of his virtuoso acoustic playing to demonstrate their immense contained spiritual and emotional power without the listener being overwhelmed by the head swirling Sturm und Drang he brings to the electric versions.

One of Thompson’s greatest attributes as a songwriter is his ability to find the right tone and language to describe the characters he presents and the situations they are confronted with.

He does not suffer from the besetting sin of so many modern songwriters of wearily reproducing self analytical, fast fading xeroxes of their own emotional states.

He has consistently been able to imagine lives that he might have led, that he could never have led or would never have wanted to lead. He is interested as an observer and as an artist in the dramas of the human condition as expressed in the travails of our endlessly variable capacity to build and/or destroy our relationships with ourselves, each other and our god.

Thompson, as a religious man, is acutely aware of the inevitability of death. As a songwriter he understands that an essential element of the beauty and poignancy of our lives is their fragility.

To celebrate life necessarily involves embracing death and relishing the intense pleasures of the moment. There is an affinity here with Thomas Hardy – a certain winter chill of the imagination, a sure consciousness that time has an unflinching rigour that must not be denied.

His reverence for British traditional music has instilled in him a desire to create songs that will last because they speak to the eternal truths of the human condition. Songs that will not be found wanting by the tests of performance and passing time.

Take the example of, ‘Wall Of Death’ which through a deliriously circular melody and lyrical celebration of the pleasures of the fairground slyly hymns the thrill of peering over the cliff edge of life at the unfathomable depths of dark death beyond.

To do so feels, ‘the nearest to being free’ so it’s well worth taking your chances when it reminds you of the miracle of every breath. His guitar playing here is springily and increasingly propulsive brilliantly mimicing the dizzy carnival ride.

Thompson had a pronounced stutter as a boy and young man and it was through the guitar that he found a voice that could communicate to the world with a depth, complexity and fluidity denied to him in everyday speech.

Throughout the CD his playing though sometimes displaying astonishing technical accomplishment never seems strained or flashy. He has an acute sense of what to play and what not to play. He plays what needs to be played to bring the songs to life.

Thompson’s gifts as a storyteller and witness to the lost and disregarded are given full rein in his wonderful song, ‘Galway to Graceland’ which has the added merit of also being an oblique tribute to Elvis Presley.

The song tells the tale of a Galway woman who leaves her marriage and everything about the west coast of Ireland life behind to travel to Graceland in West Tennessee to be with the King. She keeps an obsessive vigil over Elvis’ grave confessing to him the hopes and dreams she has never told anyone else.

For, in her mind, they are married (doesn’t she have his ring!) no matter what the world might say. Thompson in his vocal delivery and the balm of his beautifully paced and graceful guitar gives the character her full human respect and dignity so that tears spring to the eyes.

I have been in bars in Ireland where a floor singer sang that song and heard people singing along and yet when I asked them who wrote the song I was told that it was a, ‘traditional song’ which says something for Thompson’s ability to write within and yet extend the territorial reach of the folk song.

The same might be said for his truly classic composition, ‘The Dimming Of The Day’ which has the soothing cadences of a long lost lullaby from another age.

I am confident this song will be sung as long as, ‘the moon pulls on the tide’ for it speaks to core human needs; the need to have a confidant, the need to have a hand to hold in the fast falling dark: which can sometimes seem so much more powerful than the light.

We all need to find someone who will recognise our better side. I always feel the lovely line, ‘When all the bonny birds have wheeled away’ is a tip of the hat to his fallen comrade from Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, whose own great sigh of a song, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ opens with, ‘Across the evening sky all the birds are leaving’.

Thompson’s guitar playing on this song has a taste and simplicity that only a considerable artist can achieve.

The CD sound is bright, close and clear having been expertly mixed and mastered by Simon Tassano. You feel as if you are right next to Thompson as his fleet fingers and plectrum coax golden shimmering notes from his guitar.

If you are a guitar player you can try to play along and if you have a hundred years of intense study to spare you might yet match him! Throughout his guitar is an eloquent complementary voice to his vocals alternately driving or commenting sometimes obliquely, sometimes ironically, on the action and themes of the songs.

Thompson has chosen the songs to showcase here wisely. So we get the crowd pleasing brilliance of his performance of, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ bringing the motorcycle world of 1950s England to technicolour life not least in the description of the femme fatale of the song, ‘Red hair and black leather – my favourite colour scheme.’

You can almost smell the petrol fumes and be dazzled by the chrome as his guitar playing effortlessly exceeds the speed limit as he climbs Box Hill. Bob Dylan, who knows a thing or two about great songs, recently played this song in concert as a tribute to his fellow songsmith.

There are the songs like, ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ and, ‘Down Where The Drunkards Roll’ in which Thompson captures in a tender but clear eyed way the lives of the boorish and the outcasts trying to make it through another day.

The latter song shows an awareness that those in the gutters might just see more of the stars than those who rush through a sober blinkered life. There are songs like, ‘Valerie’, ‘Persuasion’ and, ‘I Misunderstood’ that show how the promises of love can be fulfilled or wring with wrong the deceived and the deceivers hearts.

Thompson knows that many gamblers never draw a hand and that there are sailors aplenty who never leave dry land. He knows that life can be as breathtakingly beautiful but also as fragile as a Bees Wing.

His art is always aware that everyday we are walking on a wire and that sooner or later we will fall.

His songs give us courage and heart as we cross.

Tracklist: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Walking On A Wire, Wall Of Death, Down Where The Drunkards Roll, One Door Opens, Persuasion,
1952 Vincent Black Lightning, I Misunderstood, From Galway To Graceland, Valerie, Shoot Out The Lights, Beeswing, When The Spell Is Broken, Dimming Of The Day.

This post dedicated to Mike Brosnan – no mean guitar player himself. In our bachelor days we spent many an evening marveling at Richard Thompson’s genius as a guitarist and songwriter while the Whiskey flowed.