Special Trip to See Richard Thompson

Posted: April 6, 2018 in Rock n Roll History Course at Delaware Valley University

Select Students Visit Richard Thompson for a Q&A

Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes good things just happen.

Earlier today, I crammed four of my rock n roll history students into my Mustang and made the trip to Princeton, NJ for a Q&A with Richard Thompson before his show there. Zac Ingraham, a member of Richard’s management team, set up this meeting and I can’t thank him enough.

We met Richard around 3:30 pm at the McCarter Theater at Princeton University. We sat in a conference room and the students prepared to fire off their questions.

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(The students outside the venue.)

I started things off by asking Richard about his childhood, just to give the students some perspective on post-World War II England. He contrasted the affluent American post-war experience with his formative years playing in London bomb sites left over from German bombing. He talked about food rationing that went on for nearly a decade after the war.

One student asked about his songwriting creative process. Richard talked about sort of extracting a song that’s already there…in other words almost acting as a conduit of sorts. Songwriting can be a pretty mystical thing sometimes.

Another student inquired about memorable performances. Richard mentioned sharing the bill with psychedelic-era Pink Floyd (I believe he was referring to the Roundhouse in London) and also a particular show in 1970 when Led Zeppelin joined Fairport Convention on stage. He said it was utter chaos and that someone taped it but alas, the tapes were lost.

I followed up by inquiring about the time he shared the stage with Jimi Hendrix at London’s Speakeasy. Fairport’s Judy Dyble told me about that story. Richard confirmed it, saying yes, Jimi joined Fairport on stage and they jammed away. There is nothing I can add to that.

One student asked what we now call the “Marshall question.” (Marshall, one of my students [who couldn’t attend], asks each musical guest if they have any advice for aspiring musicians.) Richard’s recommendation is to be original. He laments television shows that create stars by elevating people who sound like someone else. He felt that these shows reinforce the status quo rather than encourage artistic experimentation…something that has been a hallmark of his career.

Somebody asked Richard about his unique finger-picking technique. He said he sort of subconsciously developed a hybrid style when he was playing one day and wanted to finger pick a song, but didn’t feel like putting down the pick. So he would use the pick while finger-picking at the same time. He said that technique allows him to syncopate the beat, which is typically difficult to do on the guitar.

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(Richard answers a student’s question.)

Another student inquired if he has a wish list of musicians to work with. He said he’s pretty much worked with everyone he would like to, but would love to go back in time and rub elbows with people like jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt or even Mozart.

We said our goodbyes and thank yous to Richard and headed into Princeton proper to grab some dinner. We found a little Mexican place called “A Taste of Mexico.” Fantastic. We talked about our time with Richard over dinner. One student remarked that he thought only 20 minutes had gone by, but we were with him for an hour!

I was proud of my students for making the trip, but mostly for their passion for a great artist whom they can connect with despite generational differences. A big thank you to Richard for graciously giving his time and for Zac for setting this up.

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