wed 26/10/2016

theartsdesk Q&A: Singer Linda Thompson | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Singer Linda Thompson

theartsdesk Q&A: Singer Linda Thompson

Folk's most fragile but enduring voice on her new album, old friends, the Thompson family, and surviving a 1970s Sufi commune

Linda Thompson: 'It’s weird, my son writing a song about his father, and his mother singing it.'

Linda Thompson, one of Britain's great living singers, has just released her third solo album since her return to recording with 2001's Fashionably Late.

Talking in her London home before travelling to the US, she opens up about her latest record, It Won't Be Long Now, working with ex-husband Richard and her children Teddy, Kami and Muna, coping with the dysphonia that has afflicted her voice since 1973, and her enduring love for traditional music and the work of Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick and other old friends. Also today, exclusive to theartsdesk, she runs through her top 10 all-time favourite traditional songs.  

Linda ThompsonTIM CUMMING: What made you want to record again?

LINDA THOMPSON: When I did my last record we had a lot of material, and the more traditional stuff I kept to make a more traditional record. So I had half of it half recorded already. And it just went from there.

The first song, “Love’s for Baby’s and Fools”, is the one song written solely by you – where did that come from?

I wrote it about Rufus [Wainwright] when Kate [McGarrigle] stayed here in London before she died, and I played her a little bit of it, and she said, 'You’ve got to finish it, you’ve just got to'; and I did, and she died, and it was just nice to do it. Richard liked the song so he did it too.

It reminds me of late period Dylan, in that it could be personal, it could be epic. It’s not confessional, and the voice of the song is so sharp and uncompromising.

It is uncompromising, it’s the point of view that you can hold when you’re very young and so decisive about everything, or when you’re very old and you think, it’s all crazy. I like uncompromising. So that’s a good thought for the day. I can’t think of anything else to say about it except that it’s about Rufus Wainwright and I hope he likes it. He hasn’t even heard it, he could be on the phone to me tomorrow going “what the…!”

Did you record it with Richard [who accompanies her on solo guitar]?

We did it together in New York, then he had a gig across the street, so it was like in and out. I’d sent him a demo – with the most awful vocal on it, and I thought, Oh God, he’s never going to do this. But with typical Richard understatement, he said, ‘I’ll have a crack at it.'

Was that the first recording session you’d done together since Shoot Out the Lights?

No, not really. He’s been on stuff with me. We certainly did some live work together. And we’ve sung together, but not often. Plus this is the best one we’ve done since all those millions of years ago. 

Watch Linda and Richard Thompson perform "Lonely Hearts"

It’s now 30 years since you finished.

Yes, it is a long time ago, and we’re past all that. Thirty years. It’s a long time…. One of the good things about the internet is that sometimes people put something up and I’d never play it myself, but sometimes I’ll have a listen, and sometimes it’s very nice to listen to, much better than I thought at the time. They sound so good and so live and everybody knew what they were doing. So I love the internet. It’s a retired person’s paradise.

I just try to battle through dysphonia. I just try. And in some ways it’s a blessing, because it gives my songs more – they mean more to me

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