Richard Thompson brings tight band, anti-war view to Park West

By Alan Sculley Correspondent,, June 13, 2007

Guitarist/singer Richard Thompson knows he has one of the best touring bands in the business, with multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn, bassist Danny Thompson (no relation) and drummer Michael Jerome on board for his current tour.

That doesn’t mean Thompson can’t dream of bigger and even better.

“It’s a compact band,” he said recently by phone. “The fact that we have Pete Zorn, he plays so many instruments that we can kind of keep it pared down to just four people.

“Economics are ever-tougher out there on the road. Four pieces is really all I can afford right now. I always think I’d like to add another voice to the band and another instrument maybe, but that’s going to be in the future, after this album is an enormous smash.”

Thompson, of course, isn’t really expecting the new CD in question, “Sweet Warrior,” to set the charts on fire. Despite being universally hailed as one of rock’s most talented songwriters and a guitarist good enough to have been ranked number 19 in a 2003 “Rolling Stone” list of the top 100 rock guitarists of all time, he’s never had a hit single in the United States.

Thompson, who plays Park West in Chicago tonight, doesn’t seem to mind his position in the rock world. He has often said in interviews that he enjoys the artistic freedom that comes with being on the fringes of the mainstream.

That situation probably won’t change with “Sweet Warrior,” but the CD may bring Thompson more attention than usual because of one of its songs, “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me.”

An anti-war anthem anchored by the catchy refrain of the song title, it vividly captures the gloomy reality of soldiers caught in the Iraq war, and in two especially powerful lines jabs at the entire motivation for the United States’ decision to go to war.

Ironically, the song didn’t start out to have as much of an anti-war message.

“I was just interested in the language the troops were using in the Iraq war,” Thompson said. “I think soldiers’ language is very interesting, the way they express their circumstances, they way they respond to the generals and politicians. It’s usually with humor and cynicism.

“In all wars, there’s very colorful language, which is the language with which the soldiers deal with things. And this is true of the Iraq war. You have these great phrases like ‘Dad’s gonna kill me,’ ‘Dad’s in a bad mood,’ ‘Dad’s got the blues,’ referring to Baghdad. I thought this kind of jargon was really interesting, so I kind of spun a song out of these phrases. So that was my original interest in the song.

“I was trying to be sympathetic to the troops,” he said. “That was also my first interest because I feel for the soldiers who are out there every day putting their lives on the line. That’s a terrible situation to be in, a very precarious situation to be in. It’s only later in the song that I question the reasons for them being there, that it becomes a lot more blatantly an anti-war song.”

Still, “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” shouldn’t be the only reason for Thompson to get more media attention. “Sweet Warrior” is among Thompson’s better CDs – no small statement for a musician whose catalog now stretches back 40 years (to when he co-founded the trailblazing English folk group Fairport Convention), and includes several albums that often land on all-time best album lists, such as the 1982 release “Shoot Out The Lights” (which he recorded with his ex-wife, Linda Thompson), “Rumour and Sigh”(1991) and “Amnesia” (1988).

Like virtually all of his albums, “Sweet Warrior” mixes Thompson’s love of English folk with a gritty yet highly melodic brand of rock. The new CD rocks a bit harder than Thompson’s most recent electric album, 2003’s “The Old Kit Bag,” as songs like “I’ll Never Give It Up,” “Mr. Stupid” and “Bad Monkey” (the latter an extended romp in the accordion-laced musical tradition of the Thompson concert favorite “Tear Stained Letter”) give “Sweet Warrior” plenty of friskiness.

Several slower songs, though, also come with considerable edge and bring a sense of gravity to the CD. The songs “Poppy-Red,” “She Sang Angels To Rest” “Take Care The Road You Choose” all fit into this setting and feature particularly striking dimly hued melodies.

Thompson frequently exceeds the quality of his studio work on stage, and his current tour promises to find him putting some musical twists into his shows.

“I have kind of a short list for the tour, which is going to be different from recent tours,” Thompson said. “Obviously there will be stuff off of the new record, as much as the audience can absorb, which is going to be between six and eight songs in the show.”

“Then I’m trying to find some variations on older material. So we’ll be dragging out some more unusual songs from the '70s, '80s, maybe '60s. So it’s a mixed bag.”

If you go ...

Who: The Richard Thompson Band

When: 8 tonight

Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago

Tickets: $28

Information: Call (312) 559-1212 or visit

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