For four decades, Richard Thompson has been crafting and performing his unique brand of literate, heartfelt music. Beginning with the groundbreaking folk rock blend of Fairport Convention in the late 60’s, Thompson as long been acknowledged as one of popular music’s greatest guitarists and songwriters, and as an artist who has never compromised his creative voice. In 2011 he received a Grammy nomination for his live CD Dream Attic, and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work in music. Classic Rock Mine’s Mike Conway sat down with Richard Thompson in his hotel room, before an appearance at the Guinness Fleadh at Boston’s Suffolk Downs on June 19, 1999. Thompson’s openness, frankness and sense of humor when discussing his life and career, make this a memorable interview.
Formed back in 1963 by former Rolling Stones bassist Dick Taylor, the Pretty Things’ raw sound and rowdy live shows made them a top club act in the UK. However the band’s failure to tour the US contributed to the Pretties being eclipsed by The Stones in popularity. The band developed a decidedly more psychedelic style with the release of their 1967 LP Emotions, but it was the groundbreaking 1968 rock opera S.F. Sorrow that should have made the band huge.
Released one year before Tommy, SF Sorrow was critically acclaimed upon it’s release in the UK. Unfortunately the LP was not distributed in the increasingly important US market until well after Tommy hit store shelves. Needless to say US fans did not buy S.F. Sorrow. To most US rock fans, S.F. Sorrow remains little more than a classic rock footnote. That’s a shame, because it’s a great album. I was fortunate enough to sit down with the Pretty Thing’s Dick Taylor and Phil May and gain some insight into this ground-breaking work.
Mike Conway: Can you talk a little bit about how the S.F. Sorrow album came about because obviously that has been a real signpost in the history of rock.
Phil May: We had reached a point, as Dick said, beyond the pop thing, and we had done all that. And I think really it was for our own preservation that we had to find another way or we were getting a bit bored with it. It is like we had done it for four or five years and the singles. It seemed that we needed something more to get our teeth into, to sustain our interest, otherwise, I think we would have stopped. And it was in some ways our salvation, that we found another way of making a record that held our interest and took us into the next stage. Otherwise, I think we would have stopped at that point and just been a pop band with bad boy overtones. The opportunity to go to the best studio in the world, spend a year with Norman Smith was a great working, when you got the Beatles in the other studio and Pink Floyd in the other. The whole sense of Abbey Road was kind of an exciting place of invention and people trying to push the envelope. I remember it as being probably one of the most creative, stimulating periods in my life. It was a wonderful feeling you know.
Dick Taylor: And also there was a feeling of, when we were doing that, it was more like we are working on an artistic project rather than we are producing a piece of product for a record company.
Phil May: Commercial. This is going to be the next commercial big thing. We didn’t have any illusions that maybe we were going to have, but we did feel we were doing something, which is important.
Dick Taylor: That really was in our minds and it wasn’t just like, oh we got to do so many songs to fit an album, it was actually a conceived of piece which we wanted to complete. It didn’t spring sort of like out of the air, but we had to really work on it. But Phil’s story and everything, we just knew, oh now we have to do a song which kind of fits this and sometimes the song would come and the story would change.
Phil May: It was making new demands on us. We were writing for a particular character, like Baron Saturday. We had to come up with something musically which suited his character. So that was exciting. So again, we had found a different way of making music. Whereas the story was driving us. And we had good songs around the time we didn’t use. There was another song which didn’t make the album called “Cardinal of Regrets”, was another character, but we couldn’t get into that, it just stayed on the sidelines because the story ruled.
Dick Taylor: Let’s dig that out again. If you can remember it.
Phil May: I found the drawings for it the other day.
Dick Taylor: I never, I can’t remember it.
Phil May: It was different enough that, you know, if I was doing lyrics, there would be pages of drawings for that song. And then from that, the lyrics would come, after it had been visualized. What was happening? The balloon burning. And then the lyrics would come next. So I had a sketch book full of drawings.
Dick Taylor: And then we would be beating away putting riffs together and things and what have you.
Phil May: So it was a very visual– That’s what I mean, it was very visual. For me it was visualized before the text came. The visual image was there before the text.
Mike Conway: Do you think the work still holds up today?
Phil May: You have to answer that.
Dick Taylor: It seems to, because this is, people seem to be saying it does.
Phil May: Young kids are hearing it for the first time, find it quite stimulating.
Be sure to check out Classic Rock Mine, Saturday nights from 9pm-11pm, to hear the music of the Pretty Things and other obscure classic rock goodness.
At Classic Rock Mine we are dedicated to turning you on to classic rock that you would not otherwise hear. You may be familiar with some of the bands we play, but you won’t hear the same tired singles that myopic, commercial radio stations play to death. Classic Rock Mine goes beyond those familiar bands to bring you classic rock artists that you have never heard before, such as Lucifer’s Friend.
Lucifer’s Friend is a perfect example of a foreign band that had considerable success in their native country, Germany, but failed to make a dent in the US. Lucifer”s Friend traces their musical roots to the group German Bonds, whose first recordings were released in 1965. In 1970, members of German Bonds hooked up with John Lawton, former vocalist for the British band Stonewall, and future vocalist for Uriah Heep. The newly formed group put out two albums in 1970, the first under the name Asterix, was an upbeat, hard rock effort and the second was Lucifer’s Friend’s self-titled debut.
The Lucifer’s Friend sound on this first album is a heavy mixture of keyboard and guitar driven hard rock, early metal, and prog, comparable to Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Lucifer’s Friend’s next three albums were: “Where the Groupies Killed the Blues,” (1972), “I’m Just A Rock & Roll Singer,” (1973) and “Banquet,” (1974). Each varies slightly from the other, but the band never loses their heavy edge. Lawton would leave the band in 1976 and join Uriah Heep the following year, only to return to Lucifer’s Friend in 1981. The band parted ways in 1982, but re-formed for a last gasp in 1994.
Bottom line, if you dig early metal, you will dig Lucifer’s Friend. Start with the first album and then give the second a try. You won’t be disappointed. If you’d like to learn more about Lucifer’s Friend, consult your local library. Or, better yet, just tune into Classic Rock Mine Saturday nights from 9pm-11pm.
Classic Rock Mine is dedicated to bringing you the best in classic rock music. I go beyond the traditional playlist of commercial classic rock stations to bring you a better variety of classic rock music. B sides by artists you know; A sides by artists you don’t know, including top acts from around the world. You’ll hear great classic rock that rocks from places like Japan, Norway and Argentina, as well as the US and UK. If you love classic rock, I mean really love classic rock, then you will dig my show.
US and UK bands in regular rotation include Mott the Hoople, Uriah Heep, Eric Burdon, Nazareth, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Oak Arkansas, Mountain, Johnny Winter, and of course, Foghat. International artists you can discover on the show include Lucifer’s Friend (Germany), Pappo’s Blues (Argentina), The Human Instinct (New Zealand), Flower Travellin’ Band (Japan), and November (Norway). Upbeat and rocking, and chock full of great classic rock that hasn’t been overplayed to death, Classic Rock Mine is sure to satisfy. Saturday nights from 9pm-11pm right here on WMFO!