Ex Marks The Spot

The onetime couple's three albums for Island, plus lives and BBC sessions

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There’s undoubtedly an of-a-time and you-had-to-be-there quality to these records, but if they do speak to you, there’s little else that ticks the same emotional boxes. What you’re hearing is the appealing non-combining of two considerable talents. Richard’s guitar-playing is achingly expressive, a whole galaxy more eloquent than his lugubrious voice, and always reined in just so. Linda’s voice is attractive but in a specific way, like a column of jade, beautiful?no question?but hard to find the perfect spot for. Using these ingredients, they made records full of tension and promise, which never sold.

At the start, the optimism of a new relationship and a fresh musical entity is tangible on I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974) a rich, easy-flowing record. Richard’s in charge, with a chance to move into territory he couldn’t, for whatever reasons, properly explore in Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. The prowling, suspenseful “The Calvary Cross” drips with possibility (there’s a terrific extended live version added to this new edition). Richard modestly delivers a major song, “The End Of The Rainbow”, and Linda shines on the plaintive “Has He Got A Friend For Me?” and the eerie “The Great Valerio”. The overtly folky songs seem gimmicky by comparison?the corny “We Sing Hallelujah” is one to skip. Hokey Pokey (1975) attempts the same mixture but the highs are spread more thinly. “I’ll Regret It All In The Morning”, though, is a classic perils-of-drink song.

Throughout these albums, the playing?by members of the Fairport clan, Gryphon and The Boys Of The Lough?is precariously casual, or a testament to restraint, if you prefer, especially on Pour Down Like Silver, when the couple’s sudden absorption in the Sufi religion stalks the background?nothing explicit, just a sense of souls being searched. Sometimes dismissed as a dour record, Silver is actually deliciously sad. I’d love to hear a mix without John Kirkpatrick’s accordion, which can be depressingly cheerful. But the long, brooding centrepieces, “Night Comes In” and “Dimming Of The Day”, rank among Thompson’s finest examples of passion-with-a-lid-on, and Linda’s singing on the latter?a truly beautiful song?should part your nape hair.


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