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The ’70s, Deleted

Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson
Joe Boyd was of course a visionary record producer, one of the greats, but at that time some of his ideas were possibly out of step with what the audience – and critics – expected. By the mid-’70s, in the wake of the success of American names like James Taylor and English acoustic songwriters like Al Stewart and Cat Stevens crossing over to the mainstream, there was a new audience for acoustic songwriters with denser production, rock rhythm sections, orchestras, keyboards, kitchen sinks and the like. At the time of Drake’s first release though, the main UK audiences were from folk clubs and colleges and still finding such things intrusive. Al Stewart had been inspired by the orchestrations on Judy Collins’ In My Life album to go that route on his debut Bedsitter Images, for example, and it really wasn’t well received.

But whereas Nick Drake sank without much trace at the time, in spite of the benefits of mainstream distribution and promotion, our little Village Thing label working out of Bristol with much smaller resources could regularly sell several thousand copies of our releases by – I’ll argue better – singer/ songwriter/ guitarists like Steve Tilston, Dave Evans or Wizz Jones. Reviewers at the time praised the fact that their records weren’t overburdened with session musicians extraneous to how the artists generally performed live, because there was clearly a growing trend to do otherwise. And today, of course, with the huge decline in instrumental standards amongst landfill singer/ songwriters, those records sound astonishing by comparison.

Evans, Tilston and our other Jones boy, Al, may have been more popular performers and record-makers at the time, but they weren’t living in London or a country commune, recording for a major, produced by a ‘name’ or hanging out with members of one of the golden circles. Worse for legend, they didn’t disappear over the horizon in a gypsy caravan, come equipped with an iconic set of Keith Morris photos or terminate their own lives (though Al Jones did his best for commercial suicide by moving to Padstow and becoming a coastguard). On a sliding scale of mythology-creation points, they barely register. So far they’ve not turned into the Garfield Akers of their generation by being included in a taste-making compilation. Nor have they been fêted in any new-genre defining features like Richard Morton Jack’s ground-breaking April 2005 Strange Folk piece in Record Collector which established the likes of Forest, Trader Horne, Trees, Spirogyra, Vashti Bunyan, Comus, the Sallyangie and Synanthesia as Strange Folk royalty and sellers of old vinyl at unfeasible prices. At the time of original release, though, few people were that bothered about most of those bands. Often they only had a reputation at all because they’d been picked up by a major label A&R man and got their LPs advertised in Melody Maker and Sounds. That’s history for you.

One of the Village Thing stable whose original vinyl has at least got into the silly money stakes is New Zealand songwriter/ guitarist Chris Thompson, but that’s because his eponymous album, like Vashti Bunyan’s, only sold just over a hundred copies. This wasn’t through any musical faults of his own, though (as imminent CD re-release by Sunbeam will prove), but because faltering distributors Transatlantic had to eventually find a creative way of disposing of massive over-pressings of Pentangle’s post-Basket Of Light albums. Thus their vans curiously acquired a habit of being stolen and the contents – which naturally were bound to include a certain amount of other Transatlantic-distributed stock as well, to be convincing to the insurance company – were lost or destroyed (by fire, or dumping into a canal…). Many low-selling albums end up among the stock of cheap deletions out there depressing the market, but not Chris Thompson’s or his label-mates Lackey & Sweeney.

fRom fRoots 328, October 2010


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