Songwriter Session: Richard Thompson

SXSW Panel Reviews

Songwriter Session: Richard Thompson
by Gary Miller

Songwriter Session: Richard Thompson

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 15

No less an authority than Elvis Costello calls Richard Thompson the greatest songwriter Britain has ever produced. Hearing him delve into the details of his craft, his trusty Lowden by his side, only reinforced that sentiment. Thompson spoke about his early inspirations – jazz, Scottish dance records, early rock & roll, the Shadows – and how he wanted to avoid the blues-oriented direction of his Sixties peers by reconnecting Britain with its native music via Fairport Convention. Thompson addressed almost every aspect of songwriting: music or lyrics first, self-discipline, observational writing vs. confessional, prerecording prep, even songs he wished he'd written (Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue"). He also performed "Cold Kisses," "Snow Goose," and a riveting "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" as examples. Most incisively, he demonstrated the way his guitar virtuosity shapes his writing, and extolled the editing process. "What you leave out and suggest is very important," he noted. "You're trying to tell a story. Whatever you can suggest about what happened before can be a very strong feature of the song." He summed up the songwriter's outlook thusly: "If the world was flat, and you're the artist, you're on the rim where you can peek over the edge at the abyss. You're just off to the side enough to comment."

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