Strict Tempo! – Richard Thompson

front - letraset heaven!

Not quite sure just how well known RT actually is, he certainly seems to be popular among a subset of bearded males of a certain age -but I’ll take a punt on the fact that this album is one of the lesser known of his records.
Released in 1981 on a then unusually independent label – ELixir – set up I think specifically for this project Strict Tempo! Followed on from the generally unspectacular and guest heavy flop that was Sunnyvista – graced with one of the most hideous covers ever perpetrated This may have been a simple and joyous interlude in the Thompson output – a kind of I’m still here message, and one where he could explore areas normally denied him on the Richard and Linda albums. The subsequent difficulties with the Gerry Rafferty version of what would go on to become the Joe Boyd produced classic Shoot Out The Lights coupled with his affair and the collapse of his relationship with wife Linda would suggest this was a rather difficult time. It’s good news then that the king of doom and gloom could produce something as upbeat and jolly as Strict Tempo.
Basically the album is a collection of mostly traditional instrumentals multi-tracked by Thommo accompanied by percussion genius Dave Mattacks on drums and harmonium, all else is RT.


SO what do we have? New Fangled Reel allows him to wig out on his classic strat, a set of polkas showcases his skill on the tenor banjo, back to the electric for some spellbinding playing on a Scott Skinner medley, a gorgeous solo acoustic version of Banish Misfortune, multitrack acoustics and wheezing harmonium perform a couple of hornpipes (Dundee and Poppy Leaf), and the first side culminates in the sensitive multi-mandolin ensemble of Do It For My Sake.
Side two brings us the standout track for many – a witty and highly accurate rendition of Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ in Rhythm with massed acoustics and mandolins replacing the big band swing of the original. A couple of mandolin jigs lead into a Gene Autry style take featuring dobro loaned from Martin SImpson, on the Will Ye No Cam Back Again medley, one to truly confound any young pretender with its coutry tremolo twang – yeehah!
Two playford tunes follow sounding like they fell from the back of Hutchings/Kirkpatricks Dancing Master, leading us into Andalus-Radio Marrakesh with the introduction of dulcimer for the first time. The album climaxes with a Thompson original, the mighty Knife Edge, where he gets the electric out once more for a spot of magnificent pipe-like skirling!
The album as a whole could, in other hands, have become a kind of showcase for virtuosity, but RT treats the tunes with respect allowing them to do the work, he simply chooses the right instrumentation to do the job and then gets to work with wit and good taste.
Once again available on CD, and with its original hand drawn cover (RT gets the letraset out!) thankfully, and not the poor re-issue.

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