In these days of pandemic and protest, some of us hold loved ones a little bit closer — if not physically (due to social distancing), then metaphorically.
“Life is precious, loved ones are precious, and it all can be snatched away in a moment,” says Richard Thompson.
The electrifying British guitarist and poetic songwriter affirms our collective angst through a new version of his gorgeous song “A Heart Needs a Home,” which is debuting in NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series. (see video below) The song takes on anthemic proportions as a statement about faith in a troubled world, where selfishness and greed often trump empathy, justice and equality.
Thompson is a deeply spiritual man, who has long written about serious themes. This stirring song demonstrates his spiritual and grounded character.
Singer-songwriter Zara Phillips joins Thompson with her rich vocal accompaniment. The video ends with the two performers warmly smiling at each other, and you get a sense of their deep connection creating shelter from the storm of the coronavirus. Together they make this 45-year old song fresh and relevant.
When I asked Thompson what the song means, he replied: “It’s a song about love in the face of the opinions of others. You can take it as sacred or secular. In these times, we must stand by what we believe in, and stand by those we love, friends and family.”
Through his acoustic guitar, you can hear the influence of traditional ballads; his stunning voice harmonizes with Phillips, who adds depth to the song. Together they create an intimate moment, nestled together without the distractions of a live audience. This is a more casual Thompson, wearing a baseball cap and setting aside his concert vest.
In the original version of the song (which you can listen to below, as well), the haunting voice of Thompson’s former marital and artistic partner, Linda Thompson, caressed the lyrics. In this version, Thompson, who has also recorded the song solo, sings with his emotive voice:
I know the way that I feel about you
I’m never gonna run away, I’m never gonna run away
I never knew the way when I lived without you …
I came to you when no one could hear me
I’m sick and weary of being alone
Empty streets and hungry faces
The world’s no place when you’re on your own
A heart needs a home
Thompson helped invent the genre of British folk-rock in the ’60s as a member of Fairport Convention and, since then, has been one of the world’s most widely celebrated singer-songwriter-guitarists and a prolific recording artist. He first released “A Heart Needs a Home” on 1975’s Hokey Pokey, one of the six studio albums he recorded with Linda Thompson; others include the spectacular I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974) and Shoot Out the Lights (1982).
I asked him if the meaning of the song has changed for him since he wrote it 45 years ago. He replied that he “didn’t realize it was that old! Songs go in and out of the repertoire. It means something different during the last year, more intense.”
The coronavirus lockdown gave Thompson an opportunity to work with Phillips — they both live in Montclair — on her May album, Meditation and KitKats, which recounts her journey of growth through childhood, adoption, addiction, recovery and parenting. Thompson produced and arranged it, and also contributes to the instrumentation and harmony vocals.
Thompson will play in Phillips’ band at her free show (where she will be co-billed with Abbie Gardner of Red Molly), outdoors at Woodbridge High School, July 15 at 7:30 p.m. Visit facebook.com/MusicOnMainStreet.
Thompson also has finished an acoustic EP that he plans to release on July 3. He is planning a Facebook Live launch party, July 5 at 4 p.m. He also says he wants to do some concerts in the Northeast in October, “circumstances permitting.”
Thompson has an unusually engaging rapport with his loyal fans when he’s onstage, and I look forward to his live shows when it is safe to congregate again.
We also should expect the release this year of his book “Beeswing,” a memoir of his life and career from 1967 to 1975 with stories, he said in a prior interview, about his musical colleagues from Fairport Convention, Janis Joplin, and “jamming with Jimi (Hendrix) and jamming with Led Zeppelin.”
When I see Thompson’s tall frame from a distance on one of his walks in Montclair, I don’t think about his many awards or Rolling Stone magazine’s designation of him as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Instead, I see a man who has for now found his heart at home, here.
Previous articles on Richard Thompson and Zara Phillips:
NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.
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