An occasional series on rediscovered treasures
1983’s Hand of Kindness is the second of Richard Thompson’s first solo albums; Henry the Human Fly after he left Fairport, this one after the break-up with wife Linda. It’s hard to pick a favourite RT — so many mean so much — but this one’s very near top of the list.
Is it a break-up album? Yes, of course; though he’s never the most autobiographical of songwriters, it’s hard to listen to Poisoned heart and a twisted memory without sharing the anguish of a relationship ending. Shoot out the Lights, the previous record, and the last by Richard and Linda, was also largely concerned with the torture of breaking love, and it was full of Thompson’s (then) trademark doominess. Yet Hand is an emerging-on-the-far-side album, too: there’s forgiveness and tenderness in How I wanted to, in the lovely, oblique Devonside, and in the title track itself.
And it recaptures the humour that was lost after Henry: the wired thrill of training a no-hope racehorse in Both ends burning or — especially — the madcap riffing through increasingly bizarre scales in Two left feet.
The line-up on the record is less a formal band, more a bunch of mates and muckers: Simon Nicol, Clive Gregson, John Kirkpatrick, Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg and Pete Zorn. I get a powerful feeling of the lads working hard in the studio but having a great time as well. Added to which there’s a new freedom and ferocity to Thompson’s singing and playing.
Looking back, the next few RT albums are a slight let-down. There are classics on each (Al Bowley’s in Heaven; Waltzing’s for Dreamers) but they were recorded in the USA, produced by Mitchell Froome, and today sound plasticky and slick. Hand was recorded in London, except for a few overdubs, with production (and cash-strapped cover photography) by Joe Boyd. It’s full of raw new energy and purpose, from the opening skirl of sax and squeezebox in Tear stained letter. As the great man says in Both ends burning:
just kept howling all of the night, and that’s the reason I sing.