Richard Thompson – Vincent Black Lightning 1952

By • Feb 12th, 2007 • Category: Blues, Folk, Music, Through The Past Darkly

Artist: Richard Thompson
Track Name: Vincent Black Lightning 1952,
Playback: mp3
Download?: Yes

A long time ago in a reality far, far away, (I’m pretty sure it goes something like that…) there was a band called Fairport Convention, and somewhere in the early Seventies I heard their truly awesome album “Liege and Leif” and discovered Richard Thompson on guitar and the late Sandy Denny on vocals. 30 plus years later Richard Thompson is still playing and I’m still listening. (yes yes I know I missed his last concert in Melbourne… stuff happens OK).

After Fairport Convention he concentrated on being a solo artist, put out a couple of amazing albums with his wife Linda Thompson and became known for songs with dark lyrics and awesome guitar that combined British folk ballads and the blues. His immediately recognisable guitar style draws from jazz and roots traditions.

If you have to pick one song that covers both his approach to lyrics and guitar playing “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” would be a pretty good place to start.

So, here are two mentions of Vincent Black Lightning 1952 in two interviews 15 years apart…

Richard Thompson: The Greatest Artist You Don’t Know – Arts Extra – Newsweek
Article by By Malcolm Jones

Then, suddenly, there is a voice as old and burnished as time itself singing about a small-time crook’s twin loves for his fantastic motorcycle and his equally fantastic girlfriend (“red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme”).

“1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, first released in 1991, is Thompson’s most requested song, and no wonder. It’s one of those songs that, the first time you hear it, it’s like you’ve known it forever. There’s no fat in the telling of this tragedy of a high-octane highwayman and his lady. The ornament is in the musical setting, although separating things out like that doesn’t serve the song very aptly. What makes “Vincent Black Lightning” work is the way everything works together. Words, music, performance, it’s all one, with a melody nicely tailored to Thompson’s raggedly effective voice, which in turn partners with finger-picked guitar accompaniment nimble enough to banish any hint of gravitational pull for the duration of the song. There really is no explaining how someone plays a guitar that well.

and from 1991.

Richard Thompson: Sway into emotion
Article by By Anil Prasad dated May 22, 1991

Describe the inspiration for “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

It’s about mythology. A lot of mythology is imported into England from America these days. All of the mythical place names used are American because of the influence of popular song, pretty much through the whole of this century since the 1920s. “Going down to Memphis” or “Going down to San Antonio” sounds great. “Going down to Scunthorp” doesn’t. [laughs] So, I really like to try and validate the use of British mythology in British songs. The Vincent is a rather wonderful, rare and beautiful beast. It is an object of myth. There’s not many I can think of in Britain. It’s hard to find these things. So, it’s the center, “the loadstone” around which the characters in the song revolve around. It’s a romantic object. I suppose it’s a story that relates back to older British and Scottish ballad forms where we have an anti-hero central character, and even though he may die in the end, he sort of triumphs and gets one over on society first. It’s a bit like Robin Hood. There were a lot of ballads about Robin Hood in British folk music, always a very popular subject.

Want more? Good isn’t it?

Well you can find an interview with some live performances at the NPR website.
The Music and Life of Richard Thompson

And as well as Vincent Black Lightning 1952, which is from the Richard Thompson Discussion List you can also hear Keep Your Distance and Hard on Me. These songs were selected by the list members as the best introduction to Richard Thompson’s music.

There is a video at just Richard and a his guitar in a hotel room.

I just found this on the web, go to and you can listen to two of my all time favourites. When I Get To The Border and Beeswing.

This is a video of “Matty Groves” taken at the BBC2 2006 Folk Awards, this is the song that started the journey for me. Richard Thompson on guitar and Dave Swarbrick on fiddle….

is fascinated by guitars, music, guitars, production, silly noises, guitars and used to be a musician. Did I mention the thing about the guitars?
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