Linda Thompson's English music hall roots displayed on latest album
Linda Thompson sings "I Might Learn to Love Him Later On (Tra-La-La-La)"
Sometimes the tiny stickers that occasionally adorn the shrink wrap of a new CD release serve a necessary purpose—as in the case of Linda Thompson Presents: My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m on the Stage.
“Linda Thompson celebrates the music of the English music hall,” reads the sticker, thereby letting unknowing buyers understand that the disc inside is not a “regular” Linda Thompson album. Rather, it derives mainly from concerts conceived by Thompson and staged in May, 2005, at London’s Lyric Hammersmith theater, with guests including son Teddy Thompson, daughter Kamila Thompson, celebrated cabaret artist Justin Vivian Bond, concertina player Roger Digby, renowned English folksinger Bob Davenport, Irish folk singer Cara Dillon, music director Michael Haslam and The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain’s George Hinschliffe.
But My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m on the Stage also includes a few selections recorded separately following the Lyric Hammersmith shows. Among them are the titletrack, sung by actor Colin Firth, with Squeeze’s Stephen Large on piano; “If It Wasn’t for the ‘Ouses in Between (or the Cockney’s Garden),“ featuring music hall legend John Foreman and recorded at his home with Linda Thompson singing harmony; “London Heart,” sung, whistled and played on guitar by James Walbourne of The Pretenders (also of the duo The Rails, with wife Kamila Thompson); and “Wotcher! (Knocked ‘Em in the Old Kent Road),” by actor and music hall authority Roy Hudd, with Jools Holland on piano and taken from the 2012 BBC documentary Jools Holland: London Calling.
Thompson, of course, is best known as a luminary in the late 1960s and early ‘70s British folk-rock scene—most notably via her recordings with her ex-husband Richard Thompson. But in 1984, she sang with The Home Service at the National Theatre’s production of medieval mystery plays prior to releasing her first solo album One Clear Moment in 1985--and the English music hall songs of the 18th and 19th centuries has always been a big part of her background
“I’m the biggest fan of music hall!” declares Thompson.
“Both sets of grandparents were born in the 19th century, and my dad took me to theaters in London and Glasgow to see [music hall] shows. So I grew up with this music. Yes folks, I’m as old AF!”
Indeed, Thompson’s father grew up a huge fan of the great music hall comedian Max Miller and fellow music hall favorites The Crazy Gang.
“He took me to theaters in London and Glasgow to see shows,“ continues Thompson. “I missed Max Miller, but I knew every word of his act, and all of the songs. I did see The Crazy Gang--who were sensational--and actually worked with one of them, ’Monsewer’ Eddie Gray, in 1967. Monsewer Eddie Grey! Lovely guy.“
Famed music hall comedian Tommy Trinder topped that bill, Thompson adds, but “something made me steer clear of him!”
Thompson sings two songs on My Mother Doesn’t’ Know I’m on the Stage (“I Might Learn to Love Him Later On (Tra-La-La-La)” and “Good-Bye Dolly Gray”), and is part of the album-closing ensemble performance of “Show Me the Way to Go Home”—for which she appropriately notes in the CD liner, “Drunk? Us? How very dare you?”
“I loved the double entendres in the saucy songs, and the yearning in the romantic songs,” she says of the genre. “I know a million of these songs, so it was hard to choose them. In the end I tried to pick a song that would match the performer. Why the guests? So I could go off and have a whisky and a fag and a corned beef sandwich!”
Except for the titletrack, the album was co-produced by Thompson and Edward Haber.
“All the tracks with the applause were the ones from three nights of shows at the Lyric Hammersmith after three days of rehearsal and a dress rehearsal,” says New York-based Haber, who produced Thompson’s last album Won’t Be Long Now (2013) and its preceding album Versatile Heart. “I told her I’d go there and record them, and we slowly mixed the best vocal performances whenever she was in New York.”
But Thompson’s two solo albums took precedence, and in the meantime, “she had ideas for other things for the [music hall] record,” says Haber. “Like Teddy, for example: Colin Firth was a fan of Teddy, and Teddy got him to do a song—and Linda and Teddy went with Colin to a studio in London and Teddy co-produced the track. And James Walbourne—Linda’s son-in-law—wrote a song in music hall style and recorded it on his iPhone and set it to us and it was perfect.”
Haber and Linda Thompson also went to John Foreman’s London apartment and recorded him in his kitchen with Thompson singing harmony.
“On his fridge was a calendar that Pete Seeger had sent him!” recalls Haber.
“So a few things aren’t from the show,” says Haber, lauding Thompson for her two lead vocal songs that were from it, and noting that enough material was left over from the concert tapings for a follow-up CD, which if it happens, will likewise include additional material.