Interview edit: Chris Thompson with David Randall, 16 February 2015 (14:35)
This edit features un-broadcast material from an hour-long feature aired on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on Sunday 22 February. The full feature is now available via Mixcloud
Cherry Red Records [Release date 26.01.15] 2-CD set
It surely must be time for a reappraisal of Chris Thompson? Long remembered as the frontman of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (MMEB) during their most productive period he has subsequently kept a rather lower profile.
‘Jukebox – The Ultimate Collection’ is a fair enough introduction to his work although it should be pointed out that the scourge of anthologies – the “live” or “alternate” version because of licensing issues – is ever present.
Whilst there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that – Thompson has always surrounded himself with excellent musicians – this compilation may not be the definitive statement of his work. However, it emerges as preferable to the Berlin set (reviewed in 2012) that contained almost fatal flaws as an update of his work (be aware it does include some of those Berlin tracks) and it is also a more satisfying update of the older Voiceprint releases ‘Backtrack’ and ‘Timeline’ although again duplicating tracks.
This latest foray through his back catalogue is enhanced by his own annotations and, yes, he does own up about those live versions. The liner notes do lack comprehensive recording data, not least the featured musicians, although we know that Brian May appears on the ballad ‘A Shift In The Wind’ whilst Mavis Staples sings on the excellent ‘The Fire’ and Chris Spedding provides acoustic guitar for ‘Thunderchild’. It would also have been helpful if the liner had indicated on which album these songs originally appeared.
There are several tracks included from his most recent solo album ‘Toys And Dishes’ whilst the “iconic” tunes are all present and correct, notably a rocked up ‘Mighty Quinn’ (a staple in the MMEB live set), ‘Runner’, ‘Blinded By The Light’ and ‘Davy’s On The Road Again’.
Amongst the highlights there is an excellent version of ‘Father Of Day’ (a MMEB song that pre-dated Thompson’s time in the band) and ‘Spirits In The Night’ which wasn’t originally sung by Chris, ‘Cold Wind Blowing Across My Heart’ (when he fronted LA-based band Night) and ‘One Man Mission’ recorded with Mike ‘City Boy’ Slamer in 2000. And the soul boy in me does rather like ‘Beat Of Love’ from his 1991 solo album of that name whilst the track he recorded during a late-night session in 2002, ‘What World’, is another stand-out.
One noticeable thing about this collection: there are a lot of cover versions, perhaps following the precedent of his former band whose biggest hits were covers. The inclusion of ‘You’re The Voice’ reminds us that Thompson co-wrote that massive hit for John Farnham in 1986 and must have kept his bank manager happy ever since whilst ‘The Challenge’ (co-written with Harold ‘Axel F’ Faltermeyer) was a No.1 hit in Germany in 1989 and – again – very AOR.
Earlier, in 1979, Thompson had sung the theme to the film ‘The Champ’ – ‘If You Remember Me’ – which strangely is credited to Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Beyer Sager when originally Thompson’s songwriting credit appeared on the single.
At times, vocally, Thompson reminds of an older Jim Stapley or Chris Ousey, he always has that soulful edge to his delivery. I wonder whether his more recent exile to Scandinavia and Germany where he frequently plays gigs has worked against him in terms of wider public perception since the late 1990′s after he had left MMEB. Compare and contrast with Paul Carrack (with whom he also shares some vocal and stylistic similarities) who gigs solidly year on year in the UK.
Maybe this 2-CD set is Cherry Red’s first stab at making some sense of Thompson’s heritage and it would be good if it led to reissues of all his solo works, at very least.
I don’t think Chris has been best served by labels in the past – there’s been a fair amount of recycling and re-recording and shoddy packaging – and if this goes a little way to restoring his profile – and securing the listener’s re-appraisal – it will be a job well done, even if not exactly the definitive article. ****
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
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