Pickering Pick Discusses The Spirituality Of Richard & Linda Thompson’s Pour Down Like Silver

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“Songwriter’s Point of View” is an ongoing segment we try to keep going on a regular basis, but that’s a hard thing to do. Regardless, it’s always worth it when I get something as insightful as this piece from Pickering Pick. For as long as I have been listening to his albums, I have always heard and felt some kind of spiritual mysticism that I haven’t been able to extract from other albums and now I know why.


I have long since given up trying to categorize my favourite records or rationalize why I like them. I don’t walk around my house trying to decide which piece of furniture I like best, and I don’t sit on my patio and compile a Top Ten of trees in my garden. The green Moroccan armchair my wife bought twelve years ago is comfortable, and I love my guavas, especially in the late spring time.

Similarly, I listen to a lot of different albums from different musicians and I don’t have a favourite, but if I did, it would be Pour Down Like Silver. This is probably the single album which comes closest to connecting with me on all the levels which matter.

The Richard Thompson I hear on Pour Down Like Silver is an altogether different fellow from the Richard Thompson who wrote “The End Of The Rainbow” less than two years earlier on I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight. That song is a profound slice of cynical pessimism, concluding an album peopled with drunkards, beggars and whores. Pour Down Like Silver could not be more different; in the course of eight songs (and four in particular), Thompson announces his arrival at a sort of spiritual gatehouse, a new home which finally allows him some emotional respite.

I am very fond of spiritual recordings, especially when they come from musicians more generally known for secular songwriting. Several of my most-loved LPs are by artists who have undergone some sort of spiritual transformation, and who explore their new religiosity in their songs: Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call, Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming, The Waterboys’ This Is The Sea, Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans and The Innocence Mission’s Christ Is My Hope have all been played many hundreds of times in my house, and I find the mystical energy of those records immensely appealing. The fragile intensity, or the furious conviction, of a new convert can turn a simple song into a powerful, honest experience.

Some time after finishing I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and during the recording of Hokey Pokey, Richard & Linda Thompson adopted the esoteric, mystical Islamic tradition of Sufism, and it is that conversion which informs the entire atmosphere of Pour Down Like Silver. The arrangements are familiar — if sparser — versions of Richard’s Anglo-Scottish folk-rock, bisected at times by his incandescent electric guitar playing, but despite sounding very much like a Richard & Linda Thompson record, there are elements which set it apart from anything that came before, or anything since; something only hinted at on the lovely 1974 song, “A Heart Needs A Home”, from Hokey Pokey.

There’s a sense of solace and rest which permeates Pour Down Like Silver, a feeling of belonging, maybe, or a sigh of relief. It is more palpable when you hear it in relation to the nervous anxiety and grim pessimism of the previous albums, but even standing alone, the songs on this record flow with a new-found ease which speaks to a calmer mind, a release from fear and worry. “Night comes in like some cool river”, Richard sings on the epic fourth track, opening up a prayer book of desire and regret:

Oh the songs pour down like silver
They can only break my heart
Drink the wine, the wine of lovers
Lovers tired of being apart

The song aches with longing for a spiritual union — the lover this time being Allah, or God, or whatever you want to call it. In “For Shame Of Doing Wrong”, Linda’s voice plays chase with Richard’s voice, round and round in circles, repeating the same refrain: “I wish I was a fool for you again”. Regardless of what eventually became of their marriage, I have little doubt that Richard and Linda loved each other once, but even so they refrain from addressing each other on this album. These songs are devotionals to the object of their faithful spiritual desires; mantras at time, love songs and songs of thanksgiving, and they are never less than compelling.

“Dimming Of The Day” is probably the best-known song from the album, primarily because it has been covered by so many notable musicians: Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Dave Gilmour have all had a crack at it, but whenever I hear a cover all I hear is a pretty melody and a nice lyric. In the mouths of Richard and Linda, however, the song takes on a far greater significance. Linda ploughs the verses, and Richard joins her on the refrains. In the final verse, we almost imagine Allah finally speaking back to his devotees:

I see you on the street in company
Why don’t you come and ease your mind with me?

It is almost unspeakably lovely just like that, but when the song fades away and segues into Richard’s solo instrumental coda, a re-imagining of James Scott Skinner’s “Dargai”, I am compelled to stop doing whatever it is I am doing and just listen. Shivers down my spine every single time.

“Dimming Of The Day” is extraordinary, but the towering achievement of Pour Down Like Silver is the quiet, reflective devotional “Beat The Retreat”, which features a solo Richard Thompson on a woody-sounding acoustic guitar, with some almost imperceptible overdubs and a sturdy, solemn percussion line.

I’m trailing my colours back home to you
I’m trailing my colours back home to you
This world is filled with sadness
This world is filled with sadness
This world is filled with sadness
I’m running back home to you

The song is a study in simplicity, a heartfelt apology and an acknowledgment of his desire to be reconciled with his spiritual companion. Richard’s vocal delivery is always interesting, but on “Beat The Retreat” it displays a humility which matches his restrained guitar playing. People that know Richard Thompson know that he’s capable of superhuman feats on the guitar. He is simply the greatest living British guitar player, and he has been so for forty years. So to hear him play with such reserve and grace actually adds to the impact of the song. To take the best composition on your record and then play it with modesty and humility takes the sort of discipline that most artists don’t have. And how old was Richard when he recorded this? 25?

For me, it is probably the most perfect example of the marriage of substance and arrangement, lyric, delivery and emotional honesty by any musician on any record. It’s what I hear in my head when I think about what I’d like my own music to sound like. And to a lesser extent that is true of the entire album. The arrangements are solid, but sparse, with great peaceful spaces in between the percussion, guitars, vocals, and the lovely accordion which at once conjures both a British folk atmosphere and a reedy, diaphanous eastern element which serves to enhance the aura of quiet mysticism.

Having said all of this, and listened to the album through a few more times this morning, I’m still not sure how to quantify my love of this record. I’m profoundly grateful to have discovered it all those years ago. I don’t know what I would do without it. It is peace and grace and humility and harmony and honesty, and if you don’t crave those things, then perhaps it will never reach you on the level it reaches me. But give it a try anyway.

Buy Richard & Linda Thompson’s Pour Down Like Silver
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