Linda Thompson: A special voice that keeps disappearing

The folk-rock icon recalls the highs and lows of a great career

Like great rivers, some voices go further, deeper, wider than others. Wrap them around a great song and they'll take you places you don't ever quite return from. Once heard, the voice of British folk-rock icon Linda Thompson is not forgotten. And like a river half-underground, half in spate, Thompson's voice is all the more special because, so often, it is simply not there.

Afflicted by dysphonia since 1973, the condition has more or less guaranteed that live performances these days are non-existent, and records come every six years or so – there have been three solo albums since her return to the studio with 2001's Fashionably Late. Even today, as I arrive at her west London home, she is afraid of her voice – her speaking voice – giving up on her as we sit at a large dining table with a pile of her latest album's covers – Won't Be Long Now – awaiting her signature.

"My singing voice was great a couple of weeks ago in New York," she says. "Now I can barely speak. I'm just having a bad episode at the moment." I first met Thompson a decade ago, when the seminal albums she made with former husband Richard – the likes of I Want to See The Bright Lights Tonight and Pour Down Like Silver – had just been re-released with extra tracks and live cuts that confirmed the power of her voice. Since then, she has released the excellent Versatile Heart, led a star-studded live show of music hall songs at the Lyceum and is preparing to release Won't Be Long Now.

The album is a family-and-friends affair. Ex-husband Richard Thompson even guests on the opening track, the starkly uncompromising "Love's for Babies and Fools". "I wrote it about Rufus (Wainwright) when Kate [McGarrigle] stayed here before she died," says Thompson, "and I played her a little bit of it, and she said, 'You've got to finish it, you've just got to,' and I did, and she died, and it was just nice to do it. Richard liked the song so he did it too."It ranks with the best she's done – and after five decades in music, that's no mean feat. "It's 30 years since their final, tumultuous tour for Shoot Out the Lights. "Musically that was very good. It was terribly difficult personally, but it freed me up a lot – I'd had a lot of health problems and suddenly they vanished." Three decades on, and what were once schisms are long-faded, well-trodden patterns in the family carpet.

The album's title song, penned by her eldest son Teddy, bears the discomforts of time and mortality. "Father Son Ballad", draws on his relationship with his father. "I like that," she says. "It's very integrating somehow, and brings the three of us close together. "Most of her family appear on it, – as well as Teddy, there's Kami and Muna, Richard's son Zak, and family friend Eliza Carthy. While the turmoil of her break-up with Richard has long settled, the four years spent in a dour-living Sufi commune in Norfolk have been tougher to shake off. It was a spirit-breaking rather than spirit-raising regime: "It wasn't good for me. And I hate to say it, and I've never said it in my life before, but Richard's a good man, but he was not good for me. That whole lifestyle just wasn't good. It shook me up."

While Won't Be Long Now suggests closure, there is, in fact, a lot more in the pipeline. "I've got an album of music hall songs that we did live at the Lyceum," she says. "Teddy's producing a family record, and we'll all write a couple of songs. And I'm trying to make a record with Ann Savoy and Emmylou Harris." Not bad for a singer whose voice spends half its life underground. "I'd like to work more," she says, "and not to be so afflicted by this thing, but I just try to battle through it."

'Won't Be Long Now' is out now

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London