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

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before