Cover Story: (56) Dimming of the Day. Richard & Linda Thompson, Alison Krauss, Mary Black, Bonnie Raitt ...
Richard Thompson virtually has a season ticket for Salut! Live's Cover Story series comparing different versions of songs. This features one of his finest compositions ....
If Rolling Stone magazine's omission of the Pitman Poet Tommy Armstrong from its list of the greatest 100 songwriters of all time was unfortunate but understandable, leaving out Richard Thompson was arguably negligent enough to warrant criminal prosecution.
Placing Thompson in the top 10 rather than nowhere in his much more interesting alternative list, Martin Chilton* wrote in The Daily Telegraph: "Despite the emotional desolation of some of his songs, there is a wit and jollity to the music of one of the most original songwriters of the modern era."
I heartily concur, while admitting that I rather like the emotional desolation, too.
It's there in abundance in the classic Thompson tearjerker Dimming of the Day, a tale of broken love with just the merest hint of possible reconciliation.
Richard Thompson in concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn NY photographed by Anthony Pepitone
The live version by Richard and Linda Thompson effectively eliminates that lingering hope. It was filmed on the US tour that went ahead despite the breakdown of their marriage and there seems nothing stunted about the pain in Linda's face or voice.
"From 1974 to their split, the couple made six albums, starting with I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight and culminating in Shoot Out the Lights, which was seriously good but unnerving, with its bleak songs seeming to chart a messy marital breakdown," I wrote after interviewing Linda T in 2004 (reproduced in full and well worth a read because of her answers at this link).
"Richard had been seeing an American, Nancy Covey (now his wife), and the marriage was virtually over by the time the record appeared. They went ahead with an American tour, though not without friction; Linda recalls delivering one vengeful kick to her errant husband onstage. "
I have also met Mary Black, several times and once went with her band on a jolly to Bahrain. My choice of her version of this outstanding Richard Thompson song also has a story to it. As I wrote here on a previous occasion:
"It was in Belfast. I happened to be there for work but had not been able to get to the concert.
Mary invited me to join her and the lads for drinks afterwards.
Inevitably, the music started. Everyone had their favourite Mary Black songs; to unexpected general approval, I suggested Dimming of the Day, a song I had heard Mary sing with two others (Bonnie Raitt? Dolores Keane? Maura O'Connell? Emmylou Harris? Thompson himself? Memory fails me on that one). Needless to say, the late-night rendition was perfection. Thanks for that, Mary, and for so many priceless musical moments."
Fittingly the clip is also from a Belfast performance of the song, but one she was paid for.
Alison Kraus is behind one of two American renditions of the much recorded, much covered Dimming of the Day (one amateur YouTuber described her clip as presenting her version of "the Corrs' song").
I am fond of Kraus's singing but had not heard her Dimming of the Day until I started preparing this article. It is quite beautiful and Union Station's accompaniment cannot be far short of perfection.
Finally, because so many listeners speak so highly of it, here is Bonnie Raitt's version, the significant bonus being that she is joined on stage by Thompson R for the purpose.
I do not wish to be dogmatic about a song that is so damned good that loads of artists, among whom we can count Sir Tom Jones and David Gilmore, have sought to put their mark on it.
Forced to choose, I'd put Black's exceptional performance just ahead of the warring Thompsons' but, on another day, would doubtless have that the other way round.
* It was a great idea of Martin Chilton's to compile his rival list of top songwriters. I already knew he was something of a kindred spirit, having bumped into him at a Kate Rusby concert on the South Bank. This being the Telegraph, sloppier than in my time, the top 10 placings do not correspond to those in the full list, where you find Townes Van Zandt (2nd) Ewan MacColl (3rd), Joan Baez (14th), Shane MacGowan (19th), Ralph McTell (64th), Nanci Griffith (75th), Christy Moore (85th) and Sandy Denny (91st). Richard T is either 8th or 10th.
There are also bluesmen and Ray Charles - the subject of a future Cover Story - is, er, 4th or 5th. Martin is now The Independent's chief book critic and if you like football, you'll love his warm, witty Tommy Doherty appreciation