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'Beeswing': Memoir of a folk music master

Richard Thompson's love of folk music comes through

Richard Thompson's love of folk music comes through in his memoir "Beeswing." Credit: TNS/Workman Publishing

BEESWING by Richard Thompson, written with Scott Timberg (Algonquin Books, 304 pp., $27.95)

Musician Richard Thompson mentions a lot of names in his new memoir, but you never get the feeling that he's name dropping. It's just that he's been around for a long time and he's worked with just about everyone.

"Beeswing," written with Scott Timberg, is a festival of the folk-rock world of the 1960s and '70s. It begins with little Thompson, age 6, asking his parents for a guitar. (They "warmly responded with a succession of plastic ukuleles.")

He goes on to write in great detail about starting the British band Fairport Convention in 1967 while a teenager. The book concludes around 1976 when he was still collaborating with then-wife Linda.

More than a typical celebrity memoir, "Beeswing" is thoughtful, well written and at times very funny. Thompson writes with real grief about the horrendous car crash that killed two people as the band was returning from a gig, and he talks frankly about how that accident affected him for years. "In 1969 no one thought of counseling or therapy. With British fortitude you soldiered on," he writes.

He's a generous memoirist, giving credit to musicians who influenced him and downplaying his own remarkable skills. While there are plenty of references to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle — at least until he became Muslim — on the road Thompson seems more interested in bookstores, books and playing Scrabble.

With his sophisticated songs and distinctive guitar work, Thompson, 72, has long been the thinking person's musician. Turns out he's also the thinking person's memoirist.

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