TENSIONS and fears are, understandably, running high around the country…
at this very moment. RJ Thompson, at the top of this interview, reflects on the awful week we have endured but chats about his new track, London. Trying to, as he states, “rationalise” the Brexit vote; the northern songwriter put pen to paper and another motivation: a phrase that he heard whilst on a tour of the River Thames (“If the lions are drinking, London is sinking”). I ask about the song’s messages and how Thompson himself feels about the way the country has been divided. Following the recent Manchester terrorist attack, unity is, of course, back among us but that feeling of political cracks and differing opinions is in the air. Thompson tells me about the city of Newcastle – he lives just outside – and what the scene is like there.
I was curious to know the albums and artists that have made an impression on him. Having recently performed a (memorable and talked-about) cover of Bob Dylan’s The Times Are A-Changin’ – apt considering the political nature of his music – if artists like him are important. I get word and update on Thompson’s forthcoming album and whether it will be a political affair: he tells me more about idols such as Ryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen and how support from stations such as BBC Radio 6 Music and Radio 2 feels.
Hi RJ, how are you? How has your week been?
I’m fine in myself, thank you.
Although I, like everyone, are really saddened by the events of the last couple of days.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Yeah, sure. My name’s RJ Thompson. I write songs and sing them at people in the hope that they like it. Haha!
London is the new video/song. Its origins might sound obvious but what is the song about?
A couple of years ago, I was in London with my family and we took a sightseeing boat trip on the River. The tour guide explained to us the history behind the lions head statues – that line The Thames – and he used an expression: “If the lions are drinking, London is sinking“.
I wrote that down… it always stuck with me.
Then, last summer, in an attempt to rationalise some of the aftermath from the Brexit vote, I started to write this song.
The opening line – “They say that London would sink in a day, so put on a show/Well the lions are drinking today and I’m watching the river overflow” – is, obviously, a direct reference to that old saying. But then, the rest of the song focuses on the story of an immigrant who feels alienated and how she found hope within the chaos.
The video documents the last, crazy, months we have witnessed. Was it quite a challenging video to put together and how was it to film/compile?
It was actually really easy. I think all of us have felt bombarded by the events of the last twelve months – whether you agree with some of the things that have happened or not.
I wanted to make a video that reflected that but also focused on sending a message, as cheesy as it sounds, of standing up and fighting against things you don’t agree with.
Your last song, The Times They Are A-Changin’ (the Bob Dylan cover) is a bit of a departure from London. What was the decision to record that Dylan classic and was it a natural inspiration for a song that looks at chaos, displacement and turbulence?
The band and I put the Dylan cover into our live set last summer after the Referendum. It really resonated with people at the live shows and had loads of people asking me to record it – so we did.
In terms of politics and the way things are unfolding; what are your views on the upcoming vote and how the country is progressing?
Personally, I don’t like it. I feel like we, as a country, are becoming more inward and closed in our views. I also truly believe that the wool is continuously pulled over our eyes by certain sections of the government and media in an attempt to influence us into feeling a certain way or, for example, believing that immigration is the root of all of our problems.
That, to me, is bullshit, and is being rammed down our throats in an effort to cause division and fear.
I also have really strong feelings about the recent cuts to arts funding; particularly in my home region.
I believe an album is forthcoming. What can you tell us about that?
Yeah, the album is currently being mixed. I’m aiming to have it out in the world in September. It’s pretty political in its lyrical content but it’s disguised in a wave of Pop goodness, haha!
You are, originally, from Newcastle. Are you still based there at the moment and how does the music scene there differ to other parts of the U.K.?
Yeah, I live just outside of Newcastle.
There are some really, really great local bands but it does worry me that the government cuts are having a stifling effect – with less schools encouraging creativity and music venues closing at a scary rate.
Your sound has been compared to Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Are these big heroes of yours? Who are the artists you grew up listening to?
Yeah, they are big influences. You can hear that in some of the music I think, although I do venture more into the Pop world that they do. I just like great songwriters: people who can make you think.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ian West | Photographer
I know you are about to announce a U.K. tour – including three dates supporting Jools Holland. How are you feeling about that and where will you be visiting on the tour?
We’ll be announcing all the dates in the next few weeks so can’t really comment much more on it, but I’m excited.
The new album tracks are quite different so I’m looking forward to the challenge of making them work live.
What are the plans for the remainder of the year in terms of music and other ambitions?
The album and the tour.
Then, back into the studio to work on whatever comes next.
How does the ongoing support from the likes of BBC Radio 2 and ‘6 Music motivate and inspire you as an artist?
It’s just really lovely that people from those stations are supportive. I would be making music either way but their support is so helpful in getting it in front of more people.
If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most to you; which would they be and why?
Ryan Adams: Gold – The album that really made me focus my songwriting.
Bruce Springsteen: Darkness on the Edge of Town – well, it’s just a masterpiece in my opinion.
U2: Joshua Tree – it reminds me of my childhood: big U2 fans in our family.
PHOTO CREDIT: Acoustic Magazine
It sounds like, with all this new music and touring, you could do with a rest. If you could have a perfect, Ferris Bueller-like day off, what would that consist?
Spending time with my wife and little boy. Maybe taking in a Newcastle United game; window-shopping at every guitar shop (ideally, more than window shopping) and plenty of good food!
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Don’t be afraid, if you think you’re ready, to approach people for the best gigs.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Ryan Adams – When the Stars Go Blue.
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