Henry The Human Fly
After five studio albums with Fairport Convention, then two years as a session musician, Richard Thompson had only just turned 23 when he released his solo debut. It was slammed by British critics and at one point the worst ever selling album on Warner Bros. Records in the United States. Yet in retrospect it’s attained a far more hallowed status in Thompson’s catalogue, and while I don’t entirely agree with the stature it’s now held in, it’s a fascinating bridge between Thompson’s Fairport Convention work and his classic collaboration with Linda I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight. The arrangements are much less rock oriented than Fairport Convention’s, with the drummer counting time rather than providing propulsion, and there is less focus on Thompson’s guitar and more on his song writing. Guest musicians include former Fairport Convention members Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings, and Thompson’s future wife Linda Peters, on backing vocals, while the rhythm section of Timmy Donald and Pat Donaldson and accordionist John Kirkpatrick appear on many subsequent Thompson projects.
Henry The Human Fly does have tangible glimpses of greatness, and its main flaw is simply that it ends limply. The excellent ‘Roll Over Vaughan Williams’, which marries Thompson’s stinging electric guitar to a jaunty folk melody, and ‘Nobody’s Wedding’, which borrows its instrumental sections from traditional folk song ‘Maire’s Wedding’, are strong openers. The evocative folk melody of ‘Wheely Down’, with its minimalist approach, and the intertwining accordion and guitar in ‘The Angels Took My Racehorse Away’ showcase Thompson’s ideas to experiment with and update the folk genre in different ways to Fairport Convention. The second side is far less memorable, and the lack of energy makes it difficult to digest. The messy ‘Mary And Joseph’ is particularly awkward; cryptic both musically, with its unsettling horn arrangement and lyrically (“Mary is in stitches, she’s tied down on the bed/While Joseph plays a ukulele standing on his head”), an attempt at a contemporary, cynical carol.
Henry The Human Fly is an ambitious, but low key, debut from Thompson; there’s interesting material here, but I’d suggest starting with something more accessible, like I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight or Shoot Out The Lights.