Could Richard Thompson Have a Hit Single?

RT+Photo+5On the Friday night before the long July Fourth holiday weekend, I drove alone in my car beneath a dark, threatening sky. As I approached the turnoff to the hamlet of Chappaqua, New York, home of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the rain began to fall but I decided to move forward. A few miles north on the twisty turns of Route 22, the sheets of water — along with the snap, crackle, and pop of the thunder and lightening — forced me to pull off the main road to wait it out.

An outdoor summer concert is always a spin of the wheel when weather chooses to roll in, and I knew Richard Thompson had easily sold out the venue to which I was headed, the intimate Spanish Courtyard at Caramoor, which holds no more than five hundred souls, if that. On the grounds of what once was the summer estate of a prominent and wealthy New York family, the arts and music center is now a seasonal destination for fans of classical, opera, pop, jazz, and American roots music.

Fortunately there are several venues on the sprawling grounds of gardens and trails, and so the show was moved to the larger, tented Venetian Theater. The upside was twofold: more tickets could be sold to those who had previously been denied a seat and whose names sat on a waiting list, and we all kept dry.

I’ve seen Thompson on quite a few occasions over the years, so I was unsurprized when he dazzled and delighted the crowd this night with his usual mix of guitar wizardry, song selections from Fairport Convention and the repertoire he recorded with ex-wife Linda, and titles pulled from his voluminous solo work. With an always comical and interesting stage patter, he was both engaging and sentimental. Acknowledging the recent passing of fellow musician and friend Dave Swarbrick, Thompson spoke of the upcoming 50-year anniversary of Fairport, which he co-founded in 1967. To mark the occasion, he delivered a moving version of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” which has become a standard at many of his concerts.

So the “hit single” thing…

Last year, as a bonus-trackon Thompson’s Jeff Tweedy-produced album Still, he introduced a song called “Fergus Laing,” which is about a wealthy developer who buys property and builds golf courses in Scotland. Sound familiar? It didn’t take much persuasion to get the Caramoor crowd to sing along with glee to the chorus:

Fergus he builds and builds
Yet small is his erection
Fergus has a fine head of hair
When the wind’s in the right direction

With the protest song movement of the 1960s merely a faint memory, it fascinates me that it takes a man from England who lives in Los Angeles to write a song that eviscerates with sarcasm and humor the man whom the Huffington Post describes daily in ways such as this:

Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.

I imagine it’s simply my little dream, but it would be quite the coup if “Fergus Laing” got picked up by social media and terrestrial radio only to spread as fast as the Pokemon Go app. Since nothing else seems able to stop the blonde-haired beast, maybe a song can.

With very few artists as of yet willing to stand up to the Trump Train (I do love the Dixie Chicks), many people might enjoy having an anthem to raise their voices to. Perhaps with just a little promotional push, “Fergus Laing” can stand beside “Eve of Destruction” and “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.”

Here’s the lyrics, and at the bottom is Thompson performing it. (Yes, You Tube’s spelling is incorrect. Let that not deter you. Raise your voice.)

Fergus Laing is a beast of a man
He stitches up and fleeces
He wants to manicure the world
And sell it off in pieces
He likes to build his towers high
He blocks the sun out from the sky
In the penthouse the champagne’s dry
And slightly gassy

Fergus Laing, he works so hard
As busy as a bee is
Fergus Laing has 17 friends
All as dull as he is
His 17 friends has 17 wives
All the perfect shape and size
They wag their tails and bat their eyes
Just like Lassie

Fergus he builds and builds
Yet small is his erection
Fergus has a fine head of hair
When the wind’s in the right direction

Fergus Laing and his 17 friends
They live inside a bubble
There they withdraw and shut the door
At any sign of trouble
Should the peasants wail and vent
And ask him where the money went
He’ll simply say, it’s all been spent
On being classy

Fergus’ buildings reach the sky
Until you cannot see ‘um
He thinks the old stuff he pulls down
Belongs in a museum
His fits are famous on the scene
The shortest fuse, so cruel, so mean
But don’t call him a drama queen
Like Shirley Bassey

Fergus Laing he flaunts the law
But one day he’ll be wired
And as they drag him off to jail
We’ll all shout, “You’re fired!”

This was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside on the No Depression website.

Photo credit: Pamela Littky / richardthompson-music.com