***The Track Playing is 'Beanpole' from the Whatever Next CD/Vinyl and Whatever's Best CD for sale here.
Danny was born in Teignmouth, Devon on 4th April 1939 the son of a miner. At the outbreak of World War ll Danny's father joined the Royal Navy, sadly he was lost in action whilst crewing submarines. Danny and his mother were soon to suffer another tragic loss, with the death of his sister. When he was six his mother moved the family to Battersea, hoping that she could find employment in the city.
Danny attended Salesian College in Battersea where he excelled at football, playing as a Chelsea junior, and also boxing. It was also at this school where Danny began to feel his passion for music. He dabbled with the guitar, mandolin, trumpet and trombone and of course the double bass. Danny says "I tried everything else but when I got hold of the bass, that was it". Money was still hard to come by so he decided to improvise, he built his own out of a tea chest, with piano wire for strings and and even hinges so that it was collapsible. "The main influence when I was a kid was the blues and especially Big Bill Broonzy." Danny started his first band, "like all fourteen year old kids we got a band together, my mate Paddy on mandolin and guitar, and me on tea-chest bass."
At fifteen Danny left his family home and rented a room. Thankfully he was now in his own room because above his door he pinned a big sign which read PRACTICE! And practice he did getting up at 7am to practice for ten hours most days.
It was easier to get on with his musical career with the freedom of his own environment. "We used to play the Skiffle Cellar and the King's Head pub in Gerrard Street. I remember my mate Paddy saying, "We're having Danny on this because no one gets his sound on a tea chest!" I often think I was destined for this 'sound' business."
Then the beloved ‘Victoria’ came in to his life. Danny heard that an old man in Battersea had an acoustic bass for sale. "I went running round and sure enough there was a bass, a great big black thing. The owner was an old boy, he must have been about eighty-five years old. I asked him how much he wanted and he said five pounds, which was a lot of money to me. So I asked him whether I could pay it off at five shillings a week and he agreed. I took it away with me and that night I was working with a jazz group and I tied the bass on the top of the car with no cover. It then started to rain and when I got to the gig I had to wipe off the water. The black paint also came off to reveal a beautiful varnish underneath." Danny later took the bass to be valued and was amazed when he was told it was worth £150. "I went back to the old boy and told him it was worth much more than a fiver. He said, 'I know that son, but if you want it and you're really going to do it then just give me the five bob a week like we said." 'Victoria' and Danny have been an ‘item’ ever since. ’Victoria’ was made by the French maker Gand in 1865, the last time she was valued she was worth £30,000. But of course for Danny she is invaluable and will never be out of his life. "Yeah, my absolute beloved. I've tried other instruments, but I've felt worse than unfaithful. It's been like a betrayal. We come as a pair, a partnership. I know every crack, every splinter on her body."
Danny began playing in a Glenn Miller-type youth band. Then by chance he got an audition to perform at USA Air Force bases. Danny recalls "I auditioned at my own flat, and ended up doing Brize Norton as my first professional gig." At sixteen, in between touring the circuit of US Air Force bases as part of a band, Danny got a gig playing at a strip club in Soho called The Spiders Web in Meard Street." I was so embarrassed, bright red in the face, but it was a really good gig to do, because the strippers used to finish about eleven and then because it was a quartet, we used to back the strippers, the strippers would leave at eleven and then all the musicians from all the clubs and restaurants used to come down because we had a resident rhythm section and we used to jam until five in the morning." Danny went on to meet Tubby Hayes, Phil Seaman and Pete King in those jam sessions, "I got to play with some phenomenal musicians...I was only young and my harmonic sense wasn't developed, but I could drive things along. I was always being encouraged; the others gave me heaps of friendly advice, but were never patronising."
Danny's first regular gig was with the Nat Allen Orchestra who had a residency at the Locarno Ballroom in Streatham. For the first time he was earning good money but unfortunately he was arrested after a performance at The Palais in Nottingham!!
Having been on the road he was unaware that he had been called up for National Service. Three days before he joined the army he married Daphne Davis in Paddington, London, then off he went to Winchester Barracks. Dear ‘Victoria' and of course Daphne had to wait a while for Danny. Whilst in the army Danny joined the band and served his three years. "It was weird they'd never had a professional musician in the band before! But I was told to forget the bass; I needed something I could march with." He tried bassoon and trumpet and finally decided on the trombone, he was soon playing lead trombone in the regimental band. Many years later Danny discovered, to his great delight, that his uncles, Harold and Albert Thompson, were both brass band players and had played trombone in the world famous Bessie's o' the Barn, the Morris Cowley Works Band and the Manchester CWS Band. Although army life was not something he would have chosen Danny settled down well and became the best recruit of the intake, and also became a regimental boxing champion .
Danny was posted to Penang in Malaysia for two years and of course his love of music took him out-of-bounds to visit the local music clubs. "You weren't allowed anywhere near clubs, of course that's where I went because that's where the bands were, and because I had my hair shorn with the nuts and bolts sticking out, people didn't want to know me because they knew that I was a squaddie...and I said 'well I only want to have a play' and so this Tamil Indian bloke said 'go on let him play' and as soon as I started playing they accepted me! The amiable and talented Danny made many friends and at the end of his service was approached by Radio Malaya and was offered a job. But Danny wanted to get back to his beloved England even though he knew he would be unemployed. When he returned he found that in the 60’s the dance hall scene was changing drastically and a vibrant music revolution was taking place all over Britain.
In 1963 Danny became a father,his son, Danny junior, was also destined to be a musician becoming the drummer in Hawkwind. With a young family and no work Danny became a lorry driver to pay the bills. Then thankfully fate lent him a kindly hand. "I had just come out of the army and I was totally broke. I couldn't get a gig and then I saw there was an opening with Roy Orbison. I said who is he? I don't know him? Someone said he did rock 'n' roll and I said I didn't know his music. I was told you don't have to, just play. So I did and he was a wonderful man; a great person. I did three tours with him and haven't played electric bass since."
He went on to play electric bass on the three tours which included Freddie and the Dreamers, The Searchers, Brian Poole and The Searchers and The Beatles. This was the first time Danny and his double bass were parted on stage.
In 1964 Danny joined Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated replacing Jack Bruce who went on to form Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, Danny was the longest serving member of Blues Incorporated. At the same time he was working with other jazz greats such as Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, Stan Tracey, John Stevens and Harold McNair. In the sixties Britain and Europe in general was welcoming the traditional blues greats with open arms, they could get more well paid gigs in Britain than in the USA. Danny was able to play with some of these greats such as; Little Walter, Josh White, Joe Williams, Art Farmer, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Tom Paxton, John Lee Hooker and Tim Buckley. Danny was making a good name for himself, Melody Maker, the everyman bible of music at the time, ran a front page article naming him the most promising new bass player.
Regular television appearances followed and a residency with Blues Incorporated on the children's programme '5 o'clock Club'. Danny was now also playing in the Johnny Burch Octet which featured Graham Bond and Ginger Baker, The Poetry Band with Pete Brown as well as his own trio 'The Danny Thompson Trio' with Tony Roberts on saxophone and John McLaughlin on guitar. A live CD of this band was issued in 1999 called 'Danny Thompson Trio Live 1967'. Danny also played with the innovative folk guitarist Davey Graham on Folk Blues and Beyond, Large As Life and Twice As Natural and Hat, During this era Danny recorded a tune in a front room that would prove to be timeless, it was the theme to the television series Thunderbirds by Gerry Anderson, "We recorded in a small front room, Barry Gray lived at Edgware in a row of houses and in this room he had a crude recording set up where he did all the music for Thunderbirds."
While recording a television show Danny met folk guitarist John Renbourn. "We got chatting about the folk gigs John did with Bert Jansch, things I'd never heard of, so I later went to one of these gigs and we ended up doing a couple of numbers together." These sessions at the Three Horseshoes in Tottenham Court Road became a regular event and soon Jacqui McShee joined them. The quartet decided to add a drummer to the line up and Danny recommended Terry Cox, they had played together in Blues Incorporated. Pentangle was the result of this collaboration and in 1967, became one of the first supergroups. Pentangle were very successful. The jazz folk fusion was very new, as was the amplification of their music. Pentangle's single 'Light Flight' was used as the theme tune for a TV travel series, and was to become their first hit. This of course led to an appearance on Top Of The Pops, with Jimmy Saville. In 1972, Danny left the group, he had widened the scope of the folk music scene of that time with his innovative solos and general individualism. It was now time to move on and expand his own musical boundries.
Throughout the 60s and 70s Danny continued to play at Ronnie Scott's and played with an eclectic mix of talented musicians such as Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks and Brook Benton. In 1969 he played on 'Congratulations' with Sir Cliff Richards and in the early 70s 'Reason To Believe' with Rod Stewart. He went on to perform with Nick Drake on 'Five Leaves Left' and 'Bryter Layter'. This decade proved to be very busy time for Danny, he played with Harold McNair, Tim Buckley, Donovan, Julie Felix, Mary Hopkin, Ralph McTell, Sandy Denny, Tom Paxton, Marc Bolan and Magna Carta to name but a few. Britain was seeing one of the most productive and successful times for the music business.
It was during this time that Danny met John Martyn at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, USA and this was the beginning of an amazing creative, working, relationship. A match meant to be, they could relate to each other, no words necessary, their innovative magical sounds and good humoured banter was a joy. John was to say of Danny, "Of all the musicians I've come into contact with Danny has taught me the most, particularly about style and jazz technique." They became lifelong friends.
In 1978 Danny took a break from music and set up a film company called Hero Productions with offices in Soho. Danny's love of wildlife led to a meeting with the late John Aspinall, who owned two wildlife parks in the south of England. Hero Productions became well known for making wildlife documentary films such as Passion to Protect, for which won Danny a Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and Echo of the Wild, both of which were subsequently broadcast by the BBC.
Danny's enthusiasm often took him into the enclosures with the animals, it was during this time that Danny met Jim Cronin who was keeper in charge of the primates at Howletts. He warned Danny about getting in with the tigers and gave him the nickname ‘Tiger Thompson’. Jim was very surprised to see Danny playing bass on the television show 'Later with Jools Holland' and he called him to say”Hey Tiger Thompson I saw you on the TV you're a famous bass player!" It was during their time together that Jim told Danny how his ambition was to open a rescue centre of his own for primates. Jim went on to open the internationaly renowned primate rescue centre in Dorset called Monkey World which has grown during the past 20 years from a small refuge to a 65 acre wildlife park that is home to 160 rescued primates.
Sadly Jim Cronin passed away after a short illness on March 17th 2007 at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan and is missed by all whose lives he touched. Jim’s legacy continues under the guidance of his devoted wife, Dr Alison Cronin. Monkey World have set up a fund in memory of Jim to continue his legacy.
Thankfully Danny returned to music in the 1980s and toured Australia and New Zealand with Donovan and was a session musician on albums with Kate Bush 'The Dreaming' and 'Hounds of Love', David Sylvian with, 'Talk Talk' and 'The The'.
In 1987 Danny realised his burning ambition and made a record of his own. "I've always been on the fringe of the jazz world and I had an idea to incorporate elements of jazz and folk music, to make a melodic instrumental album with a distinct English flavour." Featured on this album were Bernie Holland, guitar and Tony Roberts, on tenor alto, flute and Northumberland Pipes, who had played in the Danny Thompson Trio in the mid 1960s. The title 'Whatever' was chosen to anticipate the usual question, "do you play blues, jazz or folk?" 'Whatever' was praised by the critics as a seamless fusion of jazz, blues, rock and folk. In the critic's poll the album was voted fifteenth in that years top 50 jazz albums.
In 1988 came an album with Toumani Diabate and members of the Spanish flamenco group Ketama. Toumani is renowned for playing the Kora, a 21-string cross between a lute and a harp. Collectively they were called Songhai and they became very successful in the World Music charts with their blend of African, Spanish and English musical genres. Danny first met them in Madrid, "I walked in and they were all there playing this amazing music, unbelievably fast. They looked at me and it was like, play really, really good...or you're dead. But we got along fantastically, both the Kora and Spanish guitar are a lot of wood and strings and I have a lot of wood and strings, so it worked...because we like each other. Again music from the heart."
May 1989 saw the release of Dannys second Album 'Whatever Next', it featured Tony Roberts, Bernie Holland and Paul Dunmall on tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones.
The song Wildfinger is dedicated to John Martyn and Beanpole to Sylvia. His third album 'Elemental' was released in September 1990. It was in this same year that Danny and Sylvia got married in Las Vegas after a courtship of some sixteen years.
In 1992 Danny agreed to make a video talking about playing bass and the things that inspired him. The video Bassically Speaking was released and is still an inspiration for many people, young and old, to become musicians.
Danny then decided to take a 10 month course to become a tutor in Community Music. "My main desire is to help perfectly able-bodied kids who feel that the world is ignoring them - the socially orphaned." He went on to run a workshop for 6 months for the Physically Handicapped and Able Bodied (PHAB) in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. He was committed to the project which not only resulted in new musicians but also provided enjoyment, new life skills and confidence to the young people that took part.
1995 became quite prolific for Danny’s recordings because in that year a compilation of music from 'Whatever's Next' and 'Elemental' entitled 'Whatever's Best' was released. Then Danny released an album with Peter Knight the outstanding violinist who to this day is performing his magic with Steeleye Span. The album consists of two improvisational pieces of work, a thirty minute epic called 'Number One' and then a nineteen minute 'Number Two'. The album is simply entitled Peter Knight & Danny Thompson.
Danny's next album 'Singing The Storm' was a collaboration with Scottish Harpist,Savourna Stevenson, and the well known traditional folk singer, June Tabor. The album won critical acclaim and again showcased Danny's open minded approach and his ability to play different music genres. He also went on to tour with Everything But The Girl at the height of their popularity after they had released 'Walking Wounded' in 1996.
The 1990s also saw the beginning of a magical relationship with Richard Thompson. Danny has since toured worldwide with The Richard Thompson Band and also in a duo format. In 1993 Danny performed with Richard Thompson at Crawley. The gig was recorded and the album 'Live at Crawley' was released in 1995.
In 1997 Danny collaborated with Richard Thompson and recorded 'Industry'. Danny and Richard are friends of Mick Wadsworth who is now Head coach at Newcastle Football Club. Mick Wadsworth’s father had worked all his life at Grimethorpe Colliery and his stories of the devastation caused to the local community during the pit closure inspired the album. Danny says "It's not intended as a political album. We're not flag-waving. It tells a story. The album comes from a deep love of the people affected by the change, good people I can identify with. Seeing it happen has touched my heart. Industry is our tribute". He wrote five instrumentals for the album, which reflected his love of 'Englishness'. Also featured on this album are, Danny's uncles, Albert and Harold Thompson - trombone and Peter Knight - Violin, Paul Dunmall - Soprano Sax, Tony Roberts - Tenor Sax, Dylan Fowler - acoustic and electric guitar, Paul Clarvis - drums, David Mattacks - Drums, and Christine Collier - vocals.
Danny underwent major heart surgery in July 1998. Thankfully with determination and a love of life and music Danny is now playing as well as ever. Danny recalls 18,000 fans at the Cropredy Festival singing Danny Boy down the telephone to him as he lay in hospital, "very touching, a bit special for an old plonker bass player." It was the messages of good will and the gifts that made a real impact on Danny and helped give him the strength and inspiration to get back to his performing. Danny confesses to still feeling nervous before he goes on stage, and after all these years he still craves the buzz that he gets from performing live, "I didn't take up music to be in a studio, it's to be on stage, like going on stage is where I'm at and it shows in the music...it's different every night."
Despite this serious operation, three months later , Danny flew to Sarajevo to help organise a concert to celebrate freedom in Bosnia, which saw 10,000 people witness Yusef Islam's (Cat Stevens) first public performance in over twenty years. Danny reflects that this was "a truly wondrous evening of celebration."
Danny worked on Richard Thompson's 1999 album Mock Tudor and in 2002 'The Old Kit Bag'. He was featured on several live albums with Richard Thompson; Semi Detached Mock Tudor, a recording of a world-wide tour in 2000, followed by Ducknapped, 2003 which was the promotional world-wide tour for 'The Old Kit Bag'. 1n 2005 Richard Thompson released 'Front Parlour Ballads' and again Danny was on a world-wide tour this time in a duo format. During this time he also featured on a DVD and a CD release with Richard Thompson, 'Live From Austin TX' a magical performance in Austin Texas with Danny, Richard and also Michael Jerome on drums,
Danny appeared with John Martyn on the Transatlantic Sessions which were later shown by BBC Television. It was during this appearance that the idea of a possible Sunshine Boys Revival Tour!!! The Transatlantic Sessions were released on CD by Iona Records in 1998 and featured Danny playing with Nancy Wilson, Paul Brady, Maura O'Connell, and Roseanne Cash. The Sunshine Boys Revival Tour, with his old friend and partner, John Martyn went on to be a success.
In 1999 Danny was interviewed for the BBC TV series Faces of Islam in which he discussed becoming a Muslim and his realisation of the fact that whilst he had only converted to Islam in 1990, the muslim faith had always been within him. One and a half million viewers watched the programme which was one of a series of four broadcast during Ramadahn. Danny was then invited to present a programme called The Furthest Mosque which was broadcast in 2000. The programme traced Danny's tour of Jerusalem, over 2 million viewers watched the programme and won critical acclaim from many quarters, Shagufta Yaqub wrote, "a remarkably optimistic and positive film, Danny Thompson expressed some inspiring final thoughts, I had just witnessed the most refreshing twenty minutes of BBC broadcasting I'd seen in a very long time."
So here we are in the new millenium and Danny is still giving us all he has! In 2001 he recorded 'Spirit of the Century' with The Blind Boys of Alabama also featuring, John Hammond, Michel Jerome, David Lindley and Charlie Musselwhite. This was to lead on to a very successful world-wide tour with The Blind Boys. He worked with Gomez on their next album and appeared live on their follow-up Tour also.
During February 2006, Danny began his second Tour with Eric Bibb which is in Australia.
Before he left for Australia he made a very hard decision, " after many many years of totally devoted attention to my beloved instrument 'Victoria' Thwaites Basses, Bushey, Hertfordshire have provided me with a 'Czech-Ease Travel Bass'. Because of new airline restrictons, 'Victoria' will now be retired from International Travel. I was very distressed and was forced to consider this option too. But I am very happy with my new 'short-arsed' friend "ALFIE".
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – DANNY THOMPSON
Finally Danny received everything he deserves, two major awards on February 5th 2007
Proof that Danny is loved and appreciated by musicians and fans alike. His passion and enthusiasm for music and life itself is infectious. Go watch him play live when ever you can, feel and watch the rhythm passing though Danny to ‘Victoria’ or newcomer 'Alfie' what a glorious match.
"Music is like a religion, if you want to do something you have to work at it, you have to practice."
February 2006 Biography/Career re-written and updated by Janet Lacey with the help of Danny Thompson and John Hillarbys' previous biography (2001). Laceysjam