His account begins gently but blossoms into a gripping reflections on early tragedy, his conversion to Sufism, and a first marriage whose dramas were played out on stage. He is not the first to describe the progression from skiffle and folk music to rudimentary beat groups made up of schoolfriends and onwards to rock’n’roll – and, in his case, to a particularly significant variant of the basic form. But he does so with a fond and precise recall of such details as witnessing “the arrival of a new culture” at the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace, where he sees John Lennon “wandering around, looking every inch an impersonation of himself, with his moustache, NHS spectacles and Afghan jacket”.
All of this makes Beeswing a lively, straightforward telling of an exciting time, with some nice evocations of the charismatic women on the scene. Sandy Denny, Fairport’s lead singer during their golden period, comes across as tough but painfully sensitive, a British Janis Joplin. Anne Briggs, a pure-voiced folkie who inspired Thompson’s song Beeswing, is an untameable free spirit: “wild, impetuous, impossible to chain down”. And then there is his rather more worldly former wife Linda, dealing with the realities of her husband’s latest obsessions while also raising a family and keeping her own singing career alive. When he discovers Sufism she goes along with it for a while but you have to feel for her as he becomes all holier-than-thou, as the recently converted are wont to do.