U.K.-based folk archivist Neil Wayne has at least 4,000 admirers in the United States, judging from the number of mail orders his Free Reed label has received in the past few years. Come February, he expects that number to “go up a few cogs.”
That is when Free Reed will issue a previously announced five-CD boxed set covering the career of Richard Thompson. Each disc will be themed, and initial pressings will include a bonus sixth disc, with content still being firmed up. The themes will range from “epic guitar workouts” to “songs based on real people, places and events.”
While details on the Thompson box are still being solidified, it will likely share the sense of humor that has marked previous Free Reed sets. For instance, the “Cropredy Capers” boxed set — dedicated to England’s 25-year-old, Fairport-organized Cropredy Festival — comes complete with a do-it-yourself miniature.
“I had the crazy idea of having a model of the stage and all the festival grounds, with all the Zen food bars and the crowds and the lighting tower,” Wayne explains. “People can cut it and build it — in other words, anoraks, or nerds, as you call them in the U.S.A. Anyone who buys it and makes it must be a nerd, but that’s great.”
Wayne and partner Nigel Schofield have been running Derby, England-based Free Reed for about 25 years. “The initial samplers we did were two CDs, and then we expanded to three, and then we took the leap into commercial suicide and did a long-format Martin Carthy boxed set,” Wayne says. “Then we did Fairport Convention, and we’ve mined that scene quite deeply. Two of the early members, Ashley Hutchings and Dave Swarbrick, have both had boxed sets on Free Reed.”
Another Free Reed boxed set includes a less wholesome extra. “The Dave Swarbrick box is a replica of his fiddle case with a handle on the side,” Wayne says. “In the lid of the box are four bows and a lump of a dubious-looking substance on a piece of silver foil, because he used to be a bit of a dope smoker.”