just a roll, just a roll…

I am doing this isolation thing wrong.


I have not binged the tiger show, I have not learned a new language, I didn’t get around to the mandolin lessons and we have not begun to scream at each other.

We did start working on getting the veggie garden ready, we have super clay soil so IMG_3334
much of this has involved trying to rototill the damn hard ground, I have also been stealing the good dirt from other areas of the property. So why am I not building the garden there? Because it is a long way from the water thats why. This is why the previous owner had a wacky irrigation system that drew water from the creek, it is compromised though and a lot of work to repair, it was for his marijuana grow we found the remnants of in the woods. I am however as I was reminded when I  complained about our lack of industry to Michelle still working pretty much full time from home.

This is the creek:


I have started watching less TV, the great baboon in charge makes me too angry so I stopped except for very small doses in the morning.

IMG_3341 2.JPGI have for some reason been working my way alphabetically through the record collection, this started out as one album from each letter, I got stuck in H for awhile though and J is proving to be as difficult, made it to Japan. Then I got distracted and landed on the Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwalls Dance Hall. The lesser of the two Greasy Truckers albums but still anarchic enough and weird enough to elevate any social distancing, mainly by keeping those wanting to be social away.

So you get one enticingly head scratching musical array from Henry Cow, Camel the Global Truckers and Gong all wrapped up in a jolly gatefold sleeve. It complements the other more enticing Greasy Truckers with Man, Hawkwind and the Schwartzes, there is a whole thing to be written about the legendary nature of these albums in IMG_3350 2my sixth form common room, yes I went to the type of school that had a common room. I did not however come here for that or even to complain about the Covid situation, the truth is we are doing well, the sourdough starter is finally producing it’s first loaf this weekend. It went through some shocking smells, cheese, feet and locker room jock strap aromas until the last two days its been delightfully yeasty and frothy. We will see how the bread turns out, it is cooling as I write on the kitchen counter.

So now to the real reason for this long preamble. The other day I got in my email the notice that Cropredy was cancelled this year. This is not entirely shocking but the first time since 1979 that there will be no gathering centered around Fairport Convention, and even though I was probably not going to go I am still saddened, especially as the Full House lineup minus Swarb obviously, were going to play the Full House album live. This is firmly entrenched as my favorite Fairport Convention album. I am also a fan of the other two albums the band made in 1980, namely Swarbrick’s albums Smiddyburn and Flittin’.

There is something incredible about the lineup of Swarbrick, Thompson, Nicol, PeggIMG_3354 2.JPG and Mattacks. Following Liege and Lief that defined a genre, Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings left and the band were in a quandary, due to lack of ideas they recruited a new bass player in Dave Pegg and decided to reinvent themselves as a boy band, of course nobody wanted to sing due to fragile egos and lack of confidence. They still made a great album in Full House, with it’s manic instrumentals, plaintive songs and rock god workouts in Sloth and Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman, then they removed the best song from the album and went on tour, recording a live album and then Thompson left the band but not the house and retreated to navel gazing and songwriting.

Full House is not as refined as Liege and Lief, it still ploughs the same furrow of folk-rock, it does however lean into the rock and elevates the fiddle to a status not many bands have managed before or since, even Fairport Convention. This was a band having fun and on the road, legendary bar tabs, jam sessions with Zeppelin and ready to conquer the world, it just never happened.

Fast forward ten years and in 1980 Swarbrick released two albums Smiddyburn and Flittin’ that feature the Full House lineup on many of the tracks. I guess he released them as two albums as there was not much chance of a double album selling real well for him at the time, he had already done the rock opera with Fairport so maybe this could have been his attempt at the overindulgent double album. Fairport Convention for all intents and purposes didn’t exist as a band and Swarb was struggling with his hearing after all the heavy days on the road. Smiddyburn and Flittin’ are exactly what you would hope from the fiddlemeister, furious fiddle tunes along side contemplative melodic passages, all underpinned by the greatest folk-rock rhythm section and probably the greatest English rhythm  guitarist and a passable lead player in Richard Thompson.

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This summer Chris Leslie will not get to stand in for Swarbrick with the Full House lineup. The Oxfordshire countryside will not resound to Sloth and Sir Patrick Spens and nobody will hear if they managed to slip Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman back into it’s rightful place on the album.

All we can hope is that there has been enough hand washing going on and we all make it to next year, hell maybe if I can afford the flight I can go again, seems the righteous way to celebrate the re-emergenc.



Exorcise the beast…

There are finer Tull albums without doubt. There are even better albums in general I am sure. This however was my admission to all things Tull. It all began in a murky bedroom in West Derby as John the crazed bearded red head fanatic took the time to explain to me how this was the greatest album I would hear this year, the year being 1982. I am sure that it was not true that this was the greatest album I ever heard in 1982, it did however result in me going to see Fairport Convention at the Southport Arts Center as Dave Pegg was in both bands and then to Cropredy.

John convinced me to go see the band live. I was enthralled at the time by the willingness of a grown man to prance around the stage in a codpiece and gurn his way through one legged flute playing. The tour also had the most absurd pirate ship stage set and was actually the epitome of everything punk had been angry about, this only made it more enjoyable on some level. Over the following years I saw more members of Fairport Convention play in both bands and enjoyed Mr Anderson’s appearances at Cropredy.

So if you want to hear a Tull album that is entirely competent, hits all the Tull buttons, sometimes too hard. You can even take the time to air guitar your way through some of Martin Barre’s rockier moments you don’t need to go further than Broadsword and The Beast. It also has some nice folkier elements throughout.

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A holiday a holiday…

It’s that time of the year, the summer is upon us and thoughts of the idiot fanboy turns to one question alone. Do we go to Cropredy or not?

Now this used to be a fairly easy question, every year, buy a ticket through mail order, jump the train to Banbury, walk to Cropredy, camp and drink and listen. Then complications happened, marriage, children, moving 6000 miles away. Of course the yearly desire happened, the questioning until it settled into only the 5 year anniversaries and for some obscure reason involving early indoctrination, much children graduation from high school. It all seemed to make sense to the fan.

So as if by some magical alignment of the stars something happened this year. My precocious youngest child graduated a year early giving us the perfect excuse to go to the 50th anniversary Cropredy of Fairport Convention. That is the anniversary of the band not the festival. We duly purchased tickets, called a good friend in the UK who as if by magic is celebrating his 50th birthday this year as well and start plotting.

Now tickets are purchased, flights booked, car reserved in Manchester and the beloved parents informed of our impending arrival. Then it came crashing in on me, this will be very likely the last Cropredy for me. The festival over the years has changed subtly and not so subtly meaning that it is no longer the amateur affair it used to be. There seem to be more people than in the past or is it really the same people but they are larger?

Fairport Convention are a band that can be infuriating, they seem to have settled into a very comfortable groove that is safe and sound and impeccable in it’s performance. The last chance for something different for the fan is Cropredy when old and new members meld and reform into old and new configurations and hopefully Simon plugs in. If this happens we will all gush, if it doesn’t we will all sway along to the old favorites with a tear in the eye. Either way it will be fulfilling of some need that is deep seated in the fan, a connection with a band that is real and tangible.

In preparation this evening I have been listening to Moat on the Ledge, from Broughton Castle in 1981, the year before the Festival became fixed at Cropredy. It was also a time when Matty Groves was in the middle of the set and the band did not officially exist. The Full House lineup of Nicol, Thompson, Pegg, Swarbrick and Mattacks with the addition of Bruce Rowland on drums and Judy Dyble singing with the band for the first time since 67. A rough and ready live recording, no overdubs and at times without a net, it’s a band that didn’t exist performing like a band that has been playing together every day.

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The set list is one that could have been culled from those early albums, a Dylan cover, a Joni Mitchell cover a Thompson original or two a classic rock song and a medley along with a Swarbrick classic in Rosie. It’s an edgy album with some tracks at times sounding like they may fall apart as the band play faster and faster. It’s a reminder of what made Fairport so great and a foreshadowing hopefully of Fridays set with Pegg, Nicol and Mattacks backing up Richard Thompson in a throwback to the glory days.

Fairport Convention are a band that created a genre and then never managed to keep it together long enough to capitalize, other bands made British Folk-Rock their own while Fairport merrily sabotaged their way to being the greatest folk-rock band to never have a truly great album that captured them. Yes Liege and Lief is influential and created a genre, Full House is powerful and evocative and Tipplers Tales is a good time had by all, later albums hinted at greatness without achieving it, but there was always the live shows and particularly the Cropredy shows. Like the Dead they are  band defined not by their albums but by their gigs, relentlessly touring. Unlike the Dead they had so many lineup changes that it is dizzyingly difficult to maintain a sound, the Fairport you connect with is usually the one you first heard live.

So this year as I sit in that field in Oxfordshire, swaying with the other old farts and youngsters I will think about Trevor and Swarb and Martin and Jerry as he recovers and I will very likely say goodbye to a formative experience of my youth and young adulthood. I may cry and I may laugh but I am pretty convinced that I will not regret not going back to that field as the band I love inevitably thins itself out with the travails of time. I am going to remember the glory years and the howling solo’s and mud puddles and weirdness of the 80’s festivals that moved to the 90’s and then every five years or so. I will complain about the flags and chairs, while I look for a spot for my chair and I may hug the stranger next to me.

Come all you wild young men…

So here we have two records by a band I have loved almost since first hearing them. I have suffered at times it seems through many incarnations, some glorious and some far from satisfactory. I have never been disappointed by a live performance but often bemused by those records.

Fairport Convention have been a constant on my musical landscape. They are one of the very few bands I can say I have bought everything they have ever released and regretted a good amount of it at times but I keep doing it. This may be the definition of fan or stupid. To be honest there is always at least one or two moments I can revisit again and again.

My first foray into the heady world of folk rock, other than Jethro Tull was Fairport’s album Nine. It is distinguished by being an album by a band that has no actual original members performing on it. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. It is also a multi-national album with Jerry Donahue from the USA, Trevor Lucas from Australia and Swarb, Peggy and DM providing the English.

So excitement prevailed when I scored a pretty good copy of Nine along with Rosie. nineNo original members present on either but still two solid mid seventies efforts from the band. Swarb’s vocal on To Althea from Prison is a thing of joy, wah wah fiddle on Bring ‘Em Down is amazing and Donahue’s guitar playing is as spectacular as you may need. This makes Nine the stronger album, although Rosie being patchier does have The Plainsman and I have always enjoyed Furs and Feathers and Rosie, they get a little sentimental at times.

fairport_nineI remember the joy of Nine when I first heard it, I also remember me and my friends attempting to recreate the back cover at our first Cropredy festival. If I ever find my photograph I may post it here. Soon after these albums Sandy rejoined and things changed with her addition, not for the worse but just different.

That first Cropredy we staggered to was 1982. A feature of it was the reformation of the Nine line up. This was a dream for me as I rocked out to Bring ‘Em Down and Polly On The Shore in a befuddled haze. Watching the videos on youtube proves the band were similarly befuddled but having a great time. It was however a 16 yr old’s epiphany of what makes live music so special.

A week later we were all at the Monsters of Rock festival lurching around to Saxon, Uriah Heep, Status Quo, Hawkwind; Gillan and Anvil. It was a heady summer obviously.

These two are part of a more extensive Fairport score I made at garage sales today. They were the first two I played in a sentimental haze. In with them was Angel Delight, Rising for the Moon and In Real Time. I then got a little carried away and ordered Full House and Unhalfbricking. There is something about that countdown to Cropredy time that causes sentimentality to take control.

Choose Your Masques

More tickets bought, this time for the Flaming Lips.

The great gig list so far:

  • The Flaming Lips
  • Fairport’s Cropredy Convention including the likes of Fairport Convention, The Levellers. 10cc and of course many others.
  • Neil Young in Liverpool with Ian McNabb and Band of Horses
  • Ed and the Boats
  • The Waterboys
  • Hawkwind

It’s shaping up to be an eclectic and interesting few months music wise, everything from psychedelia to pop music with folk and reggae in there too, no mean feat and an exciting prospect before us. The Flaming Lips will be 13 year old Ben’s first big gig he will remember, he is very excited, it is outside on the lawn at the McNemanins in Troutdale so should be fun and entertaining.

In exactly one week today we will begin our trip to the UK for Chris’ graduation, a time to see family, visit the homeland and have fun. Although this has been two years in the planning it still feels a little like we have no idea what we are going to do. There will be much travelling and sightseeing, a festival and visits with family and friends.

Anyway check out the Lips:

Long May You Run

Ticket’s for the Liverpool Echo Arena, even plane tickets bought, insanity abounds, in the space of 10 days in August  it will be Alice Cooper, Fairport Convention and Neil Young.

Of course there will be no pump organs just the Mighty Horse, this means I have seen Neil Young and Crazy Horse every decade for the last three decades, now I feel old. This will be so much more special as I will have two of my three sons with me.

There is something special about being able to share this type of event with my boys. It  is bizarre to me that I now have two adult children, that is something my parents have to learn to deal with not me. Although parenting adults is just as difficult as parenting children. It is a treacherous boundary to have to negotiate, friend, mentor, father weirder than I thought. Well I guess I will have to approach this with the same seat of the pants make it up as you go along approach as everything else.

I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night

It’s that time of year, Cropredy. Well actually it’s after that time of year as Cropredy ended last weekend. I only really get homesick in August it seems and really only during the second weekend in August. There is the usual concerns and missing my parents throughout the year but missing the land of my birth only happens during that weekend when Fairport’s Cropredy Convention is happening, or as it used to be called the Annual Fairport Convention Reunion.

I started going to Cropredy in 1982, it was a time before the internet and the easy passing of information, you had to discover this type of event because you new someone who went, read the back of an album cover, was at a gig or you had to look out for posters in the right record store. So I’m not sure if it was a conversation in the the Swan on Wood Street in Liverpool, a poster in Probe records or the back of some obscure album or being told at a gig by Peggy and Swarb, but in 1982 I bought a ticket for the annual reunion in Cropredy. It looked like a village fete ticket or raffle ticket. I immediately felt a part of something new and different.

I never went to Cropredy to attend a festival, there were so many other options for that, I went as a Fairport fan. I never even paid attention to who might be playing, as long as Fairport were on on Saturday night I didn’t care. Of course for the ten years I consistently went I saw a lot of great music and Fairport changed my musical taste by me absorbing all that folk and other things. Fairport were an outlier in my musical tastes at the time, the folkiest I got was Neil Young, I detested Dylan and would run from a fiddle unless Swarb was wielding it. For a strange reason, to some, I never considered them a folk band and never have. Even now I think of them more as a rock band than a folk band and it was always Cropredy were they rocked the best if not the hardest. The band members constantly say Cropredy is not a folk festival but this falls on deaf ears.

Since leaving the country in 1995 I have managed to attend three Cropredy’s all for the same reason to see Fairport Convention. Two were major reunion years in ’97 and 2007 and then 2010. We were hoping to come this year but finances got in the way. I will be there next year, it has become a coming of age thing with my boy’s, they get to 18 and we take them to Cropredy, to see Fairport Convention, I know, but it’s a fan thing. Hopefully my twelve year old will get this experience in 6 years.

Dipping in and out of the festival the way I do there are a few things I don’t get any more. The whole fringe idea, great for the local businesses etc. but it all seems a bit unnecessary to me, hanging at the bar all day is confusing too. It’s nice to meet people but I go to see the music and what is happening on the stage, it’s fun to see friends and acquaintances but it is the bi-product of the festival not the reason.

Then there is the idea that a festival needs to be an event beyond the music, I guess when I started going there were so many free festivals around to meet that need and now that experience has to be to rolled into a musical event. It’s astonishing the number of adults using a festival as an excuse to act badly. I remember feeling excited that Cropredy was about one band and the music and creating a community around that rather than the other festival communities at the time, that were created around behavior or an ideology that was not fully understood by those engaged in it. It’s not a spiritual experience for me but a musical one although spirituality community and music are all connected so maybe I’m full of it.

Fairport never touring my part of the world anymore makes it much more about the opportunity to see the band than a festival experience. Although I did get a very nice mention from the stage in Crosby a couple of years ago but was too embarrassed to acknowledge it. I also find myself paralyzed by nerves at the idea of meeting all those people I only know from the internet. So hide away with my little group of friends and family.

I have always expected Cropredy to die when the band stopped. There does not seem any need to keep it going beyond the existence of the band. I guess if they stopped touring and took it back to it’s roots it would be fun but how viable would that be financially at the end of the day. Of course considering the number of children of band members that appeared at this years festival maybe there is a future.

I’m not bothered by Cropredy ending or fading away, all things do that in the end. I miss lots of things about my youthful Cropredy going experience but don’t think I could do it that way again.  Three people in a two man tent may be pushing it and the lack of a change of clothes might be too much for those around me.

So as I got all nostalgic again this year for that field in Oxfordshire by the banks of the Cherwell my family had to put up with long wistful silences and me mumbling the words to Meet On The Ledge at what would be approximately midnight on Saturday. Next year we will be at Cropredy again and I’m sure it will be as memorable as all the others and a wonderful coming of age for Chris.