with music that would cure their souls…

It’s been 19 years since I listened to this album. I never knew you could get it on vinyl until I found this so thats a good thing that you can I suppose.

It’s pleasant enough, some nice reworking of old songs and some nice enough then new songs, as well as the cringeworthy Crowd song.

People who are new to Fairport Convention generally really like the current lineup, let’s face it this is the longest lasting lineup of Fairport Convention in the history of the band so consistency is everything I suppose.

It’s not a bad album, it’s just not as great as they have done. I watched Simon Nicol say on the John Peel youtube channel about Fairport Convention that the thing that saves them as a touring and recording band is that they have never had a truly defining great album. This has allowed them to go on creating music. I am sure there are many who would disagree with this statement, however it is easy to find flaws in all their albums of one sort or another, not enough guitar, not enough fiddle, too sappy, too happy or too drunk, who knows. So based on that logic this album is as good as all the others.

The truth is if you ask any Fairport fan to name their favorite album you will probably get a different one for every person you ask. Ask them about gigs though and thats where they light up tales of Peggy chasing people with a large inflatable banana, Simon fluffing his lines, Swarb causing trouble an grinning mischievously and drinking an entire bottle of wine during the bass solo, or was it port, Maart and his sarcasm, Mattacks and his cowbell, Rowland and his tambourine, Ric’s cosmic violin and Chris Leslie maybe being the nicest musician ever. The bad jokes, the musical pyrotechnics, Sandy’s shyness, Thompsons laconic wit and Iain’s youthful looks and amazing vocals, and Judy’s smile and the day Robert Plant strolled onto the stage.

XXV is as good or as flawed as all the others, there are moments of beauty and then the fluffed lines, it all sounded better live and damn I wish Simon would play electric guitar again.

Continuing the ageless Fairport tradition of bad album covers.

she’s looking at me while I’m writing…

Written on the mailer in large block letters, “remember this?”

No letter, no card, just an album, The History of Fairport Convention.

This may be the most important record in my entire life, this actual record with its red ribbon intact, issued sometime between 1976 and the end of the decade. I have memories of sitting on my Aunts floor by the record player listening intently to this album over and over again while my cousin Tony did his biology homework or math or something equally important. I was obsessed at reading all of the lineups documented on the Pete Frame rock family tree album cover, I devoured every word in the booklet inside the sleeve.

In 1982 at the age of 16 I rode in the back of Tony’s Hillman Imp to Cropredy on Thursday the 12th of August, to see the band that no longer officially existed perform twice over the weekend, Friday the entirety of Babbacombe Lee, Saturday a 3 hour plus set covering the entire history of the band. Buce Lacey was there with his robots and Maddy Prior’s band and my young mind was blown.

One of my outstanding memories of that first Cropredy was driving into the middle of the field by the canal, stopping wherever we wanted, falling out of the back of that car and just setting up the tent. By the afternoon we were surrounded by tents, cars and vans and there was no way we were leaving. Health and safety be damned.

I was shaking as I played this tonight and closed my eyes and I could smell the beer and grass and sweat of an English festival before they became institutions and we all got too old to sit on the ground.

This album pretty much covers the first five years of the bands existence and apparently seven lineups. It’s all here sensitive pastoral songs, bawdy barroom humor, epics and some instrumentals. If you only own one Fairport Convention album, well you are frankly not doing it right, but this should probably be it.

well I like your feather bed…

Finally after years of indecisiveness I am sat here listening to my newly acquired Live at the L.A. Troubadour by Fairport Convention. Universally accepted as perhaps the worst album cover ever to adorn the Island years of the band, and that includes some dodgy sleeves.

It is however my entry point to all things Fairport and for this I am ever grateful. It’s also a pretty excellent album if confusing. The band were obviously on fire during their residency at the Troubadour and I am not sure why we get Yellow Bird and an outtake from Full House instead of more of the crushingly frighteningly brutal Full House lineup of Fairport Convention. Yes Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman deserved to be released but there had to be a version of Tam Lin or Genesis Hall or maybe Journeyman’s Grace laying around. Maybe one day the L.A. Tapes will come out with Linda Ronstadt and Led Zeppelin appearing and we will get to relive that crazy week. Legend still say that Fairport are still paying the bar bill.

House Full is probably better but like I said this was the start of something of an obsession, and yes I did just order the new CD.

IMG_2832.JPG

a bad reputations a hard thing to bear…

There’s an inevitability about some things. Two things on this blog are  I will write about Hawkwind or Fairport Convention  at some point in the week month or year. It’s going to happen, it’s the danger of being a fan. Cropredy comes and goes and I either go or not. This year we were meant to go, after swearing off mainly because Richard Thompson was going today with Pegg, Nicol and Mattacks as the backing band, not only is this only one member short of the greatest incarnation of Fairport Convention but also exactly the best backing band Thompson ever had. Personal events interfered in IMG_2176this pilgrimage and we never got to the show. This allowed me to nominally keep my vow not to go back, it was also a moment filled with sadness, I have been going to this festival since 1982, lately sporadically but it has been a constant.

In a fit of nostalgia I got excited discovering that 1996’s Acoustic Antipodean tour album has been released on vinyl. This is what happens when you stay up browsing eBay when a field is swaying to Meet On The Ledge. I was not perturbed at already owning this on CD somewhere in a box in the shed as everything sounds better on vinyl ( I am not sure this is necessarily true but vinyl just may feel better).

In the mid 80’s Fairport reformed without Dave Swarbrick, this caused fear anxiety and anger amongst the fans, horror at the fiddle maestro being left out, shock that they could do this etc. In order to make up they recruited Ric Sanders, jazzer and folkie, and Maartin Allcock, prog fan and rocker multi-sintrumentalist, and what happened was suddenly they were a band that could achieve their musical ambitions, as the years progressed this sometimes resulted in some horribly bloated songs that could be maudlin and boring, live however they drank more bars dry than a marauding biker gang and played longer and harder than could be imagined, Matty went metal and the tunes got faster and more complicated.

Just as you thought it had all got out of hand, they created their own unplugged acoustic version without Mattacks on drums and reinvigorated their sound and went on tour to places it was too expensive to take a drummer.

Acoustically Down Under is a great testament to that acoustic version of the band, apparently they saved the excesses until after the show the night this was recorded and they kicked the ball out of the park with definitive versions of some great songs like Slipjigs and Reels, Lallah Rookh and the Frozen Man as well as old favorites and by the end of the album all is well as Swarb turns up to sing Rosie and play as only he can.

So I never got to Cropredy, maybe next year, who knows.

Sometimes it’s okay to be a fan, sometimes it is okay to wallow in nostalgia. So to everyone happy end of Cropredy month.

there must be something more to know…

What could possibly be more entertaining than an album largely made up of cover versions of North American songwriters by a bunch of young people from England, there are a few original compositions. Sounds truly awful doesn’t it?

However when you are Fairport Convention and it’s the sixties and you have Ian (now Iain) Matthews and Sandy Denny singing, Richard Thompson’s youthful and tasty electric guitaring and Ashley Hutchings impeccable taste choosing the songs, along with one of the truly great rhythm guitarists in Simon Nicol and Martin Lamble’s understated drumming, you have what is really a great lost sixties album and the missing piece before the change in direction to studious deconstruction of the English folk idiom in Liege and Lief. (Now that is what I call a truly great run on sentence.)

IMG_0430The album is Heyday and is one of the most cohesive archival albums to ever appear. It has since been added to expanded and grown to multi disk CD collections. There is however a joy to the 1987 original record. With covers of songs by Johnny and June Cash, Eric Andersen, Gene Clark, the Everly Brothers, Richard Farina and the inevitable Dylan cover, it’s a romp through Joe Boyd and Ashley Hutchings combined record collections. Wisely avoiding the blues, due to the band perhaps being decidedly too polite and reserved, for the gentle countrified sounds it is a success of tasty playing and beautiful harmonies.

Fairport would go on to be a seminal band in the creation of British folk-rock. They released the album that is universally if wrongly, acclaimed as the best folk-rock album of all time in Liege and Lief, founded their own institution of a festival and saw two of the best British songwriters pass through the band. They would never sound so innocent again even though they made perhaps more important records these sessions from the BBC in the late sixties is a band of fans recording their own playlist for the van. So if you want to revel in that 60’s joy and swinging hipness get a copy relax and let Heyday wash over you.

It will also cure your orange man blues for a short time, this is guaranteed.

And they all look like such nice polite young people on the cover.

This album also largely informed my  romp through 60’s songwriters for many years.

 

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.

FullSizeRender 5

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.

Please don’t get us wrong man, this is just a song man…

FullSizeRender 4Often a bands first record is the great one, they have saved up all those songs they have been writing since puberty. Getting it all down on record for the first time. There is often an intensity involved in the belief that nobody else is going to give them a chance and they need to get it all out.

Fairport Convention managed to get a deal based on their guitar players skills. Then they released an album that if like me you came to after some of the other near classics in their canon is at first a bit of a disappointment. No fiddles, lots of covers, some okay original compositions and a silly tune about breaking down in a car. Yes there is a girl singer, she has a sweet voice, a little polite but very English, she’s not Sandy Denny though most will say.

Having owned this album for as long as I have. I now realize what a classic it is. Some of IMG_6408the first English recordings of Joni Mitchell and a weird Dylan track in Jack of Diamonds. Judy Dyble’s vocals are the true star though, sweet and clear and if you can find the single with Ribbon Bow on with a sigh to make grown men sit up and pay attention. If you want to really hear how great her voice is go find the Trader Horne album Morning Way, it’s on nifty red vinyl very pretty, and who can resist red vinyl?, It’s of it’s hippy dippy time but less pretentious and tedious  than a Donovan album.

This Fairport Convention however is the band that jammed with Hendrix and Barrett at the UFO club, while their hippy girl lead singer knitted on stage, and was beloved of John Peel. Yes they went on to make flawed and better albums but there is something about a bunch of music fans getting together and being allowed to record their songs. It very likely would not happen now no matter how great the guitarist was jamming on East West.

Poor second cousin… or Come fill up your glasses and be merry…

Steeleye Span have always been the poor second cousin to Fairport Convention in my mind, they often seem to need to be more serious to be considered relevant and even their jokes are a little too studious to be funny. Like those in-jokes the smart kids at school used to make that were designed to make you feel just a little dumber but actually made no sense.

They are like a half formed idea that Ashley Hutchings had, tried out and discarded. Like Fairport it all got experimental once Hutchings left.

Two of the English folk traditions finest singers in Maddy Prior and Tim Hart, the occasional Carthy and Kirkpatrick to add legitimacy , a bassist in Rick Kemp who turned down King Crimson, a drummer who could play flute and stand on his hands, not at the same time I might add, one of the finest fiddlers in Peter Knight and Bob Johnston who was not afraid to enter heavy metal territory in his playing. Collectively they managed to create a sound that is simultaneously vilified and loved, the dialectic in action as my friend Greg would say.

For years I would get dragged by my friend to Steeleye gigs in my mind knowing I was going to something lesser than Fairport. They were too eager to be liked it seemed, too friendly, not out there enough or whatever half wit idea I had that year. Of course once the music started I got lost in the fun of those Status Quo riffs with traditional lyrics added on.

For a similar number of years I mocked All Around My Hat, the song and album. hatI have to admit I had never heard the album my entire opinion was based on the song. Last week rooting around I found a copy of the album. A piece of me wanted to leave it were it was. The embarrassment of buying such a piece of kitsch folk rock history might be unbearable, how easy our teen biases resurface were music is concerned.

I reminded myself of the Steeleye tickets waiting for me in Seattle and also I was 6,000 miles at least away from anyone who may care about All Around My Hat. I did find myself shrinking a little as i paid my $4 though.

Getting home I decided to play the thing, scratches pops and a low rumble met my ears. So I cleaned the thing up and tried again and wow. I love it. Thirty years of mocking something so fun and good. It still has some of the reverence of the Hutchings years but it is a straight up folk-rock masterpiece.

Yes it is produced by Mike Batt which adds a certain pop sensibility and an affection for small furry creatures on Wimbledon Common.

Black Jack Davy rocks along and yet still manages to be threatening because of the bass and fiddle and the ethereal quality of Maddy Prior’s vocals during the verses. Hard Times of Old England follows with social commentary. The whole album is filled with tunes and songs played with sensitivity and an edginess that I had not considered were Steeleye Span are concerned mainly because the comfortableness of that song was holding me back. When All Around My Hat appears on the album it is not my favorite moment which may be reserved for the Cadgwith Anthem and the tune set Sum Waves which follows it that seems to prepare the way for much of what the Albion Band, Home Service and Brass Monkey would do.

For me however it is an example of how my own snobbery got in the way of something really rather good and all because of that song All Around My Hat and the thinking that a band that can be on Crackerjack must somehow be less or have sold out.

So finally after almost thirty years I have overcome a little musical prejudice in my life, and it’s not like I didn’t like the band.

Damn you Fairport Convention…and they hiked.

5:30 am is my time, everyone else is asleep and I get to play what I want, maybe not as loud as I would like but I get to play it.

This past week has predominantly been this collection as I come to terms with everyone in the house not working right now but me. It is one of the downsides of being married to a teacher. fairportFairport Convention may very well be the band I cannot do without in my collection. I am however going to stop collecting vinyl with Bonny Bunch of Roses and Tipplers Tales which I am still looking for. The later albums still have great tracks on but this is my Fairport and it really belongs on vinyl to be thoroughly enjoyed.

So every morning this week has been taken up with at least one of these albums playing as I sit and sip coffee expecting my wife to join me and then realize she is not working so very well may not. That change in routine has been usual for the past 20 plus years and every year I regret not becoming a teacher as I watch her read bools go hiking and generally lead the almost retired life that obviously gets her batteries recharged over the next two months or so and preparing her for her next year with the kids she loves.

Friday was here and I got up at my usual time and realized it was a holiday and I did not have to go anywhere so I relaxed and then we went hiking.

I forgot however that it is 4th of July weekend and just how many people would be out and about so the morning hike was beautiful but almost like a stroll in the park. The afternoon however was sublime on the river as the temp reached 98 degrees plus. It is good to remember what a great state I have chosen as home especially this weekend I guess.

hike

hikeagainhiking again

 

And all the earth is singing with life’s sweet hum…

After the other days horror show of an album cover I thought I would share this:

blee

 

 

See that’s much better a classic example of early 70’s folk-rock album cover, and the first example I think of the lost art of the folk-concept album. It is a truly dour picture though to go with the story of the man they could not hang.

The inner gatefold is even better:

blee2

Complete with a copy of the John Lee story inserted to brighten the day.

steeleye

To round things off the quartet of Steeleye Span albums in preparation for the gig at the Triple Door in Seattle.

As you can see they all fade into the carpet in a lovely way, except for Rocket Cottage which may be one of those awful album covers that are best hidden away. Sepia was obviously the chosen tone of the 70’s folk-rock band as they folderol and hey nonny non their way through life.

Don’t get me wrong Babbacombe Lee and at least Hark the Village Wait are classics of the genre and Below The Salt and Now We Are Six deserve honorable mentions and Rocket Cottage has The Wombles connection in  Mike Batt.

Anyway there you have it my ramblings for the day and tomorrow we hike.