Come ye young men, come along…

Lost opportunities abound for some bands. Fairport Convention may be the band with the most lost  in English folk-rock. Always a strong band with two of England’s most original songwriters in Denny and Thompson and an album in Liege and Lief that is considered the most important folk-rock album on more lists than you can figure. A revolving door of lineups and some strange business choices resulted for many years in a band that’s talent and ability define the idea of cult band. They have now finally settled on a lineup that may not be the most creative but is the most consistent but that is for another post and probably a longer one.

For many Liege and Lief is the album to go to. It is maybe their most important they have produced but I have never really enjoyed the production or sound of the album regardless of format. If you really want to hear the power and the glory of Fairport go to Full House. It also just sounds better than Liege and Lief .An album made by a band that on the cusp of success lost it’s founder and guide in Ashley Hutchings and it’s lead singer and front person in Sandy Denny. Dave Pegg replaced Hutching’s on bass and they went into the studio to record an album which is in my opinion stronger than Liege and Lief.

Seven tracks, two Swarbrick/Thompson compositions two sets of tunes, two traditional songs and the psychedelic masterpiece that is Sloth. Now Be Thankful was recorded at this time along with Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman but not considered for the album which may be the biggest crime perpetrated by Fairport Convention ever.

This is the point in Fairport’s career they most resembled the Band. A group of musicians living and breathing the music.housefull This lineup was a powerhouse live which is why if you get Full House you also need House Full, Live at the LA Troubadour. They are companion pieces. An epic studio album and a live album with a band that sounds like it cannot be restrained.

Zeppelin apparently attended several of the shows at the Troubadour and somewhere in bootleg fantasy land or more likely Pegg’s closet is a recording of the beer fueled jam that has Page attempting to keep up with Thompson on jigs, reels and rock and roll standards. It is better it has never been heard so the legend can grow of that night, some things really are better to be mythical.

laThe original version of House Full on Island has the bands worst ever cover. It was also the record that caused me to be ejected from the sixth form common room for playing it to the massed Joy Division fans as they sat in a gloomy huddle in the corner on a hot July day in their overcoats and with their very concerned looks. I like to think it was because they could not stand the collective joy of five world class musicians playing those trad jigs at break neck speed but there may have been other reasons. Among which may have been I was less than gentle with their record as I removed it from the player. In those days taking a record to school was risky business. Not only did you risk the ridicule of your peer group but you risked damage once your two songs were up.

 

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.

Let me learn to despise…

Some things are so special you have to take your time to find. Old records are like encapsulated memories, little time capsules of your life. Some are so special they can immediately take you back to a time a place.

I have a list as do most people who collect anything, right at the top of that list is the desire for a really good copy of What We Did On Our Holiday’s by Fairport Convention. Everything about the album is perfect, the artwork, the song selection but most importantly the lineup of that most changeable of bands Fairport Convention.holidays

Nicol, Thompson, Hutchings, Denny and Lamble the folk-rock super-group. It is a perfect band, folkie enough but with definite West Coast psychedelic leanings. It is how the Airplane should sound, the perfect Dylan and Mitchell covers band and yet so English. The covers are perfect, the original songs are sublime, an album that demands to be listened to again and again.

In various incarnations Fairport Convention would go on to make more important albums. Some are at the top of some peoples list of greatest folk rock albums of all time, most explosive live band. They are that most confusing band with more members than a football team. However in 1969 they made this album that is precisely balanced between rock and folk, but has not launched a movement. It is innocent enough to have the title of every English school child’s return to school essay, but world weary enough to cover I’ll Keep It With Mine.

I have been looking for an original but they are all too pricey unless you get the odd A&M album entitled Fairport Convention. without the charming artwork.220px-FairportConventionUSReleaseThe Simply Vinyl and 4 Men With Beards pressings had mixed reviews. Then I found a reference to a Tapestry pressing from Germany. Only 500 made apparently. I found one ordered it and it arrived with a nice big scratch across the second band on side 2 which is Nottamun Town which has something suspiciously like a sitar solo but is probably Richard Thompson on guitar. I despaired but emailed the seller with little hope, they promptly dispatched another that is perfect and my belief in humanity was restored. It is a wonderful pressing, everything is clear and the sound awesome, Martin Lamble’s drumming shines throughout the album.

So here it is my second perfect album along with After the Gold Rush. It immediately transports me back to a field in Oxfordshire, every house it has ever been played in and every cuddle on the couch to explain how important this album is to me. The beginning of a love affair with a band that are simultaneously annoying in their caprices and amazing in their ability to perform live so many styles and varieties of music.

It is a beautiful simple album without the future violin pyrotechnics, drinking songs and raucous laughter of future lineups and the tragedy to follow.  It is a moment in time before the seventies when possibilities outnumbered the chance of being held back. A time when the other band from Muswell Hill managed with the right producer to make a classic.

All that is left is to find the perfect copy of Unhalfbricking, Liege and Lief and Full House, of course it is unlikely to end there as the completest in me will take over.

Take a look below to see how wonderful a Fairport performance at Cropredy can be given the right circumstances and the English summer sun.

 

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.