Saturday, 10 June 2017


From the stages of the UFO Club, Mothers and Middle Earth to Cropredy in Oxfordshire and from a fresh faced very English version of Jefferson Airplane to revered elder statesmen, it’s been a long strange trip. Now celebrating their 50th anniversary, Fairport Convention have outlasted their peers from the late 60s/early 70s UK underground Folk Rock scene by several decades.  Formed in London in 1967, Fairport Convention are the hardy perennials of the British Folk scene with a continually shifting line-up, which has over the years seen such Folk Rock luminaries as Richard Thompson, Judy Dyble, Ashely Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick and Dave Pegg as integral members of the band. Massively influential during their early years, they were the first band to take traditional folk out of the clubs and into the concert halls playing for a Rock audience with their 1969 album Liege and Lief being the yardstick by which all Folk Rock bands are still measured against. The soon to be released lavish seven CD box set, Come All Ye – The First 10 Years, celebrates and explores the band’s creative heyday, beginning with their eponymous debut for Polydor in 1968, through all of their seminal albums for Island Records and finishing with tracks from their two albums for Vertigo, The Bonny Bunch of Roses and Tippers Tales. Of the 121 tracks featured here, 55 are previously unreleased and includes key tracks and alternate versions from all of their classic albums, single B-sides, BBC Radio Sessions, 5 songs from the French TV programme Pop 2 (December 1970), 5 songs from the Television show The Man They Couldn’t Hang (1971) and the audio for an entire concert at The Fairfield Halls, Croydon (December 16th 1973) plus 2 songs recorded live for the Scottish Television programme, ‘Anne Lorne Gillies – The World of Music’ (1976). The box set comes complete with liner notes by respected English writer, Patrick Humphries. However, as tracks from the first four classic albums from the 60s are dashed off pretty quickly, with very little previously unreleased material, within 2 CDs it really depends on how much you like the various incarnations of the band led through the 70s by Dave Swarbrick before you shell out nearly £60.

Discs 1 and 2 chart the band’s progression from Dylan/Joni Mitchell/Byrds obsessives to totally re-imagining British electric folk music for decades to come in a three year burst of creativity second to non. Although patchy in parts as the band find their feet, the debut Fairport Convention album is somewhat under rated with some excellent tracks on the record. Come All Ye – The First 10 Years collects four album tracks from the debut and a couple of songs from a John Peel’s Top Gear radio session in the summer of 68, including the scorching cover of The Merry-Go-Round’s ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’ which features Richard Thompson’s stunning Acid Rock guitar playing……………………if you take the “English Jefferson Airplane” analogy to it’s logical conclusion then the first album can be considered as their version of Takes Off, then What We Did On Our Holidays is the English equivalent of Surrealistic Pillow (ok it’s a tenuous connection, but try running with it). What We Did On Our Holidays is an absolute stone cold Psych/Folk/Rock masterpiece. Judy Dyble had been replaced by Sandy Denny, considered by many to have been Britain’s finest Singer/Songwriter, forming a formidable male/female duel vocal partnership with Ian Matthews plus with the stellar talents of Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Martin Lamble and Ashley Hutchings this line up of the band could have easily gone toe to toe with anything America could offer at the time. Included from Fairport’s second album is an alternate version of ‘Mr Lacey’ taken from the Sandy Denny box set, Richard Thompson’s first really great song and Fairport Convention's unofficial anthem ‘Meet On The Ledge’ (plus the B-Side from it’s single release, ’Throwaway Street Puzzle’) plus a couple of fantastic previously unreleased tracks (a alternate take of the band’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Eastern Rain’ and an A Capella version of ‘Nottamun Town’ stripped of it’s Raga Rock arrangement). Five tracks from this album does not do What We Did On Our Holidays justice………if you have not heard the record before and have been put off by the supposed image of Fairport Convention being only for weird beard and sandals real ale enthusiasts, go check it out as it is a brilliant Psychedelic Folk Rock record that has more in common with Dylan, The Byrds and the S.F. Ballrooms than dusty Folk Clubs. Disc 1 closes with four tracks from the excellent Unhalfbricking album which was the transition point from the Fairport’s having a psychedelic edge to being the full blown electric Folk Rock band they became after a ram raid on Cecil Sharp House and escaping with an armful of obscure Trad Folk songs. Unhalfbricking was the first record Dave Swarbrick played on, a veteran of the Birmingham Folk Clubs, Swarbrick brought a more traditional folk sound to the band, however the epic reworking of the folk tune ‘A Sailors Life’ that Denny had brought to the band, on this it is the Swarbrick free version from the Sandy Denny box set that is included along with previously unreleased alternative takes of two classic Denny songs ‘Autopsy’ and ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’. More than half of Disc 2 documents what was Fairport Convention’s greatest moment, the seamless melding of Folk Roots and amplified music that was Liege And Leif…………….THE British Folk Rock album. A seminal work, which said it all but launched a thousand imitators. Come All Ye – The First 10 Years collects together assorted alternative versions and Peel sessions featuring tracks from this groundbreaking record including a raw rehearsal version of ‘The Deserter’ and another couple of tracks from the Sandy Denny box set, fantastic alternative versions of ‘Come All Ye’ and ‘Matty Groves’ along with a thrilling John Peel’s Top Gear session from September 1969.

By January 1971 Richard Thompson had left Fairport Convention following Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings on to other projects leaving the band to be steered by Dave Swarbrick deeper into traditional English Folk and the next 3 Discs of the box set becoming generally a series of diminished returns unless you enjoyed the albums recorded after Full House. The highlights of Disc 3 are a previously unreleased live performance from the French TV show Pop2 in December 1970 and the songs recorded for the BBC for the 1971 TV show The Man They Could Not Hang broadcast around the time Babbacombe Lee hit the shops. Disc 4 contains various odds and sods put down on tape around the time of the albums Nine and Rosie with a large majority of the recordings tracks previously unreleased and Disc 5 contains collects together many of the recordings/radio sessions made around the time Sandy Denny rejoined the band for their Rising for the Moon album which was a partial return to form, but a poor seller and resulted in the band fracturing again, limping on for a few more years with Swarbrick at the helm, before considering calling it a day after the disappointing Tippers Tales. After a career spanning 12 years, 15 line ups, 16 albums and 20 members Fairport Convention intended to disband in August 1979……….however they were soon back with original member Simon Nicol and ever present member since Full House, Dave Pegg leading the band through it’s most stable period in it’s history, maybe living off past glories a little and no longer the innovative band they were at their 1969 peak but still with a legion of hardcore fans that have grown up with the band.

It’s Discs 6 and 7 that will be of most interest to the Fairport faithful……………recorded for the 1974 Live Convention album Disc 6 has the full set from the show at the Croydon Fairfield Halls featuring the Country Rock tinged line up of the band featuring guitarists Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue with all but two tracks previously unreleased and Disc 7 contains the Live at the LA Troubadour 1/2/1974 recording previously available as part of the Rising For The Moon deluxe reissue. Taken from the soundboard, the sound quality is excellent throughout and the performance is a fascinating snapshot of this short-lived lineup (Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue). The setlist is a typical Fairport mix of songs old and new, traditional and covers, with a fair sprinkling of material from Sandy’s solo albums as well as a song from Fotheringay. Interestingly, contempory Fairport songs seemed almost under-represented (one each from Rosie and Nine), although What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief all get a look in with one song from each. Despite the diversity of sources, there is a cohesion to the performance and it’s great to have the chance to hear six fine musicians in top form and, perhaps equally importantly, sounding like they’re enjoying themselves. So there you go, seven discs marking the first 10 years of Fairport Convention beautifully presented with extensive sleeve notes……………..from the sparkling, innovative first three albums for Island which would easily rank in a poll of the best records of all time to a slow decline into pointlessness by the end of the 70s and with a hefty price tag perhaps for hardcore fans only……………….a curate's egg of a box set, depending on your opinion of the overbearing influence Dave Swarbrick had over the band during the 70s. Down in our psychedelic basement we prefer the Fairport Convention from the UFO Club and Middle Earth having had our minds blown by a second hand copy What We Did On Our Holidays as impressionable teenagers, but it takes all sorts………………maybe this one is for the Folkies and not the PsychHeads.

Due for release on 28th July, Come All Ye – The First 10 Years will be available from all good record shops and the usual online outlets…………….this can be yours for about the price of 17 pints of scumpy.

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