Fairport Convention – History of Fairport Convention

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Paris is the most atmospheric of cities. The sights, the people, the restaurants and cafes are evocative of memorable travel and times past. This is a small selection of my photography taken over several visits and rendered in black and white. Please enjoy these and my books on Paris and France are available on Amazon.

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History of Fairport Convention Cover from 1972 with family tree

Fairport Convention – History of Fairport Convention

Original attached logo for the Album

I wish I could tell you definitively how Fairport Convention became such an important part of my musical life, but I cannot explain it. No one I knew had ever heard of them let alone had an album to share with me. I suspect it was my friend Chris’s guitar playing brother who left this album lying around. I don’t think it could have been his as he was into introspective guitar playing songwriters. Maybe Sandy Denny prompted an interest. However it happened, one day this album found its way onto our shared turntable and for a time rarely left it – I bought my own copy shortly afterwards.

It was not trendy to be listening to Fairport. I should by all accounts have been captivated by all things Glam rock, the ‘glitter and the rouge’ as Jackson Browne put it, but that was not the path I followed. I suppose I must have something of a stubborn streak to have been so determined to seek out music I really like rather than following a fashion or trend. I am glad that I did.

This album enthralled me. It was like nothing I had ever come across. Particularly with the early songs featuring Sandy Denny and Ian Matthews sharing vocals. I found the atmosphere created was unique. Musical differences caused this to be a short-lived collaboration, but they had a magical quality together than was quite ethereal. ‘Book Song’ is a gorgeous example of this. Produced by Joe Boyd he extracts an amazing musical and vocal mix that is captivating.

The band seem to effortlessly switch from this tender vocal to heavy folk-rock and instrumentals. This was mind blowing and a musical style to lose yourself in. What I had not realised was that this ‘History’ was not of a single band unit but a band that over only five years appear to have had about 500 members flitting in and out of the band. The giveaway was the band family tree on the cover that was more extensive and varied than the Royal Family. What was difficult to understand was who made up this band now.

Two members of the early band would become musicians that became part of my musical make up – flowing in my DNA. Richard Thompson would supply enough sad songs to keep even me engaged, along with being in my mind at the very pinnacle of great guitarists. Then of course Sandy Denny, that singer and writer blessed with an overflow of talent and an interpretive voice that is without peer. She is the finest English female singer of the 20th Century and I refuse to discuss that further. Sandy was still alive when I heard this album but somehow her performances are haunting, and you can sense tragedy in the air. Her death a few years later touched me as much as any in my life.

The album contains “The most favourite Folk track of all time” – ‘Who knows where the time goes.’ In the notes contained in the accompanying booklet the quote is made that ‘you cannot see any world class group of musicians matching this performance.’ You cannot. It is perfect. It is a deeply sad, unsettling track, showing Sandy’s vulnerability laid bare. It became even more melancholic with her death, almost as if at the age of 19 when Sandy wrote this, she felt that life would be short, the time was passing and would be fleeting. It is Love and Loss at its most potent. The vocal by Sandy is just gorgeous and the playing by the band sublime and sympathetic, almost as if they are entranced by this song and vocal as they follow Sandy through this spiritual journey. Nothing before or since in this genre comes close to this and Sandy’s brief body of work tries to reach this high spot and she often comes close, but she peaks with this song and performance.

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A page from the accompanying booklet to this Fairport album showing Sandy Denny and her famous track

Sandy Denny dominates this early incarnation of Fairport for me, but you have to also step back at times and realise just what an amazing set of musicians these are. Two tracks that feature Sandy are in the ‘Folk rock’ idiom – ‘Matty Groves’ and ‘A Sailors Life.’ You can apply that quote about untouchable performances to these two tracks also. You feel that with these two tracks the genre comes of age – the interplay on ‘A Sailors Life’ by Dave Swarbrick on his extraordinary electric violin and the self-taught style of guitar playing from Richard Thompson reach new heights. You sense they are chasing each other around the studio to soar and weave their solos into a breath-taking sound. Sandy’s vocal fights to rise above this performance and she ultimately triumphs to leave the stage clear for Swarbrick and Thompson to battle it out to a conclusion. Swarbrick was not meant to play on this track and was somewhat unsure of this mixing of styles, but he did, and the rest is history. One other detail stands out in the mix of ‘A Sailors Life’ and that is the drumming of Martin Lamble. Now I am a great Dave Mattacks fan and his contribution to Fairport is enormous but there is something special about the early drum playing of Martin Lamble. What an incredibly sad loss he was with his untimely early death shortly after recording this track.

And then there is ‘Sloth.’ Sandy Denny is gone from the band. Is there life after her? Well yes, and this track is up there with the finest folk rock recordings. I love the comment by a critic about a moment on here being worth inventing the electric violin for. As Richard Thompson ends the line ‘She’s runaway’ Swarbrick comes in with that moment. One of the finest short solos committed to posterity. Go and listen to it – go on please. Again, this is another track that ends with dualling guitar and violin with bass and drums beating a path behind them. It ends with the band coming in with sublime vocals underpinned by Swarbrick that leave you stunned and in awe. Go back and play this again and just concentrate on Thompson’s guitar – follow that through the track and it will give you some indication of his genius.

As I write this, I am playing the album, and nothing has changed my initial view of this work – They were for that five inspired years the finest musicians on the planet. What is so amazing is how they maintained such a level of performance and interpretation with band members seemingly coming and going at will. Despite my biased leaning towards the ‘Sandy Denny period’ what is clear is that after she had gone the male band left behind somehow raised their game to a level that it is fair to say was unexpected. It makes that five-year period covered by this retrospective album a complete whole where the quality does not drop off whoever is in the band.

My first ever live concert was Fairport Convention in early 1973 at the Albert Halls, Bolton. A group of us went over the moors from Darwen on the local Ribble bus. The excitement of this I cannot put into words. The first experience of live music that would live with me forever and form a desire to see everyone I loved in music in a live setting. We went with not the greatest of expectation – we had not got a clue who was going to be in the band. Dave Mattacks had left. Richard Thompson was on his solo journey. Simon Nicol also gone. What we got was the most exciting and inspiring performance that had us reeling with joy and admiration. Wow – Dave Mattacks had come back, he was there on that drum kit. Swarb stalked the stage, cigarette in hand and one in reserve on his violin. Dave Pegg statuesque and powerful in his squire of the manor riding boots. Gerry Donohue proving a fine substitute on guitar. But the one you couldn’t take your eyes off, someone I had never heard of, was Trevor Lucas driving the band as frontman and tying them all together. Once again this line up would not be long lasting but I am certainly glad to have seen them for my first concert. I could not have asked for more – except Sandy Denny.

Going back to this event in 1973 you have to appreciate what a exciting departure from normal life this was for us young people. We had no transport – who did back then. But we needed to get home so in the interval after the support act (Bernard Wrigley – The Bolton Bullfrog) we piled into the row of public telephone boxes in the entrance to the hall to try and persuade someone to come over for us later. As we did the doors to the hall crashed open. In came Fairport, Swarb in the lead, cigarette between his lips and carrying that priceless violin. The others followed and they bustled through the crowd. We could have fainted with excitement – but did they always leave it this late. I suspect they were just finishing a pint or two in the pub around the corner and knew they could produce the magic at will.

Sandy Denny came back into the fold not long after this album but the magic had gone and this compilation pays testament to their greatness that could have continued but musical differences and conflicts finally took their toll on the quality. By all means enjoy the later works, Fairport will always have merit, making a niche market that has endured to this day. But, this showcases what was and indeed what could have been had there been ongoing stability. Then again, we would not have had Richard Thompson in his solo pomp. Can’t have everything.

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Track listing for History of Fairport Convention

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Paris is the most atmospheric of cities. The sights, the people, the restaurants and cafes are evocative of memorable travel and times past. This is a small selection of my photography taken over several visits and rendered in black and white. Please enjoy these and my books on Paris and France are available on Amazon.

Alt="French travel book series and Collioure harbour photo"
My French Travel Book series and New book Off the Autoroute

Published by Neal Atherton

My passion is writing about travel and particularly French travel. I have traveled extensively in France and wine and food has always featured on my travels and now in my books. My friends always await our return from France with the latest new finds from the vineyards and I was more than happy to keep sampling. I am from Lancashire in the north of England but have now relocated to Somerset (nearer to France) and able to enjoy devoting my time to writing and new discoveries. France came late to me as a destination, in fact so conservative was my travel upbringing that it was a long time before I even ventured to Cornwall. I have more than made up for the slow start and have enjoyed helping many others with their travel plans to France and especially to Paris and Provence. I have written a series of four books on France - Three are now on Amazon:THE FIRST TIME WE SAW PARIS about our first steps in French Travel, THYME FOR PROVENCE our discovery of that glorious region and the people and places we met and discovered, A DREAM OF PARIS a personal memoir of our times in Paris with friends. France has been fun, we have been burgled on our very first arrival, we discovered the best cafe that changed our travel lives on the very next day, we learnt about French wine, we escaped from the most horrendous gite, we found the best of gites, B & B's and people, we laughed and cried with dear friends in Paris, I was hosed down by a crazy owner to cool me down in Provence, our breakfast in a remote village was served by the French army, we stepped totally out of our comfort zone and discovered the best of French culture. The experiences are varied and many and please come with me as I retell the stories and my footsteps are there to follow. I am also writing about ancestry and genealogy and my first book about our incredible family story themed around war and the military is now on Amazon - A BULLET FOR LIFE. I love the English game of cricket, golf, soccer, photography, walking and cooking. Oh, and travel of course.

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