Fairport Convention

TrackAlbum
Jack O'’RionTipplers Tales
London RiverRed & Gold
Meet On The LedgeWhat We Did On Our Holidays
Mercy BayFestival Bell
One More ChanceRising For The Moon
Possibly Parsons GreenNine
Run Johnny RunThe Bonny Bunch Of Roses
SlothLive At The L.A. Troubadour
Tam LinLiege & Lief
Who Knows Where The Time GoesUnhalfbricking

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

Bizarrely, I first came across Fairport Convention via Pink Floyd! While studying for O levels a bunch of us went to the Harrow Granada to see Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii, the support film was Tony Palmer’s film of Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort (Live in Maidstone 1970) and I fell in love with their sound – my friends were less than impressed. The first Fairport LP I bought was Rising For The Moon (their new release at the time) and from there progressively bought the back and forward catalogue. My original vinyl collection is intact but superseded by CDs and downloads – 41 different albums in all! This selection spans their entire output to date. It will split opinion; how can you choose just 10 songs, each collection is going to be personal to the individual.

One More Chance is the closing track on Rising For The Moon. I was always struck by the simple beauty of Sandy Denny’s lyric, Jerry Donahue’s guitar with Swarb’s violin and the majesty of the arrangement. It was also the track I was listening to when I heard of Sandy’s death. If asked for my all-time favourite song, it would be this. Then in no particular order …

Tam Lin: Many people think of Matty Groves when they think of the album Liege & Lief, I was always struck by the narrative of Tam Lin and the interplay between Dave Swarbrick and Richard Thompson throughout the song. Sandy’s vocal is crisp as ever and you never miss a beat of the story. And, in the end, love conquers all.

OK, you may think No Mercy an off the wall selection, but Chris Leslie (who wrote the song) has added a lot to the later Fairport line-ups. Each new musician has added to the band, never any dead wood or fill-ins. The Festival Bell album released in 2011 stands up well next to its older siblings; here is another telling of the quest for the North West Passage. Simon’s vocal is strong, Dave Pegg’s bass keeps the song moving (as ever). The dual violins of Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie work throughout.

Red & Gold is another later album and London River is another favourite of mine. I could have chosen the title track that was written by Ralph McTell but I am London born and bred and I love the River Thames where it flows through Westminster and the City. My favourite part is between London and Tower Bridges looking north to the City and the Tower of London, hence my choice.

Possibly Parsons Green. The Nine album line-up is, in my opinion, overlooked. This track is a reference to an area of west London between Fulham and Putney and a take on Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street, but without the venom. You wouldn’t want to be the recipient of the message just the same. Written by Trevor Lucas who was Sandy’s husband and featuring his distinctive voice.

Sandy Denny’s magnum opus, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, written when she was 19 or 20, this song has been covered by so many singers – most notably Judy Collins. Richard Thompson’s sensitive guitar, Ashley Hutching’s bass, Sandy’s vocal and Martin Lamble’s drums take this song to perfection.

Unhalfbricking is among my favourite all time albums. You have the jazzy arrangement of Autopsy, the breakup of relationship, Richard’s cry for justice in Genesis Hall and the Dylan covers of Million Dollar Bash and Percy’s Song. How can you fail to love this album. It contained the band’s first foray into a traditional song with the epic A Sailor’s Life which is a live take in the studio.

Meet On The Ledge was played at Martin Lamble’s funeral and has been for many years the band’s closing number and a group chorus. Ian Matthews and Sandy Denny pick up Richard Thompson’s lyric with such elegance, then you hear Richard’s voice in the chorus. Martin Lamble’s development as a drummer was a loss to us all. I have fond memories of singing this with 20,000 others at Cropredy after midnight at the end of the Fairport sets.

Run Johnny Run is written by Ralph McTell and is on one of the two LPs that Fairport did for Phonogram on their Vertigo label. Fairport were a four piece by then and this was the line-up I first saw live. Memories of some fine nights at the Open Air Theatre at Regent’s Park, the Fairfield Hall, Croydon, amongst others. Fairport are always at their best when there is a story to tell.

Dave Swarbrick carries the narrative of Jack O’Rion, a song where dance tunes punctuate the story. Tipplers Tales was recorded by the same line-up as The Bonny Bunch Of Roses and was the last album before the band split in 1979 and before part two of the story commenced in 1985. You almost felt ‘at last Fairport have recorded Jack Orion’ – this is another song from the live sets that I saw in that period.

When you see Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick’s lyric for Sloth on paper you wonder what the fuss is about. First recorded on the Full House album, the version recorded live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles where the band famously made a $1,500 loss due to their bar bill, is the definitive version that wonderfully illustrates the musical interplay between Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg and Richard Thompson. Dave Mattacks keeps the band anchored and Simon Nicol adds vocals.

It would have been easy to pick 10 songs from the 1967 to 1979 period but the 1985 to now albums sit well next to the classic older material and I have tried to illustrate this with my selections.

Fairport Convention’s official website

Fairport Convention biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #56

16 Comments

  1. Rob Millis
    Aug 30, 2013

    Oh yes, the top 10:
    Banks of the Sweet Primroses – House Full (Live at the LA Troubadour)
    Bonny Black Hare – Angel Delight
    Come All Ye – Liege and Lief
    Meet On The Ledge – What We Did On Our Holidays
    No Man’s Land – What We Did On Our Holidays
    Now Be Thankful – History of Fairport Convention
    Percy’s Song – Unhalfbricking
    Sir Patrick Spens – Full House
    Sloth – House Full (Live at the LA Troubadour)
    Walk Awhile – Full House

  2. Rob Millis
    Aug 30, 2013

    Good god. An article on FC that doesn’t treat everything other than Liege & Lief as an afterthought. Well done that man.

  3. Merric Davidson
    Aug 30, 2013

    And mine (incl. Matty Groves – Liege & Lief) and yes it’s all early stuff – I should get out more!
    Babbacombe Lee – it’s just one long track really innit
    Crazy Man Michael – sorry, Liege & Lief again
    Fotheringay – What We Did …
    Genesis Hall – Unhalfbricking
    If I Had A Ribbon Bow – single / Fairport Convention CD
    Meet On The Ledge – natch
    Reno, Nevada – Heyday CD
    Stranger To Himself – Rising For The Moon
    and I’ll take Walk Awhile too!

  4. Merric Davidson
    Aug 30, 2013

    Ha ha. Hear hear. I’d still want to take Matty Groves to my island if that’s ok.

  5. Rob Millis
    Aug 30, 2013

    Now I’m as shallow as folk alluded to in my first comment! I’m ashamed not to have included anything after Angel Delight (I toyed with Babbacombe Lee myself but too much from Full House era to sacrifice.
    I did buy Rosie and the one after, but after both Nicol and RT went, I thought they lost focus: they became more of a generic folk rock act rather than an English version of The Band that they were from 1968-1971: an act that showed their understanding of roots music from parts of their nation and neighbouring nations and wrote originals you’d swear were standards, but under the framework of contemporary rock.

  6. Rob Millis
    Aug 30, 2013

    I didn’t want to say it because my father is in good health and long may that continue, but in a funny way I’d take an original copy of “History Of” to my island, because I always used to be drawn to it, with the family tree and the rosette, and the booklet inside, as a small child long before I ever heard it, when Dad’s many records were a source of fascination.

  7. Peter Viney
    Aug 30, 2013

    I was inspired by Ian’s list to try to book FC live in two week’s time – they’re ten miles down the road – only to find I’m double-booked already on the 12th September. I But I intend to catch up on the last 40 years. I’m embarrassed to say I closed shop after Liege & Lief & Full House, so just as Rob says, regarded the rest as an afterthought, though I too have “The History Of” with its family tree. Walk Awhile was on the “Bumpers” Island compilation and I reckon these early sampler compilations are important for the time. They’re often the best-known tracks by bands.
    The second or third one I’d write on my early, so ignorant, list though, is that ‘homage’ to 1960s girls grammar school French lessons, Si Tu Dois Partir, with honourable mentions for some of the”Heyday” BBC sessions with covers of the Everly’s Gone, Gone, Gone plus two Leonard Cohen covers, Suzanne and Bird On The Wire. And ‘Sloth’ from House Full: Live at the LA Troubadour.

  8. Rob Millis
    Aug 31, 2013

    Absolutely Peter. I wouldn’t have investigated half the stuff I came to like a lot if it wasn’t for You Can All Join In and Son of Gutbucket.

  9. Colin Duncan
    Aug 31, 2013

    ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ is really up there for me on my list of favourite songs of all time. I followed Sandy Denny after the break up. I really like the great, succinct description of the song on the list and couldn’t agree more. I think I have an excuse in not continuing to follow Fairport Convention, being Scottish and interested in the Scottish folk bands at that time.

  10. Peter Viney
    Sep 1, 2013

    Who Knows Where The Time Goes? was voted ’best folk song of all time’ in a 2007 poll. It is so evocative that its emotion has been borrowed for film soundtracks, but most powerfully for me in the Jez Butterworth play, Jerusalem, where the lead character is dancing with a young girl, then gets brutally beaten up while the song plays. That’s Sandy Denny solo from 1973, not the Fairport version.
    Like Colin, in the 70s, I stayed with Sandy Denny, and in my case, Richard & Linda Thompson’s releases, but abandoned Fairport Convention. I didn’t have the excuse of being Scottish, but around then I worked with some real ale bores (really, an hour on real ale’s merits is 55 minutes too long) who played Liege & Lief and Full House far too much, and Fairport got unfairly associated. Unhalfbricking and What We Did On Our Holidays stayed on the playlist though.
    On English, rather than British folk, I’m drawn to the theory that there’s a direct line between long sustained final notes in English folk and English prog rock vocalists. The second part of the theory draws a line more firmly from Irish and Scottish folk to American folk, and I always listened to more American and Irish. I rediscovered interest in Fairport a few years ago when I started listening to younger English folk musicians, like The Unthanks. Then Bellowhead, and now I’m into Peter Bellamy. On the Scottish/English folk differences, that’s maybe why some of the best folk comes from Northumbria, where the two versions mingle.

    • Rob Millis
      Sep 1, 2013

      Real ale still beats golf as a pub topic though. But an hour talking about it is an hour not drinking enough of it to justify the analysis.
      I agree – when it comes to the period that RT left Fairport, I follow RT. There is a handover period – Angel Delight beats Henry The Human Fly for my money – but as a simple rule of thumb, I agree.
      Am I shocking for not raving about Denny as much as RT? I honestly think that Full House is the best example of a band on all cylinders. No lead singer, no focal point, more match-fit – far more like a Band for the UK. I prefer that to a “perfect” singer plus backing band in some ways.

  11. Colin Duncan
    Sep 1, 2013

    Bands we have missed. I feel I have missed out on Richard and Linda Thompson so I’m going to rectify that. Also, Rob, last weekend I went out and bought ‘The ‘Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, although I had a friend who played Traffic all the time. Next buy is something from the Incredible String Band which I was a little young for when they broke through, being into the Beatles and singles at that time. Also, I don’t keep up with young bands, but I did buy a Thea Gilmore album. What Fairport album without Sandy Denny would you recommend Ian?

    • Ian Ashleigh
      Sep 12, 2013

      What a question Colin! I’d say all of them but I guess that’s not helpful. I love the band too much to be objective. Full House is probably a good place to start but then I like Bonnie Bunch of Roses and from the later stuff, The Five Seasons or even the latest, Festival Bell.

  12. Peter Viney
    Sep 1, 2013

    Checking Ian’s list, I found One More Chance from “Rising For The Moon” and also found the whole album, the last with Sandy Denny who rejoined for it, has just been reissued in a DeLuxe edition with Live At The Troubadour as a bonus CD. I ordered it, activated AutoRip and have been listening. I love One More Chance, which is new to me and a virtue of Toppermost. The Troubador disc includes Down In The Flood, RT’s Down Where The Drunkard’s Roll, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, and That’ll Be The Day. Sterling stuff!

  13. Merric Davidson
    Sep 2, 2013

    Fact is that Fairport Convention are unique in the annals of British traditional/popular music and their longevity is a wonder. There are gems throughout the years which our contributor has highlighted but there is also filler. Never mind. I don’t care. A Fairport concert today is the same as a Fairport concert yesteryears – a joy, an event, a memory, and a smile. Of course it’s not possible to have a favourite 10 songs. This is a group beyond analysis, now and forever more … and we’re all fated to meet on the ledge. Now, who the hell’s gonna do a Richard, an Ashley, a Swarb, and a Sandy toppermost?

  14. Roger Woods
    Sep 3, 2013

    All great lists up there. I was a student in London from 1967-70. This was the heyday of Ashley Hutchings’ version of Fairport. I saw them many times, standing in front of them (and Sandy) at Queen Mary College while she sang Who Knows Where The Time Goes? and Tam Lin in wonderful fashion. I was living in Muswell Hill when Martin Lamble died in the crash maybe five miles away.
    About three years ago I saw a re-incarnation of The Albion Band and spent the interval discussing the influence of The Band on Fairport’s music. Music From Big Pink made a major impression on members of Fairport and the brown album – The Band – set the scene for Liege and Lief which was conceived and worked on in an equivalent house to Big Pink. Their management procured a very early bootleg of the Basement Tapes. I guess in their case it was an official demo rather than the bootleg I bought in Feb ’68. Two wonderful tracks missed off all the lists above are ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ and ‘Book Song’.

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