Fairport Convention find themselves celebrating a golden anniversary in 2017. Formed by Ashley Hutchings in 1967’s ’summer of love’ they have become one of the most influential UK bands in popular music.
Without ploughing through their lengthy and often complex timeline, their place in history is secure. Considering iconic bands such as The Beatles (the Fairporters appearing With The Beatles-like in half shadow in the CD booklet incidentally) and Led Zeppelin having relatively short careers by comparison, their application to the cause is more than admirable.
They are indeed the epitome of a national institution and have marked the occasion with an album with a great title - half studio and half live recordings accompanied by the reality of the comment from Dave Pegg that, “we’ve always had to tread the boards to pay the bills”. So with thanks to sound engineer John Gale there’s a nice selection of live material from UK concerts and their own Cropredy Festival, with two tracks from gigs in Europe to add to some modern day studio efforts.
Amongst them are some gems containing a barely hidden allusion to their durability. Chris Leslie gets all reflective with Eleanor’s Dream opening the record with the line “This world won’t see their like again”. Never more apt. Then there’s his Our Bus Rolls On (as indeed it does), a jaunty little number name checking the current band members.
The variety comes thick and fast. Aside from the original songs, ranging from folk rock to lively jiggery folkery pieces, they dip into traditional folk song and covers as well as examples of their legendary attitude and openness to collaboration with all manner of guests.
Thus so with a rolling live version of Steve Tilston’s The Naked Highwayman, perhaps the pick of the covers. There’s also a lively band take on the traditional Lord Marlborough.
They become Robert Plant’s backing band on Jesus On The Mainline, another live recording from a singer whose admiration for Fairport was a major influence on some of the early Zeppelin material. It sees Plant adding an Americana feel while another guest, Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee, delivers a stately rendition on Lady Of Carlisle.
Enough may have been spoken and written about the Fairport comings and goings over the past half century and, while they may be a different beast from their genre setting, ground-breaking early days and albums, there’s a comfort and familiarity about them these days. It might be cheesy to ask who knows where the time goes, but to roll out another cliche, one often employed in cricketing terms, here’s looking ahead to the next fifty.Mike Ainscoe
Produced by John Gale and Fairport Convention
Recorded at Woodworm Studios, Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire
On sale in record shops from 10 March 2017
1. Eleanor’s Dream
2. Ye Mariners All (live)
3. Step By Step
4. The Naked Highwayman (live)
5. Danny Jack’s Reward
6. Jesus On The Mainline (live, vocals Robert Plant)
7. Devil’s Work
8. Mercy Bay (live)
9. Our Bus Rolls On
10. Portmeirion (live)
11. The Lady Of Carlisle (vocals Jacqui McShee)
12. Lord Marlborough (live)
13. Summer By The Cherwell
14. John Condon (live)