Another February, another Fairport winter tour. There has been a radical revamp of the set-list for this tour, however. This is not unwelcome. In recent years it was getting a tad repetitive. True, they had their 45th and then 50th anniversaries to celebrate and were rightly focused on delivering a set-list that reflected career highlights over the decades. For this tour the set is dominated by just two albums: the band’s latest Shuffle & Go and a revisit of the band’s 1970 album Full House. The latter is itself reaching its 50th anniversary this year (never let it be said that this band ever misses an opportunity to celebrate an anniversary…)
Before we get to any of this, however, the Americana-flavoured songs of acoustic guitar/harmony vocals duo Smith & Brewer go down extremely well. Fairport Convention have long used the support slot on their winter tours in a fairly strategic way to showcase emerging talent and bring artists to wider public attention. But for both musicality and entertainment value this act has been one of the finest to take this slot in recent years and they are suitably rewarded at the merch stand during the interval.
After sharing the stage with Smith & Brewer for their final song ‘Don’t Say You Don’t Love Me’ Fairport kick off their own set with much-loved show-opener ‘Walk A While’ but swiftly move on to tracks from the new album. I had not purchased the album prior to the gig so it’s a first taste of these songs. I particularly like the first of these tonight and the opening track on the album. One of my criticisms of recent Fairport albums is that some of the songs from Chris Leslie’s hand have been a little on the twee and whimsical side (‘Our Bus Rolls On’ anyone?). ‘Don’t Reveal My Name’ about the card magician Dai Vernon is dark, brooding and mysterious, on the other hand, and a great addition to the Fairport repertoire. We get a whopping ten of the album’s thirteen tracks tonight, including the wistful celebration of the nation’s pubs ‘A Thousand Bars’ and Chris Leslie’s ‘Moondust & Solitude’ marking the anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Some impressive songs in there, I will say.
After the interval there’s a few more songs from the new album, a blast of the wondrous ‘Farewell, Farewell’ from the Liege and Lief album and then it’s time to launch into that Full House celebration. Back when it was released in 1970, this was the first of the all-male Fairport line-ups where the band were working out their future direction following the departure of Sandy Denny (along with Ashley Hutchings). The five deliver nicely-worked treatments of ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, ‘Sloth’ and ‘Doctor of Physick’ – albeit with Chris Leslie’s mandolin taking the place of Richard Thompson’s guitar licks (although Dave Pegg tells the audience that Mr Thompson, along with former Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks, will be joining the band to play the Full House album live at the Cropredy festival in the summer.)
The set ends with the usual trio of Fairport show-closers ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, ‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge’ and regardless of whether they have or haven’t played the De La Warr before (there was a bit of a dispute about this between Simon Nichol and Dave Pegg earlier in the evening) the band nevertheless have an appreciative audience tonight.
Don’t Reveal My Name
Good Time for a Fiddle and Bow / The Christmas Eve Reel
A Thousand Bars
Shuffle and Go
Moondust and Solitude
The Year of Fifty Nine
Sir Patrick Spens
Doctor of Physick
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Meet on the Ledge