Category Archives: live reviews

Review: Mearfest at the Carlisle, Hastings 9/12/17

Saturday saw Hastings’ legendary rock pub, The Carlisle, host Mearfest. Inspired by personal tragedy Claire and Brian Mear have been running their rock and metal charity events for several years now, with funds going to The Willows stillbirth charity and other local causes.

Comprising a dozen bands and one solo acoustic set, all performing original material – no tribute acts or covers bands – what struck me throughout the day was the sheer quality of the acts taking the stage.

Particular standouts for me were Southampton five-piece, Toledo Steel; ‘Now Wave Of British Heavy Metal’ act, Kaine; and NWOBHM veterans Satan’s Empire, reformed after three decades.

Powerfully majestic but hard and heavy Toledo Steel put me in mind of classic-era Dio and Rich Rutter’s vocals and Tom Potter’s and Josh Haysom’s guitars are the perfect combination for this brand of hard-hitting melodic rock metal. Toledo Steel are definitely on my list to see and hear more of and I am certainly enjoying their excellent six-track EP ‘Zero Hour’.

http://www.toledosteel.co.uk/

Kaine is a four-piece formed in 2009 and musically inspired by the late 70s/early 80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal boom. Powerful well-written songs and powerful delivery, you can hear the influences from their musical heroes like Iron Maiden in their performance. I took a copy of their excellent album ‘The Waystone’ away which confirms why they are getting so many plaudits on the contemporary metal scene.

https://kaine-metal.com/

Satan’s Empire had a breakthrough of sorts in 1981 when their excellent single ‘Soldiers Of War’ appeared on a Neat Records compilation. Sadly, they disappeared from view but now, with the original line-up still intact, they have reformed. Their performance oozed class, stage presence and memorable songs and it’s great to see them get a second bite of the cherry. They deserve it.

https://www.facebook.com/SatansEmpireOfficial/

I’ve just pulled three acts out here that particularly inspired but in truth the quality didn’t let up throughout the day. It’s clear that organisers Brian and Claire Mear love what they are doing and, importantly, know what they are doing.

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http://www.mearfest.org/

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Review: Mike Garson performs Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 Institute 25/11/17

Lovers of 70s-era David Bowie have been in for a real treat this year. Not only have we had Tony Visconti and original Spider from Mars, Woody Woodmansey, touring the Ziggy Stardust album in full, we now have virtuoso Bowie pianist, Mike Garson touring the Aladdin Sane album in full.

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Joining Garson on this tour are former Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong; award-winning vocalist Gaby Moreno, Terry Edwards (PJ Harvey band) on sax and guitar; along with the current Iggy Pop rhythm section of Ben Ellis and Mat Hector. It’s a stunningly good band. From a fabulously groovy ‘What’s That Man’ through to a poignantly dramatic ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ they bring to life the full Bowie masterpiece in all its glory.

For ‘The Jean Genie’ we get an extra treat. Deep Purple’s Roger Glover (whose talented daughter Gillian Glover is providing backing vocals tonight as well as being the solo support act) is taking a night off from the Purple tour and takes the stage to play bass for this song. Sadly, I never got to see Trevor Bolder doing the bass-line of ‘The Jean Genie’ but seeing Roger Glover doing it has got to be the next best thing. We even get a cheeky snatch of Purple’s ‘Black Night’ at the end!

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After a magnificent performance of Aladdin Sane, Garson introduces a second set of other Bowie favourites, kicking off with a stunning Space Oddity. Then it’s on to ‘Life On Mars’.The piano is as prominent on ‘Hunky Dory’ as it is on ‘Aladdin Sane’, albeit in a very different style. But after the jazz-infused piano of ‘Aladdin Sane’ Garson moves on to deliver a truly majestic version of ‘Life On Mars’ that even manages to out-Wakeman Rick Wakeman. An extremely gifted composer and musician it’s nothing less than an absolute pleasure to see the great Mike Garson in action this evening.

Another treat is seeing Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel fame take the stage to guest on vocals for a few numbers, including a superb ‘Changes’ and a wonderfully frenetic ‘Absolute Beginners’ as well as two of Harley’s own songs ‘A Friend For Life’ and ‘Sebastian’.

Like all great art the songs celebrated tonight will live on long after the demise of their original creator. They will undoubtedly carry on being performed many years into the future. Inevitably, there will come a day when no-one who actually performed alongside Bowie is around any more. For now, though, let’s be thankful that people like Mike Garson and Kevin Armstrong are celebrating his legacy and the unmistakable part they played in it.

Set-list:

First Set – Aladdin Sane album in full:
Watch That Man
Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)
Drive-In Saturday
Panic in Detroit
Cracked Actor
Time
The Prettiest Star
Let’s Spend the Night Together
The Jean Genie
Lady Grinning Soul

Second Set – Bowie Favourites:
Space Oddity
Life on Mars?
Changes
A Friend for Life
Absolute Beginners
Sebastian
Rock’n’Roll Suicide
Five Years
Wild Is the Wind
Ziggy Stardust
Under Pressure
Let’s Dance

http://www.mikegarson.com/

Related posts:

Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust in full
The riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences

Live review: Fisherman’s Friends at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 12/11/17

“I quite like hearing the odd sea shanty – but I’m not sure I could manage a whole evening of it,” announces a long-time friend and my gig partner for the evening, seconds before Fisherman’s Friends are about to take the stage. Ah… hmmm. Perhaps I should have explained a little more when I first suggested going to see Fisherman’s Friends. I hope she’s not going to be too disappointed, I think to myself.

For the uninitiated, the Cornish singing group from Port Isaac have been making a huge impact in recent years singing traditional songs of the sea that have handed down to them over generations. They became the first traditional folk act to land a UK top ten album. Unsurprisingly, the group are clearly going to receive an enthusiastic welcome in a traditional fishing town like Hastings.

While there are enthusiastically-sung shanties galore tonight, it soon becomes clear that, wonderful though these are, Fisherman’s Friends’ repertoire expands much wider than that. An Americana-infused riverboat song, traditional songs of a non-seafaring nature, a Show Of Hands cover and the sea shanty ‘sub-genre’ of whaling songs all nestle with the anticipated shanties in the set tonight. Although many of the songs are delivered acapello showcasing the rich range of voices from the seven men on stage, there is also some nicely played guitar and accordion thrown into the mix at times, too.

Fisherman’s Friends are brothers and lobster fishermen John and Jeremy Brown, writer Jon Cleave, potter Billy Hawkins, smallholder John Lethbridge, builder John McDonnell, fisherman Jason Nicholas and film maker Toby Lobb. However, due to other commitments founder member John Brown is taking some time out on this tour and has been temporarily replaced by Jon Darley from upcoming, Bristol-based sea shanty group The Longest Johns. In a stage act that is never short of banter, much is made of the imposing hunk-like presence of the handsome young Darley joining the predominantly silver-haired Fisherman’s Friends on stage. As well as the body, however, Darley has a superb voice and takes the lead on a handful of songs tonight, including a gloriously rousing ‘Drunken Sailor’ for the encore. In fact, it would be good to see the Longest Johns doing a gig in their own right here in Hastings – someone book them!

Highlights in the set for me tonight include ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’ (a song which I think must have been compulsory learning for every primary school class in mid-1970s Lancashire and one where I know every word), ‘Cousin Jack’ (a spirited cover of the Show Of Hands favourite) and a rousing ‘The Union Of Different Kinds’ (definitely an anthem for these divided times).

Fisherman’s Friends certainly deserved the thunderous encore they got tonight. And my friend? She loved it, including all the shanties, Phew!

https://thefishermansfriends.com/

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Related review:
Album review – The Longest Johns

Review: For One Night Only – Jim Lea at the Robin 2, Bilston 5/11/17

Back in 2002 Slade’s Jim Lea performed a unique one-off solo gig at Bilston’s Robin 2 venue, the only solo gig of his entire career. Now, some fifteen years later, Jim was to take to the stage at the Robin once again for a Q and A session for fans that would immediately follow an official first screening of the new live DVD from that gig.

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Today’s event was not going to be a live performance we were all warned when we booked: “Unfortunately due to Jim’s illness he will be unable to perform musically at this event.” That was fine I thought to myself. It will still be something special, a unique Slade event, a chance to hear directly from Jim and, for me, an opportunity to see him up on a stage for the first time since I saw Slade on the My Oh My tour when I was still at sixth form.

The film itself is a nice memento. It’s fan-shot footage from the audience rather than a professional film but the quality is considerably better than the average blurry, wonky you-tube concert video and, coupled with the official CD soundtrack of the concert and some brand new interview segments with Jim as he reflects back on that night, it’s definitely a must-have for fans.

The DVD screening is then followed by a short warm-up from poet, Paul Cookson. Dubbed Slade’s official Poet Laureate by Noddy Holder, Cookson delivers two wonderfully affectionate Slade-themed poems, including one written especially for today. And then it’s time for the main event. Jim Lea takes the stage to warm applause as he begins his Q&A session with local BBC radio presenter, Paul Franks.

While there are many oft-repeated Slade anecdotes that fans, and many chat-show viewers, will have heard many, many times before from his less publicity-shy erstwhile band-mates, Jim delves deep with his recollections today. Fascinating insights emerge: such as his wife Louise being an uncredited co-writer of Slade’s 1974 hit Everyday; about the piano refrain in How Does It Feel being the very first thing he ever composed; about how the violin solo in the band’s first number one Coz I Luv You originally emerged out of his regular dressing room jamming sessions with Noddy Holder when they were channelling the spirit of Django Reinhardt. And for this famously private musician who has studiously eschewed the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he also told us a lot about himself today. “Why now?” he was asked. “Well I realised I was no longer shy any more!” he confided. Sharing with the audience that he now understands he is probably autistic (although he’s never had any formal diagnosis) he suggests that this has likely been a key factor in both his levels of creativity and his introspection.

Always the most thoughtful, the most creative and the most fascinating member of Slade, notwithstanding that all four members played an irreplaceable part, Jim Lea was the genuine musical genius of the band. In the DVD he recollects the time he was asked by late manager, Chas Chandler, why he became a bass player when, like Hendrix, he was such an instinctive natural on lead guitar. “I didn’t want to get noticed,” Jim replied.

And so, as the Q&A draws to a close, I start thinking what a special day today has been: getting to pose with Jim’s bass in the morning after much, much queuing, seeing the inaugural screening of Jim’s DVD on the very stage where it was originally filmed, hearing Jim share his fascinating insights into the band and, of course, getting to meet lots of fellow Slade fans.

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And then it all started to get ever so slightly odd on stage. Jim went off stage to get something. Something about some notes for the final question host, Paul Franks, said. But then microphone stands start appearing. Surely he can’t be? He can’t be playing for us can he? Oh my God, there he is back on stage with his guitar. Is he really going to do this?

He’d not got a full band he confessed but he had recorded some backing tapes to play along to and he wanted to do something special to finish the session, he said. And he did. Launching into a blistering version of Cum On Feel The Noize, he rocked out on lead guitar and sang for all he was worth in his first public performance since that last Robin gig fifteen years ago. Gudbuy T Jane and We’ll Bring The House Down quickly followed and, with an ecstatic demand for an encore, he finishes by giving the emotional crowd of Slade fans Mamma Weer All Crazee Now.

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We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.

The man who didn’t want to get noticed certainly got noticed today.

Thank you Jim for what you did for us today. We wish you the best of health in your ongoing treatment and we thank you for all the music you gave us in the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band the world has ever known.

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

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Related posts:
Slade at Donington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made
Slade UK and Pouk Hill Prophetz at Wolverhampton
Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings
Slade at Giants of Rock, Minehead

Michael Schenker Fest at Shepherds Bush Empire 2/11/17

Michael Schenker’s career, as well as his personal life, went through an increasingly erratic period a decade or so ago. Having seen Schenker a couple of times in recent years with his Temple Of Rock project, however, it was clear that he has absolutely, undisputably got his shit together again. If more proof was needed, tonight’s gig provides overwhelming evidence of that.

Tonight’s gig, dubbed Michael Schenker Fest, features all three vocalists from the three key eras of MSG: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley. Barden is first up. While I won’t say he is the strongest of the three vocalists who will appear on stage tonight this is undeniably my favourite era of the band and the classic songs come thick and fast, transporting me back to my teenage rock fan years: Victim Of Illusion, Cry For The Nations, Armed And Ready….

Schenker is on stunningly good form with some stunningly good guitar work coming from his signature Flying V. On stage there’s other familiar faces from the old MSG days, too: Chris Glenn on bass, Ted McKenna on drums and Steve Mann on keyboards.

Next up is Graham Bonnet and while I have heard him struggle a bit at times during previous gigs he is definitely on form tonight. Originally recording one excellent album with MSG and playing just one disastrous gig where he drunkenly flashed the audience and promptly got sacked, much water has passed under the bridge since then. It feels a privilege to witness Bonnet perform Dancer and Assault Attack with Schenker and properly celebrate the part he played in MSG’s legacy. Even the sound system crashing in the early part of Bonnet’s set didn’t dampen the mood (and allowed me a much-needed loo break!)

Then it is the turn of the third of tonight’s vocalists. Robin McCauley is easily the strongest of the three singers tonight. Although set-wise, the earlier songs probably have far more resonance for me than the McAuley Schenker era, he certainly doesn’t disappoint tonight. To end the set he delivers a brilliant rendition of Rock Bottom from Schenker’s UFO days.

That sets the tone for a brilliant out-of-this-world encore which becomes a complete and utter UFO-fest. McCauley, Bonnet and Barden all come back on stage for Doctor Doctor, followed by Shoot Shoot, Natural Thing (with Schenker’s son Tyson joining his father on guitar) and, finally, Lights Out.

Three great vocalists, a brilliant gifted guitarist, some top class musicians and song after song of unforgettable rock classics, this was definitely one of the best hard rock gigs of 2017.

Set-list:

Searching for Freedom
Into the Arena
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Victim of Illusion
Cry for the Nations
Attack of the Mad Axeman
Armed and Ready
Coast to Coast
Desert Song
Dancer
Assault Attack
Captain Nemo
No Time for Losers
Save Yourself
Bad Boys
Love Is Not a Game
Rock Bottom
Doctor Doctor
Shoot Shoot
Natural Thing
Lights Out

http://www.michaelschenkerhimself.com/home.php

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Strawbs at Under The Bridge, London 29/10/17

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

As a kid in the 70s I do recall frequent radio plays of the Strawbs novelty hit ‘Part Of The Union’ in what was that fractious decade for industrial relations. And as an adult and Sandy Denny fanatic, the latter’s brilliant pop-folk album with the Strawbs is frequently in my CD player. However, those two brief snapshots in time can hardly be said to represent the prog-leaning rock outfit that has been the mainstay of much of the band’s output these past forty-odd years. For the most part though it has, until tonight, lain largely off my radar.

Strawbs are still going strong, still gigging and touring. And tonight we are here at Chelsea’s Under The Bridge venue to witness the formal launch of the band’s first new album of all original material in eight years: The Ferryman’s Curse.

The two sets the band perform tonight are a mixture of songs from the new album and those from earlier in their career. As I am unfamiliar with any of the material tonight there appears to be no letting up in the quality of the songs in my view, the new material standing up well against what were clearly crowd favourites from past decades.

Dave Cousins’ vocal delivery is something of an acquired taste I find (and, to be honest I prefer it when long-time band-mate, Dave Lambert, takes the lead vocals for a handful of songs). That does not, however, mean that there is not some stunning musicianship in this band and some extremely well-crafted songs which definitely ensure tonight’s show is an enjoyable one. Lambert delivers some fine lead guitar throughout and the keyboards are equally stunning. Multi-instrumentalist, Dave Bainbridge, surrenders his keyboard to Cousins at one point and joins Lambert in some exquisite twin-lead soloing.

The band work extremely well together on stage, perhaps a sign of how long most of them have worked with on another. Although, there have been numerous personnel changes over the years it’s not simply a case of one original member with a load of random new boys, as is the reality with a number of vintage rock acts these days. Guitarist Dave Lambert, bass player Chas Cronk and drummer Tony Fernandez have been playing with Cousins on and off since the 1970s – and it shows. This is a band in the genuine sense of the word.

An enjoyable gig from a band I finally can now say I know a little bit more about, besides that novelty hit and their brief flirtation with Sandy Denny. Thank you Strawbs.

http://www.strawbsweb.co.uk/

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Gráinne Duffy at Nell’s Jazz & Blues, London 19/10/17

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Irish singer-songwriter and guitarist, Gráinne Duffy, has been receiving plenty of plaudits since her debut album Out Of The Dark was released back in 2007. She has tended to be labelled a blues artist and, not having seen her before that is pretty much what I was expecting and looking forward to at this gig at Nell’s Jazz & Blues venue in west London.

On taking the stage, however, it soon becomes obvious that while Duffy and her band are incredible blues performers, that label really only describes a part what they deliver. From exquisite blues solos, to polished Eagles-ish country rock, to Stonesy rock workouts, to emotive singer songwriter acoustic renditions, to big fat Bad Company-esque stadium blues rock, to heartfelt soul and even funk, there’s an incredible versatility to Gráinne Duffy’s performance and repertoire.

Whether it’s her own material or her interpretations of some classic standards, Duffy has a soulful expressive voice that makes the songs her own, not to mention some captivating guitar skills and a fine band of supporting musicians. It’s little wonder she’s been wowing audiences from Glastonbury to numerous blues festivals, and although the place was not packed tonight there are enough of us there to give her a rousing reception and an enthusiastic demand for an encore.

Duffy has currently has a single out ‘Where I Belong’ and a new album is due shortly. A talented musician, singer and songwriter, Gráinne Duffy is well worth looking out for if you have not caught up with her already.

http://www.grainneduffy.com/

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Dweezil Zappa at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 13/10/17

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

‘Dweezil Zappa plays whatever the f@%k he likes’

As soon as I saw those words on a seafront poster advertising the show at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion this was on my list of gigs to see this month. There have been ongoing and fairly ferocious spats between the Zappa siblings about how they take forward their late father’s legacy. And with admirable chutzpah from Dweezil this is being billed as ‘The Cease & Desist Tour’ following the lawyer’s letter he received.

Performing to a packed-out De La Warr, the performance is a vivid reminder of what a fantastic range of musical styles and influences Frank Zappa incorporated into his output, as well as what a fantastically accomplished writer and musician he was. From perfectly polished orchestral pop pastiches, to improvised jazz rock work-outs, to exquisite blues rock guitar solos the versatility of Dweezil and his band is truly impressive.

Of particular note, alongside Dweezil Zappa’s beautifully dexterous guitar playing and obvious love for his father’s music, are guitarist/lead vocalist Adam Minkoff, who has joined the Zappa band for this European tour, and female lead vocalist Cian Coey, who delivers some truly stunning vocals.

Set-wise, it being the fiftieth anniversary of the release of ‘Freak Out’, the debut from the Mothers of Invention, songs like ‘You’re Wondering Why I’m Here’ make an appearance, alongside later material like ‘Cruising For Burgers’ and ‘Studebaker Hoch’ as well as surprises like a wonderfully smooth rendition of the James Bond theme. There is no support tonight. Save for a short interval it’s just three exhilarating hours of Zappa. Climaxing with an inspired rendition of the Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’, the audience are up on their feet for a rapturous standing ovation. Band and audience alike seem very pleased with their evening spent in Bexhill.

Succumbing to cancer in 1993, Frank Zappa was an early reminder of the mortality of that generation of musicians from rock’s late 60s/early 70s golden age. Such deaths are now reported with alarming regularity, of course. But whether it’s Zappa, Bowie or any number of rock ‘n’ roll’s true creatives, legitimate questions do arise about how we continue to celebrate their respective legacies. While few of us would opt to be stuck in an endless repeat cycle of non-stop tribute acts (or, God forbid, hologram shows) we do clearly want to find ways of continuing to enjoy such music in a live setting. In this respect, Dweezil has put together something that is creative, ambitious, affectionate and totally appropriate.

Dweezil Zappa does indeed play whatever the f@%k he likes. But he plays it so well. And he does his father proud.

Set-list:

Latex Solar Beef
It Can’t Happen Here
You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here
Bow Tie Daddy
Harry, You’re a Beast
The Orange County Lumber Truck
Motherly Love
Any Way the Wind Blows
Mom & Dad
Tell Me You Love Me
Cruising For Burgers
James Bond Theme
Studebaker Hoch
Rollo
Advance Romance
I’m the Slime

– Interval –

Zomby Woof
Would You Go All the Way?
Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station
Dirty Love
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy
What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?
Bwana Dik
Lumpy Gravy
Village Of The Sun
Echidna’s Arf (Of You)
Let’s Move to Cleveland
Inca Roads
Duke of Prunes
Doreen
Dinah-Moe Humm
I Am the Walrus

https://www.dweezilzappa.com/

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Photo credit: Simon Putman

W.A.S.P. at White Rock Theatre, Hastings 12/10/17

This review is also published on Get Ready To Rock here

Loud, brash, obnoxious, Blackie Lawless’s LA metal outfit W.A.S.P. burst on to the scene in the early 80s and were never far from controversy. Over time, however, the band evolved and their output started showing signs of growing maturity. To be honest it’s not going to be too difficult for your music to start getting more mature if your first record is called ‘Animal (Fuck Like A Beast) is it?

The W.AS.P. of the early90s had moved on to recording a full-blown concept album. ‘The Crimson Idol’ tells the story of a boy Jonathan and explores themes of estrangement, drugs, fame, money and suicide. It has become something of a cult heavy metal album and, twenty-five years since it was originally released, Lawless and his band are touring it in full.

Apart from the ever-present Blackie Lawless, W.A.S.P. has undergone numerous line-up changes over the years and no-one else on stage tonight originally performed on ‘The Crimson Idol’ album. Nevertheless, the band are in fine form and there is some powerful playing from new drummer, Aquiles Priester, and from lead guitarist, Doug Blair. Lawless’s distinctive vocals are as strong and as recognisable as ever.

Songs like ‘The Invisible Boy’ , ‘Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue) and ‘I Am One’ are superb tracks and stand up well on stage. Unlike when some acts choose to revisit an album in full and take the opportunity to reminisce on the history behind every track, there is little in the way of on-stage chat tonight, but Lawless is a charismatic stage presence nonetheless. Visuals from the accompanying film for the album play on three large screens at the back of the stage, adding to the atmosphere. It’s a great album and a great performance tonight.

However, throughout the show part of me was excitedly anticipating the encore and, hopefully, a run-through of some of the great songs from the earlier, dumber, stupider, trashier era of W.A.S.P. It wasn’t a long encore – three songs – as the band didn’t get on stage until 9pm, having only just arrived in the UK following the Scandinavian leg of their tour. But we did get gloriously over the top versions of ‘L.O.V.E Machine’ and ‘Wild Child’ which made a fitting end to the proceedings. Was I disappointed that we didn’t have a bit more of this? A little – but that has only made me more determined to catch Blackie and the boys again when they are next over…

Set-list:

The Titanic Overture
The Invisible Boy
Arena of Pleasure
Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)
The Gypsy Meets the Boy
Doctor Rockter
I Am One
The Idol
Hold on to My Heart
The Great Misconceptions of Me
The Real Me
L.O.V.E. Machine
Wild Child

https://www.waspnation.com/waspnation.htm

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Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2017

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

Fairport Convention’s festival at Cropredy has been an annual fixture for almost four decades now but the big celebration this year was marking the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s formation. In the eight years since I have been going it has always been quite an eclectic bill, straddling folk, rock and retro pop. This year it leaned more towards the folk-rock end than normal because, it being the fiftieth anniversary, a number of sets from ex-Fairport members and close associates were on the bill. This meant there were lots of acts that I was really looking forward to, this time, even if there was perhaps a little less variety in the festival line-up than normal.

Before we got to the three-hour set from Fairport Convention on the Saturday night, therefore, there were plenty of highlights over the three days: including the ever-impressive Show of Hands; last year’s festival darlings, The Pierce Brothers, who returned for a repeat performance; and the Gigspanner Big Band (where Peter Knight’s trio join forces with folk duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin). Of the Fairport friends and family spin-offs we had Ashley Hutchings’ recreation of Morris On, a stunning solo set from Richard Thompson and original Fairport vocalists, Judy Dyble with her Band of Perfect Strangers and Iain Matthews with Plainsong. Lots of highlights there.

And niggles? With a three day festival and three days of camping and drinking and music we normally choose an act we’re not too bothered about for a bit of early evening down time back at the camp-site. On the Friday, the Trevor Horn Band drew the short straw for us this time. I’ve never been too bothered about either ’80s Yes or Buggles I figured. But sadly it meant missing a surprise guest appearance from Russ Ballard. ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ (Ballard’s hit for Rainbow) and ‘God Gave Rock n Roll To You’ (the Argent classic). Both sounded great from the comfort of our gazebo anyway…

Marillion sounded good but they did a dedicated fans’ set rather than a festival set. I’ve got my one greatest hits album and was really hoping to hear a few more songs I was familiar with that I could sing along to. To me, Marillion not doing ‘Kayleigh’ at a festival is as daft as Petula Clark not doing ‘Downtown’. Happily the latter obliged. Would I pay to go and see a Petula Clark gig? Probably not. But was singing along to ‘Downtown’ in a field with several thousand others one of those not-to-be-missed life-affirming moments? Absolutely!

While it might not have been my favourite Cropredy line-up ever, it was definitely, without a doubt my favourite Fairport performance of all time. Fairport Convention are a band that never knowingly pass over the chance to celebrate an anniversary and they certainly pulled out all the stops for this one.

Things began with a couple of songs from the modern-day Fairport and then suddenly, magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first album reconvening on stage for a stunning recreation of the first track on the first album ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, followed by ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ and ‘Reno, Nevada’. It completely captured the magic of that first album and was really special seeing Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together. When early Fairport reconvene like this I am always reminded of when groups of old school friends get together they often seem to slot back into the roles and pecking orders of decades ago. Even though he has not been a member of the band for 48 years, Ashley Hutchings effortlessly slots back into the role of band leader, doing all the talking and introducing the songs.

Tragically, it is now increasingly challenging to reconvene some of the later later line-ups of the band and more and more stand-ins are required. Nevertheless, Chris While does a superb job filling in for Sandy Denny and likewise Chris Leslie for Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle parts, in renditions from the iconic Liege & Lief album. Songs from other classic albums Full House, Nine and Rising From The Moon (with Sally Barker on vocals) also get a good airing.

The set-list is heavily weighted towards the band’s first eight years or so, with only a smattering of songs from later eras but considering Fairport’s outstanding legacy of truly groundbreaking from this period that seems entirely appropriate.

Having seen Fairport Convention on stage some twenty-five times now and never once failing to enjoy them, for me this has easily been the best. A stunning way to celebrate fifty years.

Fairport Convention set-list:
Bottom of the Punchbowl / East Neuke of Fife / Ye Mariners All
Summer By The Cherwell
Time Will Show the Wiser
I Don’t Know Where I Stand
Reno Nevada
Suzanne
Farewell, Farewell
Crazy Man Michael
Come All Ye
The Deserter
The Lark in the Morning Medley
Tam Lin
Walk Awhile
Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman
Sloth
Now Be Thankful
Sir Patrick Spens
Fotheringay
The Ballad of Ned Kelly
Talk About Money
Rising for the Moon
White Dress
A Surfeit of Lampreys
The Hiring Fair
The Hexhamshire Lass
Jewel in the Crown
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Our Bus Rolls On
Dirty Linen
Matty Groves
Meet on the Ledge

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Other recent reviews:
Come All Ye box set – album review
Fairport’s 50th anniversary concert at Union Chapel