Tag Archives: Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention folk-rock band

In praise of fan-led music groups: a Facebook phenomenon

From the ongoing controversy over fake news to the vicious nature of many political discussions on social media, Facebook has been facing a fair bit of criticism lately. If it’s not that, so the criticism goes, then it’s just a long series of tedious updates about what people are eating and random pictures of cats. But, somewhere in the middle there are ways in which Facebook is helping build genuine communities of people who share a passion or interest. Obviously, virtually all music acts these days have their own Facebook page where they share information with fans, but what we have also seen is the significant growth in Facebook discussion groups set up by the fans themselves.

Here we take a look at a number of such groups, from those with just a couple of hundred members to those with tens of thousands, and talk to some of the people involved in setting them up, running them or contributing to them.

Fairporters

Over 3,000 strong Fairporters is the group set up for fans of the folk-rock legends Fairport Convention and attendees of the band’s annual three-day festival at Cropredy. Iain, a regular contributor, reflects: “I think this group is pretty unique as we mostly expect to meet up at some point. It’s certainly the friendliest group of this sort that I’m a member of. Maybe this is why we have to behave! I’ve already met up with many of the people on here at Cropredy and other gigs. There are many more people we hope to meet this year and we’ve made friends with bands as well as fans. Bloody marvellous!”

In a number of Facebook groups not only do fans contribute but you will often find past and present members of the bands themselves contributing. Fairporters is no exception and original Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble is a regular contributor. “It’s a great way to keep those who are interested in my music up-dated in my musical collaborations and events and to let people know when things are happening and about releases of albums or books or err tea towels, and I try very hard not to overload people with continual repetitive updates. They bore me to bits and I’m sure it bores other people! A lot of my private life is just that – private but I don’t mind giving glimpses into how things occur and possibly why.”

You can find the Fairporters group here

1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven

Not simply based around one band but a genre, the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group was started up just over two years ago and has grown dramatically. Founder Jeremy recalls, “I originally started the group up just for around 20 mates that I grew up with in the 80s, to reminisce about the good old days. Then within a month we had 1,000 members and within a year we had 20,000. Now 2 years in we have 32,000 members.”

A common feature of a number of the most successful groups is that even if they start of as a purely online concern they can take on a life of their own and become a community in their own right. Jeremy, “We have yearly group meet-ups for charity. The latest was last week. These also include charity auctions with donations from the likes of Thunder, Saxon, Dan Reed, Kruhser and many more.”

You can find the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group here

Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family

This is a group for fans of former Supergrass lead singer, Gaz Coombes, and his subsequent solo career. Jackie explains how she came to set up the group. “It was after I had noticed a girl on a Gaz Coombes discussion thread asking about who was going to a particular show and having a couple of people approach me about tagging along that I decided to set up the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family.” That was three years ago. “I love this work and it felt like a good opportunity to set something up for the fans. There has been a few members that have got to know each other and have met up and become friends outside of the social media side of things. We had a couple of members who because of their similar tastes in music had met up and enjoyed a gig by the band Space.”

You can find the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family group here

Slade

Mark is one of the co-admins of the Slade Facebook group which is dedicated to celebrating well, what else but Slade! The Facebook group has been in existence some ten years now, although Mark wasn’t actually involved in setting up the group but came in to help run it four years ago. He explains, “I was asked to become admin, after being a member for some time, to help keep some order. That is, to help reign in some of the more outlandish stories. I try to point people to verified factual information. Being a member, and admin, is interesting as there are fans from all over the world, and of all ages. It can be hard sometimes to communicate effectively in a written medium. Handling the disappointment of people when some of the long held beliefs are shattered or dispelled with facts.”

Again there are meet-ups and other real-life spin-offs, “Slade fans do get together at conventions. There was also a “Slade sight seeing tour of London” that people attended. I don’t go to conventions myself but others do.”

You can find the Slade group here

Giants of Rock Minehead

While other discussion groups are formed around a certain band or genre some form around an event. Giants of Rock is a three day classic rock and metal festival that takes place at Butlins Minehead each January. Richard, who co-founded the group after the first Giants of Rock Weekend three years ago, takes up the story of how it took off, “After an excellent weekend at Butlins GOR I, Grant and I began talking on Butlins Facebook page. Through this chat, Grant created the group and invited me to co-run it with him. We started it in February 2014 with numerous Facebook friends of mine being made members of the group, just to get the numbers up in the first place. It does bring people together outside of social media,” says Richard, “including a fan from Paris and personally I have met and made many friends through the group, to go to other gigs with. As the group continues to grow more friendships are made. Interestingly I have had people come and say hello and introduce themselves from the group at different gigs in several different locations. The group continues to grow and Grant and myself have been congratulated, which we appreciate . But it is the members who make the group and we thoroughly enjoy watching our community grow and develop. We even had a family group photo taken this year with 100+ members.”

16299415_10212183685897405_7950979667793104949_n
Photo credit: SD Photography

You can find the Giants of Rock Minehead group here

Gay Metalheads United

Some of the groups are able to bring like-minded people together who may otherwise find it more difficult to meet. From personal experience you would probably have to go to a lot of gay pubs before you met many punters who were into heavy metal. Likewise, in contrast to, say, a Beyonce gig you might not bump into too many gay guys (or gals) at a metal gig. However, lots of gay metal fans do exist out there and Gay Metalheads United, set up four years ago, now boasts over 1,200 members. Early participant, Jay, and one of the group’s admins is proud of the fact it was the first gay metal group on Facebook. His rationale for the group being set up? He says quite simply, “Metalheads are family.” James, a regular contributor to the group, explains, “Social media in general has been a great platform for interacting with people from across the globe at near instantaneous speed. It’s a good way to meet new people with similar likes and opinions, and debate those of opposing viewpoints.” On the Gay Metalheads Group, James says, “It’s liberating. In other metal groups they’re usually filled with heterosexual men, even Judas Priest. It feels like I have to walk on eggshells in some of these groups. So having a group for gay metalheads allows us to let out hair down.”

You can find the Gay Metalheads United Group here

And so…

While there can be a lot of negativity about social media let’s hear it for all of those who help maintain the vast array of music discussion groups out there: the people who set them up, the fans who contribute, the artists who engage directly with those who buy their albums and attend their gigs, and the admins who sometimes step in if things get a little heated. Thank you!

Iain Matthews in Etchingham 18/11/16

This review was also published in The Stinger here

“Just on the off-chance there’s a spare place do you fancy seeing Iain Matthews do a private gig in someone’s front room in Etchingham tonight.”

“Of course I’m interested! Let me know.”

“Yes, there’s a place for you. The guy who’s organising it says he knows you from years back.”

So went a series of texts between myself and a friend. And why I found myself in the house of an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen for around twenty years to witness a performance by former Fairport Convention/Matthews Southern Comfort/Plainsong singer, Ian Matthews.

It’s a really intimate affair: just twenty-odd people crowded into a room, Matthews and his guitar. But his material and manner is just perfect for a gathering like this. A few songs in he confesses he very rarely performs solo, normally performing either in a band or as a duo. This really surprises me because not only is he a superb singer-songwriter-performer he’s also got that knack of instant engagement and rapport with an audience, however small. He’s got some fascinating stories to share, reflecting on both his long career and the songs he performs.

2016-11-18-22-11-12

Material-wise, we get some great material from throughout his career, both covers and originals. Highlights include Matthews’ own ‘Ballad of Gruene Hall’; a beautifully laid-back cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’; a song from Gene Clark’s magnificent solo album No Other; and some lovely Richard Farina covers from the newly-revived Plainsong’s 2015 album Re-inventing Richard.

That golden voice that sang along with Sandy Denny on the original version of ‘Meet on the Ledge’ will probably always be the thing I associate most with Matthews, however. And at the end of the set it can be heard singing out that song, once more, as a final encore for this small but enthusiastic gathering. A perfect end to the evening.

At one point in his set Matthews talks about his giving up completely as performer, assuming his career had run it’s course by the early 80s. But then he recalls a few years later an emotional Robert Plant grabbing him backstage at Fairport’s Cropredy festival and lecturing him about the importance of getting back out there on the road. “You owe it to your fans,” urges Plant. “What fans?” asks Matthews. “Get out there and you’ll find they are out there,” Plant responds. Indeed they are. Keep on playing Iain…

http://www.iainmatthews.nl/news.html

2016-11-18-23-27-27

Rock/folk: album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Twangin’ ’n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited is a celebration of the music that first captured Ashley Hutchings’ imagination. Not English folk but rather the instrumentals of the pre-Beatles era from the likes of The Shadows, The Tornadoes and Duane Eddy.

Hutchings has reissued the album, originally released in 1994, and added three new tracks in what he hopes will lead to a reappraisal of what he calls this “misunderstood and undervalued work.”

Officially credited to The Ashley Hutchings Big Beat Combo, the juxtaposition of musical styles is evident, not only in the choice of material, but in the cast of supporting musicians too. Joining Hutchings are Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Richard Thompson from the folk rock world, but also original Tornadoes drummer and legendary session man, Clem Cattini, along with Georgie Flame and the Blue Flames guitarist, Colin Green.

It’s certainly not going to appeal to every folkie but, this being Ashley Hutchings, the folk influence is never that far away. The Tornadoes’ Telstar is radically reimagined as a gentle traditional-flavoured somewhat pastoral tune, with Simon Care on melodeon and Richard Thompson on penny whistle. In a nod to the heritage of the original, though, Clem Cattini, again takes up the drum kit, just as he did when it was a number 1 hit for the Tornadoes back in 1962.

Versions of other classic instrumentals of the era, such as F.B.I. by the Shadows and Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures, whilst staying more faithful to the originals, are still fascinating to hear because of the choice of instrumentation and unexpected mix of musical sounds.

Meanwhile, other tracks like Horsin’ Around and Spinnin’ Jenny/Soldiers’ Spree are traditional tunes that have been given the drum patterns and instantly recognisable twanging guitar sounds of one of those early ’60s instrumentals. Think Hank Marvin giving a helping hand at a morris gig…

Besides the 1960s cover versions and the traditional tunes there are also a number of self-penned tracks from Hutchings himself, which again draw on both folk influences and the rock ’n’ roll instrumentals of the era.

This is not a simple reissue, however, and three new songs have been added to what was originally an album of instrumentals. Two of these have vocals from the Velveteens, a young female singing trio whose vocal delivery along with the evocative period lyrics perfectly capture teenagerdom in late ’50s/early ’60s Britain. The third of the new recordings, and the final track of the album, is Welcome to The World, Hutchings’ very personal reflection on growing up in that era.

For those wanting an introduction to Ashley Hutchings’ considerable back catalogue, this is certainly not the album to start with. Unlike some of Hutchings’ most notable output, it’s always going to be an interesting curiosity rather than a genre-defining classic. But a re-release is long overdue. It’s simply fascinating to hear the sounds that first inspired the teenage Hutchings to want to be a professional musician, melded with the folk influences that have been the mainstay of his long and celebrated career.

Released April 2015

http://ashleyhutchings.com/

twangin-n-a-traddin-revisited-ashley-hutching

Related review:
Ashley Hutchings – From Psychedelia to Sonnetts

Rock/folk: album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Richard Thompson is rightly ranked as one of the world’s greatest guitarists and is also recognised as an outstanding songwriter. There is no mystery behind the title of his latest CD. Acoustic Classics does exactly what it says on the tin, offering acoustic recordings of classic Thompson tracks. The question is does anyone with even a passing interest in Richard Thompson really need re-recorded versions of I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning?

Surprising though it may seem, however, there is no product out there that properly represents Thompson’s latter-day acoustic shows. “I really wanted to have something that would reflect the acoustic shows,” he explains, “But we didn’t really have anything like that. Just some old, slightly scratchy recordings of solo sets that I wasn’t really happy with.”

Listeners will come across a number of re-recorded versions of songs made famous by the renowned Richard & Linda Thompson albums of the 1970s, songs like Walking on a Wire, Down Where the Drunkards Roll and Shoot Out the Lights. Wonderful though those original Richard and Linda recordings are, with their full instrumentation and lush vocals, it is also good to hear those songs stripped back to Thompson’s stunning guitar and mournful voice.

Other songs on the album come from Thompson’s later solo career but, again, stripped back to the very basics in a way that shows off the beauty of the songs and Thompson’s guitar work, although the aforementioned 1952 Vincent Black Lightening differs little from the un-improvable original. It wouldn’t have been right to have missed out such a classic, however. Some particular personal favourites have been missed out, of course, but it was never going to be possible to get everyone’s favourite Richard Thompson songs on to a 14-track CD.

For anyone catching one of his excellent acoustic shows this summer, who comes away wanting a more permanent reminder, this album is ideal; and for those less familiar with Thompson’s voluminous back catalogue this is a pretty good introduction.

Released July 2014

http://www.richardthompson-music.com/

acoustic-classics-richard-thompson

Related reviews:

Richard Thompson live at Folk by the Oak

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall

Rock/folk: album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

My review originally appeared on the Bright Young Folk website here

Ashley Hutchings has been one of the most influential, not to say prolific, musicians in British folk over the past half century. He has also written some charming prose, and over the years has proved to be master of an engaging and entertaining delivery of the spoken word. After publishing a book “Words, Words, Words” in 2014, which collated some of his writings for the very first time, an obvious next step was putting this all together into some kind of touring show. That is exactly what we have here on this album.

Recorded at a single performance at Wigan Parish Church in February 2016, From Psychedelia to Sonnets brings together songs, poetry and spoken passages from both Hutchings’ own previous work and other works that he’s had a close involvement with.

It’s all linked with a string of anecdotes, reflections and observations from his life and musical career. The musical parts feature the talents of Becky Mills on vocals and acoustic guitar and Ruth Angell on vocals, violin, pump harmonium and piano.

Of the spoken word sections, Hutchings’ contributions include a reading of the sleevenotes he produced for the 2003 reissue of the very first album of the band he founded: Fairport Convention. To the uninitiated, the thought of someone reading out old album sleevenotes to a public audience could appear a deathly dull proposition, bordering on psychological torture. But this is no ordinary album and no ordinary man. In this case we have possibly some of the most evocative sleeve notes ever written: “What we wore, Pollock-style paint-splattered shirts, fringed jackets, scarves various, dark velvet, boots with the heels worn down, voluminous hair…”

Listeners do get to hear far more than just sleevenotes, though. Poems written by Hutchings, such as The Complete Angler and You Are What You Eat, form part of the set alongside a variety of other readings. The spoken-word parts are then interspersed with a number of songs throughout the album.

In spite of Hutchings being a wonderful bass-player and hugely influential band leader few would argue that that this was on account of his singing abilities. He has, however, always had a knack for seeking out some enormously talented vocalists to work with over the years. This album continues in that tradition. Musical highlights include one of two songs on the album that originated through Hutchings’ work on the Lark Rise to Candleford theatre productions: ’Til The Time We Meet Again, sung beautifully by Mills. A Song of Two Bridges, where Angell and Mills alternate the lead vocals and each adopts the persona of a world-famous bridge in conversation with one another is another highlight.

For anyone wanting an introductory overview of Ashley Hutchings’ recorded work this album is not an obvious place to start. There are various compilations that do a much better job of that. However, for those who maintain a keen interest in Hutchings’ never less than fascinating career, or for those who have recently seen one of these shows live and are looking for a suitable memento to relive the event, then this CD is well worth a purchase.

Released: April 2016

http://ashleyhutchings.com/

from-psychedelia-to-sonnets-ashley-hutchings

Rock/folk: album review – Sandy Denny ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny’

My review originally appeared on the Bright Young Folk website here

Arguably, the finest female singer songwriter Britain has ever produced, it’s perhaps only been in recent years that Sandy Denny’s legacy has begun to start getting the due recognition it deserves. Yet on the other hand can there be too many attempts at repackaging? One Sandy Denny collection after another has been released in recent years so it is prudent to explore the purpose behind this latest one.

Indisputably, Denny appeared on some of the most iconic folk-rock albums the genre has ever produced. British popular music would certainly be much poorer had she never made albums like What We Did On Our Holidays and Liege and Lief with Fairport Convention or Fotheringay, with her own short-lived band of the same name.

At the same time, it is also not unreasonable to argue that a voice as unique and as precious as Denny’s also deserves the chance to be appreciated on its own terms: to be heard “pure, unadulterated and most untouchable” as the sleeve notes to this album boldly state, not merely as a singer in a band, however brilliant that band may be.

Even during her later solo career, which could perhaps have provided opportunities for the pure unadulterated Denny to come to the fore, her solo albums failed to remedy this for one reason or another. Each of her solo albums thus contained a plethora of guest musicians and elaborate arrangements, to the extent that they still receive very mixed reviews even today. Many a reviewer has argued that in spite of her outstanding prowess as a vocalist Sandy Denny never managed to make a truly outstanding solo album. So this is where this new collection comes in. Indeed, the extensive sleeve-notes for this CD cheekily subtitle it “The Best album Sandy Denny never made.”

So what it doesn’t try to do is attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of her entire recording career (as the 2010 Sandy Denny boxed set sought to do), nor does it simply collect together some of the best-known versions of her best-known songs (as other compilations have done). What it does do is bring together acoustic versions of forty songs from each stage of her career. Archives have been mined for demos, alternate takes, live recordings and BBC sessions.

While only a handful of these tracks have been previously unreleased, according to the sleeve-notes, that is arguably missing the point of this collection. It’s not really about unearthing new material or trying to gather together everything Denny has ever recorded. Rather it’s an attempt to bring some coherence to her recorded output and present her songs in a way that showcases her unique vocal talent with modest and simple, though still very beautiful, acoustic accompaniment.

Amongst the two CDs worth of track, the collection includes the beautifully understated acoustic version of Who Knows Where The Time Goes that Denny sang with the Strawbs, a guitar and vocals acoustic master of Fairport Convention’s She Moves Through The Fair, a brilliantly powerful piano and vocals version of Solo and a stunning live version of Blackwaterside, both from her solo career.

In an era where we can all get rather tired of the endless repackaging of classic artists and the endless attempts by record companies to find new ways of making money from the same old recordings, I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn – The Acoustic Sandy Denny is a project with a purpose, a logic and a coherence and as such it does Sandy Denny’s legacy proud.

Released: April 2016

http://www.sandydennyofficial.com/

ive-always-kept-a-unicorn-the-acoustic-sandy-

Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 6/12/15

Having seen Fotheringay on their short summer reunion tour (after a modest break of some 45 years) one of the most delightful things about tonight’s performance is, founder member, Jerry Donahue’s assertion that what started as a temporary project to promote the band’s retrospective box set is now set to become permanent. So the band that was formed by the late Sandy Denny, her late husband, Trevor Lucas, and the still very much alive Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway lives once more.

Donahue talks with great fondness tonight about his time in Fotheringay. But, given a band whose overlap in membership with Fairport Convention was often mocked by critics back in the 70s, Donahue managed to commit the ultimate faux pas by getting his two former bands muddled up and referring to the band on stage as Fairport at one point. Pat Donaldson, the only member of the original Fotheringay never to have ended up in Fairport, made to leave the stage in mock disgust. The spirit of Fotheringport or Fairport Confusion clearly lives on…

What a wonderful show we get though. Some of Sandy Denny’s most beautiful songs brought to life once again and performed live for audiences in the 21st Century. Between them, both Kathryn Roberts and Sally Barker do an amazing job handling Sandy Denny’s vocal parts with passion, beauty and respect. I was terribly dismissive about Sally Barker’s vocals when she sang a Sandy song during a guest slot at Fairport’s Cropredy appearance in 2014. But after seeing Fotheringay twice now I happily own up to being completely, absolutely 100% utterly wrong about Barker, my guilt being compounded even more because, not only did she give us such a wonderful performance tonight, she also took the trouble to personally run around backstage for me to ensure I had all three surviving members’ autographs on my Fotheringay CD. Sorry Sally!

PJ Wright also does a fine and convincing job handling the vocals originally sung by Sandy Denny’s late husband, Trevor Lucas, as well as delivering some beautiful pedal steel guitar on a couple of Sandy Denny solo tracks the band perform tonight.

Song highlights: there were so many. Nothing More, John The Gun, Knights of the Road, Solo, Peace in the End and many more, even though they have to trim their planned setlist slightly due to time pressures.

Had she lived would we now be seeing Sandy Denny joining her erstwhile folk-rock contemporaries, Jacqui McShee and Maddy Prior, at Butlins folk festival this weekend? That we’ll never know. But we have got Fotheringay brought to life once more. There have been various tributes to Sandy Denny (arguably the most gifted female singer-songwriter that Britain has ever produced) in recent years. In addition to the boxed sets and the various books we’ve had the all-star The Lady tribute show put together by Andrew Batt, we’ve had Thea Gilmore’s interpretation of Denny’s newly unearthed lyrics and, of course, we can always expect some sort of tribute in any performance of Denny’s old band, Fairport Convention. But of all the tributes, and they’ve all been wonderful in their own way, for me the one that has been the most special, the most authentic and the most spine-tinglingly, amazingly beautiful has been this current Fotheringay reunion. Long may they continue.

http://www.fotheringay.com/

2015-12-06 21.33.48

Previous review: Fotheringay in London

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall 20/9/15

With countrified acoustic folk from his daughter, Kami, and son-in-law, James Walborne, forming the excellent support act The Rails (“nepotism gets you everywhere” quips Richard Thompson as the two take the stage once more to accompany Thompson for his first song), That’s Enough, a track from the Thompson clan’s recent “family album” kicks off tonight’s Richard Thompson performance. It shows that even several decades into his career, he is still writing really memorable songs. However, the acoustically driven start soon gives way to a full throttle electric performance. Thompson is joined by drummer, Michael Jerome, and Davey Faragher on bass, both excellent and hugely energetic musicians.

Much as I enjoyed his solo acoustic tour last year, Thompson is one of those guitarists who is equally brilliant and equally entertaining whether he’s playing acoustic or electric. The power trio format works well for Thompson’s material (they even do a brilliant version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Hey Joe as an encore to prove just how much of a power trio they really are) and we get a nice mix of songs, old and new. The great thing about Thompson is that, in spite of his technical brilliance on the guitar, it’s never just about virtuoso wizardry. His undoubted skill as a songwriter means he’s always able to deliver memorable tunes and meaningful lyrics as well as incredible guitar playing.

The band leave the stage at one point, leaving Thompson on his own to do a lovely Meet on the Ledge. A song that Thompson wrote when he was just 17, I’ve seen it performed many times by Fairport Convention as their traditional set-closer. But it’s a nice change seeing it performed as an understated heartfelt ballad rather than the anthemic communal sing-along that it’s normally associated with these days. After a similar acoustic performance of 1952 Vincent Black Lightning it’s back to more from the electric trio: old classics like Wall of Death and new material like Guitar Heroes.

It says a lot for Thompson’s versatility as a performer that regardless of whether it’s a folky laid-back acoustic set or a rocking all-out electric set, I’ve never come away from a Richard Thompson gig feeling anything less than fully satisfied.

Setlist:
That’s Enough (with The Rails)
All Buttoned Up
Sally B
Broken Doll
For Shame of Doing Wrong
Hard on Me
Meet on the Ledge
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Beatnik Walking
Al Bowlly’s in Heaven
Guitar Heroes
Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?
I’ll Never Give It Up
Wall of Death
If Love Whispers Your Name
Hey Joe
Tear Stained Letter
She Never Could Resist a Winding Road
Fork in the Road
Take a Heart

http://www.richardthompson-music.com/

2015-09-22 18.41.16

Previous review: Richard Thompson at Folk by the Oak

Fotheringay at Under the Bridge, London 19/6/15

Sandy Denny was the finest British female singer-songwriter that ever lived. Fotheringay was the short-lived band she formed in 1970 on leaving Fairport Convention.  It lasted less than a year, but forty-five years on the surviving members have reformed for a short tour and are playing their first London gig since 1970. Band reunions can elicit mixed reactions and some questions went through my mind on this one. However talented the remaining musicians are, would this be a worthwhile exercise with the band’s two main front-people, Sandy Denny and her husband Trevor Lucas, long since deceased? As soon as the band come on stage, though, and open with Nothing More, the opening number on the original Fotheringay album, all doubts are set aside.

Joining original Fotheringay members, Jerry Donahue, Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson, are Sally Barker and Katheryn Roberts doing the Sandy parts and PJ Wright stepping into Lucas’s shoes. I’ve long been impressed with Katheryn Roberts but Sally Barker I was rather rude about when I saw her guesting on a jarring version of Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes with Fairport last summer. But both were hugely impressive tonight. While avoiding doing a “Now Matthew I’m going to be…” impersonation they nevertheless deliver the songs faithfully, passionately and beautifully. I’ll take my criticism of Barker back – she was utterly wonderful tonight in bringing alive these four decade-old songs. Singer/guitarist PJ Wright could not have been a more appropriate choice for singing those songs that Lucas had originally written and performed also, his rich voice perfectly capturing the spirit of the original Fotheringay recordings. Jerry Donahue’s beautifully expressive guitar work is always wonderful to hear, and I’ve seen him with numerous combinations of musicians in the past, but this was very special.

Fotheringay’s short but remarkable life meant their back catalogue was never extensive. But they play all the songs any follower of the band would expect and special highlights for me included John the Gun, Knights of the Road, Late November and a sing-along Peace in the End, the closer before the final old—school rock ‘n’ roll encore.

Apart from the occasional guests, Denny’s most famous ex-band, Fairport Convention, always eschewed the temptation to recruit another female vocalist on the grounds that Denny is irreplaceable. That she is irreplaceable goes without saying. But what the Fotheringay reunion demonstrates is that Denny’s songs undeniably sound many, many times better delivered with a female vocal, as they were originally conceived.

Well done Fotheringay, old and new, for putting this reunion together and for pulling it off so magnificently.

Setlist:

Nothing More
The Sea
Ned Kelly
Winter Winds
John the Gun
Gypsy Davy
Knights of the Road
Banks of the Nile
Bold Jack Donahue
The Way I Feel
Solo
I Don’t Believe You
It’ll Take a Long Time
Too Much of Nothing
Late November
Peace in the End
Memphis Tennessee

http://www.fotheringay.com/

11430097_10153420186476449_2539299592351938725_n

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Although there have been many, many different versions of folk rock stalwarts The Albion Band over the decades, its seasonal variation The Albion Christmas Band is now into its sixteenth annual tour with the same line-up. This could be due to the respective personnel (Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Kellie While and Simon Care) getting fifty out of every fifty-two weeks off from one another every year, joked Nicol. They produce a simple but very effective sound based on electric bass, acoustic guitars, melodeon and percussion with vocals shared between the four.

I’ll be upfront that my attachment to religion is somewhere at the Richard Dawkins end of the scale. But just as you don’t need to believe in wizards to enjoy prog rock, you don’t need to believe in Jesus to enjoy a few Christmas songs and carols. This is especially true if they are played and sung as well as they are by the Albion Christmas Band. We get to some classic carols later but one of the early songs tonight is The King. The “king” in this case is not Jesus but rather the wren, the song being based on the winter old custom where a wren was placed in a garlanded box and taken door to door.

As well as his founding role in Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, Hutchings is also acclaimed for his album Morris On. And we get a selection of pounding Border Morris tunes tonight which, unlike its Oxfordshire counterpart with its focus on spring, the variety along the Welsh borders always had strong associations with winter festivities. Mad World is a song by 80s synth-pop act Tears for Fears and for a while was constantly on the juke box in the refectory at my sixth form in Preston. It was then given a bleak but very effective stripped down makeover in 2003 and became a surprise Christmas number 1. And now The Albions have given it the folk treatment.  Beautifully sung by While it was one of the real highlights of the evening, even though its connections to Christmas are tenuous to say the least.

Part of the band’s set is usually given over to Christmas readings of one sort or another. These have included historical excerpts describing a variety of Victorian Christmases and big family celebrations in rural village inns. Tonight Nicol got to do a modern take on the nativity. It all got a bit passé and UKIP-y (in a “they’ve-banned-Christmas –political-correctness-gone-mad sort of way) and seemed a not particularly funny and un-necessary diversion from the Albion Band’s uplifting brand of Christmas magic. The same could not be said of Christmas 1914, a song written by Mike Harding which is a poignant and moving commemoration of the famous Christmas truce, told from the perspective of an ordinary British and ordinary German soldier as they “lost the will to fight.” There was also a good selection of more well-known songs, too, including a lovely rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter and a rousing sing-along in We Three Kings.

The venue is a beautiful modern performance space, the singing and playing is great but in some ways there seemed to be slightly less of a buzz in the air than when the band played the same venue this time last year, available now as a newly-released live album. Of course, last year had the added sparkle of Ashley Hutchings being presented with his Gold Badge Award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society by the renowned 60s/70s record producer (and discoverer of Fairport Convention)  Joe Boyd. But, if you set aside the laboured attempt at satire it was a great evening with great music.

http://www.albionchristmas.co.uk/

10422982_327670394024251_8787430105764155731_n