I wish everyone a happy New Year. My thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2022. As usual an eclectic mix of classic rock, folk and glam and a mixture of live reviews, album reviews, tour news and a plug for my own book appearing amongst the ten most viewed posts of the year.
1. Live review: the final ever Giants of Rock, Minehead 21-23 January 2022
Barring the gap due to Covid I’d been going to Butlins at Minehead each January since 2015 for the Giants Of Rock festival. But now the festival is no more, replaced by a tribute weekend, so I’ll be heading to Skegness in January for the Rock & Blues festival instead (although, sadly, that is coming to and end, too). Relive the last ever Giants of Rock weekend here with my review covering the likes of Ten Years After, Geordie, Atomic Rooster and Nazareth.
2. Live review: Suzi Quatro at the Royal Albert Hall 20/4/22
2022 was the year of all things Suzi Quatro for me. Not only did my book for Sonicbond’s Decades series, Suzi Quatro In The 1970s, come out in July but earlier in the year I could celebrate getting it finished, proofread and finally off to the publishers with a trip to London for Suzi’s incredible performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo credit (above): Gary Cosby
I was back over to London a couple of times in the Summer, too, with two separate trips to Hyde Park for the British Summertime series of concerts. The first of these was for the Eagles. Long on my bucket-list of must-see bands I finally got to see them. Even without the late, great Glenn Frey, it was still an incredible experience and just magical being in Hyde Park late on a summer evening as the sun started set watching them perform ‘Hotel California’.
4. Live review: the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park 3/7/22
Just a week after the Eagles I was back in Hyde Park for the Rolling Stones. It’s been over thirty years since attending my first and only previous Rolling Stones gig, when I went with my dad to Manchester’s Maine Road back in 1990. My dad’s thinking back then was that if I wanted to see them live then 1990’s Urban Jungle tour might be my last chance. It wasn’t quite! Thirty years later I’m back for more and what a memorable evening it was.
5. Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2022
After a two-year gap due to Covid restrictions it was nice to be back in Oxfordshire in August for Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy festival. Both tickets and line-up had been carried over from the event initially planned for 2020 but the passage of time had necessitated some tweaks to the line-up and in my case (due to a change in domestic circumstances), the reallocation of my second ticket to a Cropredy newcomer. Highlights included Clannad, Trevor Horn, Turin Brakes, Richard Thompson – and Fairport, of course!
6. New book: ‘Suzi Quatro In The 1970s’ by Darren Johnson coming in July 2022
Definitely, one of the highlights of 2022 for me was the publication of my book on Suzi Quatro for Sonicbond’s Decades series, which followed on from the book on The Sweet I had written the previous year for the same series. As Suzi herself says: “If you talk about the ‘70s, I was a hardworking artist. I did nothing but tour – recording, touring, TV, you know. I had constant jetlag. Constant black shadows under my eyes but, oh, what a ride! What a wonderful ride. And I’m still doing it now.”
7. Album review – Graham Bonnet Band ‘Day Out In Nowhere’
My most popular album review of the year, I wrote that Graham Bonnet is “clearly on something of a roll at this late stage in his career. Whether you are the more casual fan of his most celebrated albums from the late 70s and early 80s or a dedicated fan who’s loyally followed each and every stage of his long career, there’s lots to like in Day Out In Nowhere. It deserves to do well.”
8. Album reviews: four recent solo releases from the extended Uriah Heep family
Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.
9. Bowie and Iggy Pop icon, Tony Fox Sales, celebrates 45 years of Lust For Life
One of the things I am really looking forward to in 2023 is the tour by Iggy Pop / Bowie bass legend, Tony Fox Sales. With an all-star line-up, Tony is joined by legendary Blondie drummer, Clem Burke; vocalist, renowned broadcaster and Pet Shop Boys dancer, Katie Puckrik; Iggy Pop and David Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong; guitarist, Luis Correia, who’s toured internationally with Earl Slick; and classical pianist, composer, and touring member of Heaven 17, Florence Sabeva.
10. Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’
Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards. In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.
With all the performers originally booked for 2020, then rescheduled for 2021, then rescheduled again for 2022, a lot has happened since this festival line-up was first announced at the back-end of 2019. Festival mainstay, Richard Digance, could no longer make it. He had a booking at the Edinburgh Fringe this year so his Saturday lunchtime set was given over to Seth Lakeman. Matthews Southern Comfort, who had originally been down for the early Saturday evening slot, had now morphed into The Matthews Baartmans Experience, the band having gone their separate ways during their Covid-enforced career interlude leaving just Iain Matthews and BJ Baartmans to fly the flag as a duo. And for myself (who had originally booked tickets for me and my now ex-partner) I would now be accompanied by the lovely Simon (below right) who has stacks and stacks of camping experience but had never been to a musical festival before.
Simon’s verdict:“I couldn’t believe how well-organised it was . It was just like a proper campsite. I was expecting it to be really rowdy and nowhere near as civilised as it was.”
Day One – Thursday:
I’ve been at Cropredy in all sorts of weather conditions, from thunder and lightning to torrential rain to baking hot sun, but it soon became clear that we wouldn’t be able to just sit in the field all day watching pretty much every band that came along. Me and heatwaves don’t mix. I could just about cope with the mid-day sun and the late evenings were exceptionally pleasant once the sun had dipped below the horizon but after downing several pints waiting for Fairport Convention’s twenty-minute opening acoustic set on the Thursday afternoon it soon became abundantly clear that a very different strategy was needed this year.
This was fine as pretty much all of the artists I really, really wanted to see had either early lunchtime slots or later evening slots. It meant I would miss out on the experience of trying out some new bands in the afternoon but even a jam session with the reincarnation Elvis and Jimi Hendrix would not have got me back on that festival field in the afternoon sun.
Following a snooze to recover and then listening to Edward II from the comfort (and shade) of our campsite gazebo, we headed back over for Clannad. A band I’d long wanted to see, their set was absolutely stunning and a fitting finale to their 52-year career. Back in 2020 they had decided to call it a day but the pandemic has meant a two-year delay to the completion of their farewell tour. When Cropredy 2020 was cancelled I treated myself to a copy of their double-disc career retrospective so I was pretty familiar with pretty much all of their set-list (not just the ubiquitous TV theme-song classics) by the time it came to Cropredy. Well worth the wait.
When they last played Cropredy in 2017 The Trevor Horn Band went down an absolute storm. However, not particularly being a fan of either Buggles or 80s-era Yes, back then I decided to take a break for a snooze. I soon realised I’d made a big mistake as we heard Horn and co. churn out hit after hit from the comfort of the campsite. No such snobbery from me this time around and we made sure we were there for a set that encompassed songs from the back catalogues of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, 10CC, Tears For Fears, David Bowie, Dire Straits and many more – not to mention the obligatory Yes and Buggles hits. There were numerous guests, including Lol Crème from 10CC, Steve Hogarth from Marillion and the wonderful Toyah Wilcox and Robert Fripp who became those surprise YouTube sensations during lockdown. It was fun, brilliantly-performed and a wonderful party atmosphere, even for me who is generally quite snooty about 80s chart hits.
Day Two – Friday:
Our heatwave survival strategy came into play whereby we would catch a couple of lunchtime acts and then retreat from the afternoon sun until the evening. BBC Young Folk Award 2019 winner, Maddie Morris, finally got to perform and wowed the crowd with her sweet voice, socially-conscious lyrics and powerful advocacy of LGBT rights. Next up was Australian singer-songwriter, Emily Barker, who I’d enjoyed twice before, once doing an in-store performance promoting her wonderfully-soulful Sweet Kind of Blue album (recorded in Memphis) and once on tour with Marry Waterson (daughter of Lal) of the legendary Waterson family. The was no Marry on stage this time but we did get a wonderful rendering of the Watersons’ ‘Bright Phoebus’, alongside Emily Barker’s own unique blend of soulful Americana.
It was then time to escape the sun and also meet a late-comer to our ten-strong Cropredy camping group so I spent some time in one of the marquees at the Cream of The Crop campsite in Field 8 which runs its own parallel small festival alongside the official Fairport one. Anyone with a wristband for the main festival can get in and while I, unfortunately, missed the brilliant Dandelion Charm I did catch some other great music. After showing our new arrival to the camp it was then time to head off to the main stage for Turin Brakes.
Formed at the turn of the millennium their chilled-out and gorgeously-melodic brand of indie rock was just perfect for a summer evening and one of the weekend highlights for me. Playing a mixture of old favourites like their 2005 top five hit, ‘Painkiller (Summer Rain)’ alongside newer material, they certainly looked happy to finally be performing and it was an emotional moment for drummer, Rob Allum, when it was revealed his first visit to Cropredy was as a youngster way back in 1980.
If the previous night ended with the party sing-along atmosphere of the Trevor Horn Band’s set, this was not exactly what Steve Hackett was offering. I can dip in and out of early Genesis but this seemed very much a strictly-for-fans only set, I’m afraid, and after grabbing some pictures of the stunning full moon over the festival crowd we decided to call it a night.
Day Three – Saturday:
Seth Lakeman never disappoints at a festival and although his set is a world away from the entertaining mix of sentimentality and silliness served up by Richard Digance, he was an inspired choice to fill the latter’s regular Saturday lunchtime slot and a big enough name to guarantee that the field would be full by the time he came on stage to open proceedings.
After Seth Lakeman we slipped away, once again, before the afternoon sun really started doing it’s worst but were back at the main stage by early evening.
Early Fairport alumni, Iain Matthews, always seems as comfortable playing solo with just his guitar as he is playing with a full band, so the duo format suits him down to the ground. Playing a mixture of Matthews Southern Comfort and solo material, plus some well-chosen covers (including ‘Reno Nevada’, a regular live fixture from Fairport Convention’s early days) the Matthews Baartmans Experience are nicely timed to start off an evening of Fairport and friends. Richard Thompson (who would be back on shortly for both his own set and Fairport’s) comes on for one song. In a colourful shirt and baggy shorts sans his usual black stage uniform, he joins the duo to perform a crowd-pleasing cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, Matthews Southern Comfort’s biggest and best-known hit.
Then it’s straight into a set from Richard Thompson. With a great mix of old favourites (‘Genesis Hall’, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, ‘Beeswing’, ‘Bright Lights’ et al) and newer material (‘Singapore Sadie’, ‘The Rattle Within’), he’s always a star turn any time he’s been at Cropredy and he had the crowd roaring for him from the word go. The voice, that guitar, those songs: this was always going to be a winning combination at Cropredy. And it was. Iain Matthews returned the favour by providing vocals on the wonderful ‘From Galway To Graceland’ and, all in all, it was the perfect prelude to the grand finale.
2020 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Fairport Convention’s first post-Sandy Denny album, the much-celebrated Full House) and two years later they finally get to perform it in full with all of the original line-up from that album, bar Dave Swarbrick (whose place was taken by current member, Chris Leslie, taking on the late Swarb’s fiddle and vocal parts). First, however, the current line-up deliver a handful of old favourites not from that album like ‘Ye Mariners All’ and ‘Fotheringay’, alongside a very hefty dose of songs from the most recent studio album, Shuffle And Go, which was released back in 2020. On their 2022 Winter Tour earlier this year Dave Pegg joked that given they had not had chance to flog them on tour for the last couple of years, there were still stacks of these albums sitting in his garage and so they were making no apologies for heavily pushing it. Clearly, the same rule applied but there are some pretty entertaining songs on the album and the musicianship is never less than excellent.
The moment virtually all of us were waiting for, however, was the start of the Full House segment and it was a really special seeing ex-Fairporters Dave Mattacks and Richard Thompson taking their places alongside Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and Chris Leslie. Together they captured the drama, intensity and outright weirdness of that classic 1970 album – and some more. All are seasoned players compared to their younger selves and while Dave Swarbrick’s presence was sorely missed, they played and sang with such confidence and swagger that it almost felt better than the original album.
The between-song banter in the early part of the set and the non-negotiability around playing the Full House album in full meant that they had started to run short of time towards the end of the set, where they were up against an equally non-negotiable curfew. ‘Matty Groves’ was unceremoniously dumped but we still got a beautiful rendition of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ with a lovely video introduction from Sandy Denny’s daughter, Georgia Lucas, as well as the traditional end-of festival emotional sing-along that is ‘Meet On The Ledge’.
I didn’t mind missing ‘Matty Groves’. My only real niggle is that I felt there should have been a proper on-stage tribute to original vocalist, Judy Dyble, who sadly passed away in 2020. I was expecting something to be played from the first album and perhaps an accompanying video tribute. Yes, she was only around for one album but she participated in numerous reunions and was an enthusiastic attendee of the festival each year.
Nevertheless, it was great to be back, it was a spectacular evening courtesy of Fairport and friends and it was an emotional end to the festival. It all comes round again (eventually).
The singer and songwriter Judy Dyble, who sang lead vocals on Fairport Convention’s very first album, sadly died at the weekend. Although never as celebrated in British folk rock history as her replacement, Sandy Denny, Judy’s beautifully clear, distinctive vocals nevertheless remain an essential part of the early Fairport sound.
After her time with Fairport, Judy was involved in a handful of other projects in the late 60s and early 70s before quitting the music business altogether, spending time bringing up her family and working as a librarian. Her musical story doesn’t quite end there, however, as the early 2000s saw Judy begin writing, recording and performing once more. Albums like the gently captivating ‘Talking With Strangers’ from 2009 and the gorgeous ‘Flow and Change’ from 2013 were extremely well received but her career renaissance continued to grow and grow with her more recent albums picking up a slew of top-notch reviews and frequent appearances in the music press.
Judy’s 2016 autobiography ‘An Accidental Musician’ is a beautiful read. Obviously, I’ve read my fair share of sex and drugs and rock and roll confessionals over the years and, perhaps unsurprisingly, this takes a very different tack. Obviously, it’s a fascinating read in terms of music history but there is so much in there that really any of us can relate to: bereavement, the lack of confidence that can come from not doing something for a long time, the fear and then the buzz of taking on new challenges – it all served to give the book a very, very human angle. When I posted comments along these lines on social media at the time, in typically engaging fashion Judy came back straight away:
“I am so glad you appreciated it, I kind of worry that it isn’t what people expect it to be – a typical race through the 60’s with lots of name droppings… Thank you.”
Other than being part of the communal sing-along for ‘Meet On The Ledge’ Judy was not called upon to play a major part in her former band’s forty-fifth anniversary celebrations which I know was a source of some frustration to her. I emailed Fairport’s Simon Nicol at the time expressing my disappointment that she had not been asked to play a bigger contribution. He did get back saying the band hoped to do more with Judy in the future. They certainly made up for it at the band’s fiftieth anniversary celebration at Cropredy in 2017 where, as well as a solo slot for Judy that weekend, all of the original line-up (sans deceased drummer Martin Lamble) reconvened. Magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first Fairport 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 Judy, Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together.
An essential part of the early Fairport sound, an unexpected and most wonderful artistic renaissance in later life and one of the loveliest, most sincere, most humble and least showbizzy people you could ever wish to meet, Judy Dyble will be greatly, greatly missed.
Me with Judy at the signing tent at Cropredy in 2017
This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here
The ‘On Track’ series by publishers Sonic Bond provides an album by album, track by track overview of a number of artists. The latest in the series to get this treatment are British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention. Author, Kevan Furbank, takes us on a fascinating journey through each of the band’s thirty studio album’s, from 1968’s self-titled debut to this year’s Shuffle and Go.
Each entry begins with a factual summary of personnel, recording information and release dates, followed by a brief potted history the album’s genesis and the band’s fortunes at the time it was recorded. That is then followed by Furbank’s review of each track. Having read a fair few books on folk-rock, Fairport and some of their leading personnel, most of the history was familiar to me. However, Furbank really comes into his own with his pithy and usually very insightful track by track reviews. And what he’s superb at doing is capturing the familiar styles of different Fairport personnel as well as some of the band’s most used external songwriters. ‘Tale In Hard Time’ one of Richard Thompson’s early songs on 1969’s What We Did On Our Holiday, for example, is thus introduced as “another of Richard’s gloomy/jaunty songs, an upbeat rhythmic number with slit-your-wrists lyrics” beautifully summing up a whole canon of classic Thompson output.
Furbank is also meticulous at pointing out where the band have returned to a song, as they have done on frequent occasions, and making comparisons with the earlier versions – or highlighting where the band have returned to a similar lyrical theme or musical arrangement in a different song. So if, like me, you were thinking I’m sure they’ve recycled that Eddie Cochran riff for one of those fifties rock n roll – meets trad folk song mash-ups just once too often, this book will tell you exactly which song and which album they tried it on first and where (perhaps unwisely) they thought it was a good idea to try it again.
I read the book over a single weekend, often playing the relevant albums as I turned the pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s critical insights even if I did not always agree them. For those familiar with Fairport Convention’s history this will be a fascinating sit-down read, as well as a really useful reference for the future. However, if you are a Fairport fan looking to learn more this shouldn’t be the first book you read on the band. Start with Clinton Heylin’s ‘What We Did Instead Of Holidays’ or Mark Eden’s ‘Electric Eden’ or the band’s own authorised biography first and you will enjoy what this book has to offer all the more.
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
The Julie July Band and their reinterpretation and celebration of the music of Sandy Denny have been proving quite a hit on the festival and live folk circuit in recent years. So much so that last year they released a tribute album ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – an album that certainly caught my attention along with other reviewers.
However, as extensive as Sandy Denny’s back catalogue is and as impressive as Julie July and her band’s interpretations are I doubt that there is an entire recording career to be built around simply recording more and more of her past material. The question then comes as to what form a follow-up album would take. Would it be covers of traditional songs that are given a suitably Sandy-esque treatment? Would the band seek inspiration from other singer-songwriters of that era? Would there be some new material, perhaps?
In fact, the band have opted for the latter approach with Lady of the First Light presenting eleven originals, each penned by various members of the band. Musically, it’s probably more within the vibe of Denny’s early to mid 70s solo singer-songwriter albums than, say, the more overt folk rock from her time with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. However, it’s worth stressing that this is far more than simply a Sandy Denny pastiche or a North-Star-Grassman-and-the-Ravens-by-numbers. The Sandy influence is there, of course (and why not she remains one of the greatest singer-songwriters this country has ever produced) but it’s an influence rather than a straitjacket. There’s some quality songwriting here and, combined with Julie July’s beautifully clear voice and the strength of the band’s musicianship, the album more than stands up in its own right.
Title track, the upbeat ‘Lady of the First Light’ is an absolute stunner. More rockier than some of the other material with some gorgeous lead guitar and Julie July in fine voice, it’s not impossible to imagine a parallel universe where it’s a recently-discovered track from Fairport’s Unhalfbricking sessions. Likewise, ‘The Ballad of Rory Starp’ could equally have come from some long-lost session for the Liege & Lief album. These provide a nice contrast to the more sombre and reflective, yet no less gorgeous, material like the opening number ‘Broken Wing’. The end result is a lovely palette of contrasting textures, emotions and influences. The anthemic ‘Shine Together’ finishes the album in a pleasingly celebratory mood.
If the last album was a gorgeous tribute to the songs of Sandy Denny then this one is very much a celebration of the influences that combined to make the late 60s and early 70s such an incredibly exciting, vibrant and creative time for British music. Buy it!
As well as being a hugely influential musician Ashley Hutchings is a natural raconteur and an elegant wordsmith and here he’s built on his previous touring show (captured on the album ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ in 2016) to put something together specifically about the early days of the band he founded: Fairport Convention.
Part book reading, part anecdotal reflection, part theatrical performance, part quiz show (!) and part full-on folk-rock concert, The Beginnings Of Fairport Convention is a two-hour show celebrating Hutchings’ period with the band 1967-69 and the four iconic albums they released.
For these performances Hutchings has put a full five-piece band together. Initially influenced by the folk rock that was springing up on America’s west coast and the burgeoning singer-songwriter genre Hutchings and his band-mates perform material that the original Fairport performed in their early days: songs like Eric Anderson’s ‘Close The Door Lightly When You Go’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird On A Wire’. It’s far removed from the English folk rock that Fairport Convention would move on to in just a year or two’s time and Cecil Sharp might be turning in his grave if he were to hear what was being performed in the hallowed venue he gave his name to but Hutchings and co. do a superb job of capturing the sound, and some of the energy, of those early Fairport gigs. (Well I was only a toddler at time so what do I know but to my ears it was like having some of the BBC sessions from Fairport’s Heyday album being brought to life some fifty years later.)
There’s anecdotes, too, of course: the band’s first gig, Jimi Hendrix asking if he could jam with them one night and, for their second album, Sandy Denny joining.
After a short break the band return and Hutchings talks us through the band’s evolution from ‘Britain’s Jefferson Airplane’ to the pioneers of English folk rock, following the band’s tragic crash on the M1. Hutchings recalls the weeks spent poring over manuscripts in the library next door and the revolutionary sounds they began to create together rehearsing in the Hampshire countryside ahead of the recording and release of the iconic ‘Liege and Lief’ album. The unforgettable instrumental from that album (‘The Lark In The Morning’ Medley) is recreated together with a beautiful version of Richard Thompson’s and Dave Swarbrick’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’. Becky Mills, who performs on the aforementioned ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ album, does a beautiful job throughout the evening performing songs once sung by Sandy Denny, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews.
Ashley Hutchings “the single most important figure in English folk rock” as Bob Dylan puts it, has more than earned his right to celebrate the legacy of the band he helped create in this way and, with the help of some talented musicians, gives us a very entertaining two-hour show.
Sandy Denny died forty years ago this year. Although her old band, Fairport Convention, never let a gig go by without still playing at least a couple of songs in tribute to her and although Fairport’s Simon Nicol has a wonderfully rich voice, there is something about hearing Denny’s songs delivered live with a beautiful pure female vocal that has made the Julie July Band a popular choice at festivals and folk gigs. I was certainly immediately won over when I saw them at Warwick Festival last year.
However, with my Sandy Denny boxed set, my Fotheringay boxed set, all my Fairport albums and everything else Sandy-related in my collection the question is do I really need a CD of someone singing Sandy’s songs? I’ve certainly played it a fair few times since it arrived so that’s looking like a very definite yes.
Although not necessarily a complete carbon copy of Denny’s unmistakable vocals, Julie July certainly has a lovely voice and delivers her songs sympathetically. The band, themselves, are a talented bunch and what I find pleasing is that when covering some of the material from Denny’s solo albums rather than going for those over-produced slightly schmaltzy arrangements that you get on some of the originals, the band have gone for a more stripped-back sound that lets the songs and the vocals do the main work.
As a devoted Sandy fan there’s absolutely nothing not to love on this gorgeous and heartfelt album. Eleven timeless songs written by Sandy Denny along with Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’. My only niggle is maybe there could have been one or two left-field surprises as well to make this album just that little bit more unique – say a cover of one of the unearthed Sandy lyrics that Thea Gilmore put to music a few years ago, or a traditional song not generally associated with Denny, or perhaps even a post-Denny Fairport song that was given a full-on Sandy-esque makeover, that just might have given us a glimpse of an alternative universe. But these are minor niggles.
I salute the July Julie Band for their dedication in keeping Sandy Denny’s music alive. Both their live performances and this album do justice to her enormous legacy.
This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rockhere
Day one: Thursday
Cropredy 2018 kicks off with Fairport Convention doing a brief twenty-minute acoustic stint. We’ll be hearing a lot more from them later on in the weekend, of course, but a short opening set from the hosts has become something of a Cropredy tradition.
Fairport are then swiftly followed by Smith & Brewer. Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer met a few years ago while on tour with Joan Armatrading and their Americana-infused acoustic playing, combined with August sun and a few beers is the perfect way to get us into the festival vibe for this most friendly and laid-back of festivals. Next up and on a similar sort of theme is Police Dog Hogan. Guardian readers will perhaps be aware of them through Guardian writer, Tim Dowling’s regular exploits as banjo player for the band in his regular Saturday column. No reflection on Tim or the rest of the band but your GRTR crew departed at this stage for a bit of chill-out time back at the campsite ahead of the evening’s headliners – 80s folk rock veterans Oysterband and surf supremo, Brian Wilson.
Oysterband are as good as ever but for me, and many others, it’s Brian Wilson’s night. A visibly frail Brian Wilson took to the stage assisted by a walking frame and a couple of roadies. Seated at his huge white keyboard in the centre of the stage, however, he was master of all he surveyed giving us an hour and a half of sheer magic. He’s accompanied, of course, by a stage full of top class musicians and amazing vocalists and hit after hit of Beach Boys classics come thick and fast, followed by a rendition in full of the masterpiece that is Pet Sounds, followed by yet more hits. Wilson these days is also often accompanied by his old Beach Boys colleague Al Jardine. At 75 his voice sounds almost as fresh as it did at 20. Jardine’s son Matt, blessed with equally amazing vocal abilities, is also part of the line-up. If there comes a time when the last surviving Wilson brother becomes too frail to tour I would happily pay good money to see Jardine and his son continuing the Beach Boys legacy. Definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me.
Day Two – Friday
Festival-goers will be familiar with those days when the skies are grey, the temperature drops, the rain is relentless and everything – just everything – becomes an ordeal. Friday is one of those mornings. None of our group can face the thought of standing in the wet and cold all day and we head off to explore the ‘Cropredy Fringe’. Although Fairport have resisted the pressure to go down the route of other festivals and introduce multiple stages, a mixture of local pubs and enterprising landowners have put together their own programmes of entertainment to compliment (or compete with?) the action on the main stage. We therefore spent the first couple of hours in a marquee full of soggy festival-goers drinking cider and looking out on some truly depressing weather. Missing the first two acts on the main stage we were contemplating whether to brave it for the third when the sky brightened, the sun shone and we made it back to the main arena on a glorious August afternoon just in time to catch The Travelling Band begin their set. This talented band’s brand of Mancunian Americana was the perfect tonic as the day morphed from a horrendously cold and wet morning into a beautiful lazy sunny afternoon.
I assume that a big chunk of this year’s artist budget had been blown on securing Brian Wilson (a decision I thoroughly, thoroughly approve of by the way). In consequence, compared to other years this year’s line-up was perhaps a touch lighter on household names. However, even if it lacked many big names we did have the likes of Jim Cregan who had an 18-year stint with one of the biggest names ever – Rod Stewart. A talented musician and songwriter Cregan co-wrote a number of Stewart’s hits and Cregan and Co turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the whole weekend. 20,000 people up dancing and singing along to the likes of Baby Jane, You’re In My Heart and Tonight I’m Yours as hit followed hit followed hit. Cregan also reminded us he’d done a stint with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – before launching into a wondrous Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) which sent the crowd even crazier. We even got a special treat right at the end as the Fairport boys came out en masse to do the mandolin part on Maggie May.
Larger than life Quebec folkies Le Vent Du Nord never disappoint and they wowed the crowd at Cropredy, just as I’d seen them wowing the crowd at Womad a couple of years earlier. Then it was the former Marillion main-man, Fish, but sadly coming on for that early evening slot where, once again. we really needed some chill-out time if we were to keep going until midnight.
We did make it back to the arena to see an utterly stunning set from Kate Rusby. Witty, passionate and engaging, with beautiful voice and deeply emotional songs the Barnsley-based folkie absolutely stormed it, in a time-slot where, to be truthful, I’d seen other female folkies struggle a bit to keep the crowd’s attention in the past.
Then came Friday headliners, The Levellers, who I found to be a real disappointment to be perfectly frank. I’d seen them only a few weeks ago where they have been completely reworking their material in a sit-down, mellow, acoustic set accompanied by a string orchestra. Now while that was well-received in a medium-sized theatre with an audience of devoted fans, it is really not what you want for a festival set – certainly not when you are headlining and it’s late at night, it’s getting cold and the majority of the crowd were probably expecting to warm themselves up bouncing around to a full-on, rocked-up, classic Levellers set. A huge missed opportunity for the band – an innovative idea but just completely the wrong approach for a festival.
Day Three: Saturday
No relentless rain to put a damper on things on the Saturday morning, we have bright sunshine for Richard Digance, who has become quite a Cropredy institution over the years. His sentimental and gently humorous songs may not be everyone’s cup of tea but his set is worth it alone for the surreal sight of 20,000 white hankies waving in the air when Digance finishes his spot each year by getting the whole crowd on their feet for some mass morris dancing.
With a brief interlude from singer song-writer Eric Sedge, it’s time for yet more insanity, this time from the Bar-Steward Sons Of Val Doonican. Their formula isn’t a million miles away from the path trodden over many years by the likes of the Baron Knights, the Wurzels et al – humorously silly alternative lyrics to well-known pop songs. But the Doonicans dress it up with a bit of very twenty-first century surrealism including, at one point, the lead singer launching himself off the stage to surf above the crowd in a rubber dinghy. I spoke to people who had been crying with laughter and had them down as one of the absolute highlights of their weekend while my brother (and GRTR’s official photographer for the weekend) was adamant that they were the worst act ever to appear at a festival in his entire existence. I quite liked them.
Next up is young singer-songwriter Will Varley. A great voice and superb musicianship I felt at times, that he perhaps has to develop a bit more as a writer in order to give us some truly memorable songs – but I’m sure that will come. Then it’s time one of the weekend’s highlights for me was a cracking set from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys. Putting a modern edge on traditional folk, Kelly and his band-mates really get the crowd up and jigging. Definitely one of the most exciting bands to emerge on the contemporary folk scene in recent years.
Then it was back to the van for a big long snooze, missing both Afro Celt Sound System and Al Stewart. In my mitigation I thought the Old Speckled Hen mini keg that I’d polished off that afternoon contained five litres rather than five pints. Still, I was up bright, refreshed and rested for Fairport Convention’s Saturday night headline slot and, even more impressive, I’d completely missed out on all the heavy rain.
Fairport Convention always strive to give us something a bit different with their mammoth Saturday night set each Cropredy festival. Last year was very much a celebration of the band’s fiftieth anniversary, with surviving former members from each era reuniting on stage. This year the two stand-out sections of the set were a lengthy and poignant tribute to former lead singer, Sandy Denny, who died forty years ago this year, and an emotional and amazingly touching tribute to another former member, multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock. The latter’s musical input was a huge part of the band’s renaissance as a touring, recording, functioning outfit in the 80s and early 90s. A couple of months before this year’s festival, however, Allcock announced on his website that he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, was unlikely to be around for very much longer and that Cropredy would be his final public performance. An incredibly brave way of facing the final chapter of his life but what a performance it was and what love for him in the assembled crowd. Playing the rocked up ‘Metal Matty’ version of Fairport’s traditional classic. Matty Groves, that Allcock helped create back in his days with the band and, finally, taking centre stage to play out the encore Meet On The Ledge he said goodbye to the Cropredy Fairport family in true style with grace, dignity and some stunning playing. Certainly one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever experienced in thirty-odd years of festival-going. Thank you for your contribution Maartin and may your final days be full of love and free of pain.
Adapting the chalk-board cover and title of the band’s classic 1969 album ‘What We Did On Our Holiday’, Fairport Convention’s latest album ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’ is a two-disc live recording of a 50th anniversary performance at their Cropredy festival last summer.
I was there last year and it was indeed very special to see all five surviving original members of the band take the stage and perform their earliest songs once again; along with surviving members of later line-ups and other guests deputising for the ones who are are, sadly, no longer around to perform. It was an absolutely unforgettable night and it’s obviously lovely to have a memento from that special performance.
The question now, however, is how much the live recording lives up to my memories of that evening, particularly when performing material from such iconic albums in the folk rock canon as the aforementioned ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’, ‘Liege & Lief’ and ‘Nine’.
The double CD’s twenty-five tracks are heavily weighted towards the band’s late 60s/early 70s heyday when what is now a much-loved national treasure really was pushing the boundaries in terms of both rock and folk music. The superb ‘Hiring Fair’, however, from the band’s mid 80s renaissance is rightfully included along with the instrumental ‘A Surfeit of Lampreys’, as is the rather twee ‘Our Bus Rolls On’ from last year’s studio album ‘50:50@50’.
Chris While and Sally Barker both do an excellent job filling in for the irreplaceable Sandy Denny on tracks like ‘Come All Ye’ and ‘Rising For The Moon’, as does PJ Wright standing in for Denny’s late husband Trevor Lucas on a superb ‘Ned Kelly’. Richard Thompson’s unmistakeably brilliant guitar on tracks like ‘Sloth’ alone make it worth buying, never mind all the other highlights.
Standing in a field in Oxfordshire last year witnessing all of this felt like something really, really special. This album is, indeed, proof that it was. Buy it.