Tag Archives: Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention folk-rock band

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2017

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

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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

Folk-rock: album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In the year of the band’s historic fiftieth anniversary a Fairport Convention box set, joining the long list of other compilations, box sets and reissued material from the Fairport family in recent years, is perhaps not entirely unexpected.

Titled Come All Ye: The First Ten Years this seven-disc anthology collects material from across the changing line-ups and evolving musical styles that characterised the band’s first decade in existence; from the US west coast-influenced beginnings in the late 1960s to exploring and ultimately defining English folk rock, with several journeys into diverse musical territories along the way.

What this box set does not do is deliver a full repackage and reissue of all of the albums from this period. Rather, while it does include a selection of songs from across the band’s first 13 studio albums (from 1967’s Fairport Convention through to 1978’s Tipplers Tales) the meat of the anthology is the myriad of out-takes, alternative versions, B-sides, sessions and live recordings. 55 of the 121 tracks are previously unreleased, albeit that most of the songs will be familiar to Fairport fans even if the exact recordings are not.

The first two discs span the period of the band’s first four studio albums. Not withstanding that at least a couple of these rank amongst some of the greatest albums ever recorded, the avid Fairport Convention collector could be forgiven for thinking that they are not getting a huge amount of new material here.

While there are some real gems, some of the tracks are BBC sessions that differ little from the album versions, and even where they do, a significant number of the less familiar versions of songs have previously been released elsewhere, such as the 2010 Sandy Denny box set or as bonus tracks on album re-issues. Some of the most interesting and unexpected moments come in the later discs.

Disc Three includes some alternative versions of songs from the Babbacombe Lee album. Performed live for a BBC TV documentary ’The Man They Could Not Hang’ on the life of John ’Babbacombe’ Lee, they have a much looser feel than the original versions and also include a song written especially for the programme: Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son.

Disc Four holds some of the biggest surprises. It includes a number of hitherto unheard tracks from an abortive album from the time when Dave Pegg and Dave Swarbrick invited Canadian singer-songwriter David Rea into the band. The result is a laid-back kind of Americana rather than English folk rock. Indeed, few would ever guess that a track like Maverick Child could be Fairport Convention until, that is, the unmistakable sound of Swarb’s fiddle cuts in about two thirds of the way through. Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into a short-lived and little-known line-up.

Disc Five includes Sandy Denny’s previously unreleased original demo of After Halloween from the Rising For The Moon album. It was recorded at her home in Byfield during her second stint with the band and captures her voice beautifully. This disc also gathers together some previously unreleased live recordings from 1976 after Denny had left the band for the second time and Simon Nicol had rejoined.

The final two discs are devoted to two full concert recordings. The first of these, with the line-up that recorded the Nine album performing at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall in 1973, has lain unreleased for over four decades and shows the band in cracking form with some excellent guitar from Jerry Donahue.

The second heralds Sandy Denny’s return to the band with a performance from the LA Troubadour in 1974. Although, unlike the previous disc, most of this material has been previously available, it is a superb concert that notably captures the band performing some of Denny’s solo material as well as a version of Richard Thompson’s post-Fairport Convention song Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

Although there is some repetition with other anthologies, overall Come All Ye: The First Ten Years has plenty to offer the dedicated Fairport fan and includes some thrilling material that has not been released before.

However, for the less committed it should be seen as something to complement the purchase of the classic early albums, not to act as a substitute for them. No-one is advised to even contemplate buying this box set, therefore, until they have at least picked up the What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief and Full House albums and enjoyed the full magic of them in the way they were originally conceived.

Released July 2017

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DISC ONE
1. Time Will Show The Wiser
2. Decameron
3. Jack O’ Diamonds
4. One Sure Thing
5. I Don’t Know Where I Stand (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
6. You Never Wanted Me (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
7. Fotheringay
8. I’ll Keep It With Mine
9. Mr Lacey (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. Eastern Rain (Previously Unreleased)
11. Nottamun Town (Previously Unreleased)
12. Meet On The Ledge
13. Throwaway Street Puzzle (B Side on What We Did On Our Holidays remastered)
14. Reno Nevada (David Symonds radio show 6/1/1969)
15. Suzanne (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
16. A Sailors Wife (from the Sandy Denny box set)
17. Genesis Hall
18. Autopsy (Previously Unreleased)
19. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (Previously Unreleased)

DISC TWO
1. Dear Landlord
2. Si Tu Doir Partir (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 6/4/1969)
3. Percys Song (John Peels Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
4. Ballad of Easy Rider
5. The Deserter – Rehearsal version (Previously Unreleased)
6. Come All Ye (from the Sandy Denny box set)
7. Reynardine
8. Matty Groves (from the Sandy Denny box set)
9. Farewell Farewell
10. Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood (Take 1 edit, Liege & Lief Deluxe Edition)
11. Tam Lin (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
12. Sir Patrick Spens (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
13. The Lark In The Morning medley (John Peel’s Top Gear 27/9/1969)
14. Bonny Bunch Of Roses (Full House Out-Take)

DISC THREE
1. Walk Awhile (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
2. Dirty Linen (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
3. Sloth (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
4. Journeyman’s Grace (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
5. Sir B.McKenzie (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
6. Flatback Caper – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
7. Doctor of Physick – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
8. Poor Will and The Jolly Hangman
9. Bonnie Black Hare (Previously Unreleased)
10. Lord Marlborough
11. Banks of the Sweet Primroses
12. Breakfast In Mayfair
13. Little Did I Think (Previously Unreleased)
14. John Lee (Previously Unreleased)
15. Cell Song (Previously Unreleased)
16. Time Is Near (Previously Unreleased)
17. Dream Song (Previously Unreleased)
18. Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son

DISC FOUR
1. Sweet Little Rock n Roller – Live at the LA Troubadour
2. That’ll Be The Day
3. Think It Over (Previously Unreleased)
4. Maverick Child (Previously Unreleased)
5. Sad Song aka As Long As It Is Mine (Previously Unreleased)
6. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Previously Unreleased)
7. Rattle Trap (Previously Unreleased)
8. Sheep In The Meadow (Previously Unreleased)
9. Rosie (Previously Unreleased)
10. Country Judy Jane (Previously Unreleased)
11. Me With You (Previously Unreleased)
12. My Girl (Previously Unreleased)
13. To Althea from Prison (Previously Unreleased)
14. Knights Of The Road
15. The Plainsman
16. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Old Grey Whistle Test)
17. Brilliancy medley (Old Grey Whistle Test)
18. Polly On The Shore
19. Fiddlestix (The Devil In The Kitchen) (Previously Unreleased)
20. Possibly Parsons Green (Previously Unreleased)
21. Bring Em Down

DISC FIVE
1. Sloth – Live in Sydney
2. John The Gun (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
3. Down In The Flood (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
4. Rising For The Moon (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
5. After Halloween (Byfield Demo – Previously Unreleased)
6. Restless
7. White Dress (Live on LWT)
8. Stranger To Himself
9. Dawn (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. One More Chance (Previously Unreleased)
11. All Along The Watchtower (Live in Oslo 1975)
12. When First Into This Country
13. Sandy’s Song aka Take Away The Load
14. Royal Seleccion No 13 (Previously Unreleased)
15. Adieu Adieu (Previously Unreleased)
16. Reynard The Fox
17. Poor Ditching Boy (Previously Unreleased)
18. Flowers Of T

Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel, London 27/5/17

This review is also published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

Folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention have never been a band to shy away from celebrating their own legacy. When they decided to split in 1979 they held a big outdoor farewell gig in Cropredy, Oxfordshire that proved so successful they decided to stage it again each year, evolving into the big three-day festival we know today. Thirtieth, fortieth and forty-fifth anniversaries of the band have all been celebrated with emotional reunions of surviving ex-members and a similarly nostalgic trip down memory lane is scheduled for Cropredy this August.

An anniversary concert in north London, not far from where the band performed their first ever gig fifty years ago to the day, drips with symbolism. However, unlike the lavish reunions of the past, tonight was scheduled to be a fairly ordinary gig half-way through the band’s spring tour, albeit one that coincided with an extraordinary anniversary. For a band that has done more anniversary performances than many acts have done albums I was beginning to wonder what, if anything, would make tonight’s gig that bit more special than many of the other admittedly excellent performances I’d seen from this band.

The answer lay in the rapturous and sustained applause the band receive as they walk on stage tonight, even before they play a single note. The spontaneous wave of love and and affection is palpable and tonight was clearly going to be as much about the audience as about the band. Performing a mixture of songs from their new album 50:50@50 and older staples, original member Simon Nicol (joined 1967) together with “newbies” Dave Pegg (joined 1969), Ric Sanders (joined 1985), Chris Leslie (joined 1996) and Gerry Conway (joined 1998) provide a nice overview of different eras of the band. From the late 60s classic Sandy Denny/Richard Thompson era the unforgettable ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ is an obvious highlight. While from the mid 80s, when Fairport became a working, touring band again, Ralph McTell’s ‘Hiring Fair’ is another genuine highlight of tonight’s set.

A couple of “surprise” moments are when Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee joins the band on stage to sing ‘The Lady of Carlisle’ the track for which she provides guest vocals on the current album; and when Sally Barker (who reprised a number of Sandy Denny songs when she toured with the surviving members of Denny’s post-Fairport outfit Fotheringay a couple of years ago) lovingly recreates the magic of Denny’s ‘Rising For The Moon’.

‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge’ are two songs the band could never get away without performing and for many years now have been the traditional climax to any Fairport gig. After an energetic ‘Matty Groves’ the band are serenaded with a spontaneous audience rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ when they come back on for an encore. As tonight seemed as much about celebrating the longevity of the Fairport audience as celebrating the longevity of the band, this seems an especially nice touch and makes the ensuing sing-along to ‘Meet On The Ledge’ all the more poignant. Happy 50th Fairport!

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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/

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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/

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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/

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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/

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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/

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Previous review: Fotheringay in London