Tag Archives: Sally Barker

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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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

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/

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Fairport Convention at Cropredy 9/8/14

In the late ‘60s Fairport pretty much invented English folk-rock and since the late ‘70s the band’s Cropredy festival has been an annual fixture for anyone with a love of this type of music. While the festival as a whole tends to offer an eclectic mixture of folk and heritage rock acts, Fairport Convention themselves always headline on the Saturday night. While previous years have offered a marathon three-hour session from Fairport, tonight we have a slightly truncated two-hour set. But we are still given a great selection of songs and tunes in that time. The band are about to release a new studio album so brand new material is introduced alongside old favourites. The first of the new songs is Myths and Heroes. F or anyone concerned that the “rock” element of Fairport’s genetic composition has been downplayed in recent years, they will not be at all disappointed with this, a ferocious and brilliantly played slice of folk-rock.

For me the two strongest tracks on their last studio album of new material, Festival Bell, are undoubtedly Around the Wild Cape Horn and Mercy Bay. I was delighted to see that these two have remained in the set. Both magnificently sung by Simon Nicol, they are now bona fide Fairport classics that comfortably sit alongside older Fairport classics. We do hear plenty of the older classics, too, however. Walk awhile, Crazy Man Michael, Now Be Thankful and Farewell Farewell are all in there, alongside a great version of The Lark in the Morning medley, which set the template for fast and furious electric folk instrumentals on the genre-defining Liege and Lief album back in 1969.

The only thing that really didn’t work for me tonight was the guest spot from vocalist Sally Barker, who sang Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes. Barker is a star of TV’s The Voice, and while her heavily-pronounced, overly-dramatic vocal delivery may be just what is needed for TV talent shows, it was the exact opposite of the calm, understated, crystal-clear beauty of Sandy Denny’s original.

Traditional show closer Meet on the Ledge, written by the band’s original lead guitarist, Richard Thompson at the crazily young age of 17, always provides the collected Cropredy masses with a rousing and emotional final sing-along. But another defining moment of every Cropredy festival is the penultimate number, Matty Groves. The exact origins of the song (an adulterous tale of a Lady and a servant who both meet a tragic end at the hands of her jealous husband) are lost in the mists of time. But whoever originally wrote it must surely never have imagined that several hundred years after it was written, 20,000 people would stand together in a field in Oxfordshire every year and sing along to all nineteen verses at the top of their voices. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Setlist:
Walk Awhile
Crazy Man Michael
Portmeirion
Myths & Heroes
Home
The Happy Man
Theodore’s Song
Around the Wild Cape Horn
The Hiring Fair
The Lark in the Morning Medley
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Now Be Thankful
Bring me Back my Feathers
Mercy Bay
Love at First Sight
Farewell, Farewell
John Gaudie
Matty Groves
Meet on the Ledge

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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Previous review: Fairport Convention at Union Chapel