Tag Archives: Simon Nicol

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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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

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 9/3/14

“Don’t worry, if you are not enjoying it and can’t wait for me to finish – I’m only on for twenty minutes.” So explained support act Edwina Hayes. The singer-songwriter turned out to be very much more than bearable and was later welcomed back on to the stage by Fairport Convention towards the end of the night to join them in a performance of the Sandy Denny-era classic “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” I’ve seen Fairport fifteen times now. Although they have always been adamant that they could not and should not attempt to replace the late Sandy Denny; for me, what turns a good Fairport performance into something very special  indeed is when they are able to enlist the assistance of a talented female guest vocalist to sing one or two of Sandy’s songs.

This wasn’t the only noteworthy thing about the performance, tonight either. The setlist, which has possibly been getting a bit samey these past few years,  has been spruced up for this tour with some new songs as well as some old favourites that had not been heard for a while being brought back. Also notable, on this tour has been the addition of a stand-in bass player. Dave Pegg, who has played with the band since 1970, managed to damage the tendons in his hand and has been unable to play. Although he came on stage to introduce the band and hung around for some occasional backing vocals and on-stage banter, it was his son Matt Pegg on the bass. An excellent replacement who was warmly applauded.

The audience were far more reserved than at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, their Summer festival which takes place each August and which got constant plugs throughout the night. Nevertheless, it was a fitting performance for the final night of their winter tour in what is one of London’s most beautiful venues. To absolutely no-one’s surprise and everyone’s delight the band finished with their usual sing-along encore “Meet on the Ledge.”

Setlist:
Jewel in the Crown
Doctor of Physick
Already There/Sailing into Walpole’s Marsh
Home
Theodore’s Song
Dirty Linen
Cell Song
Mercy Bay
– Interval –
Festival Bell
Wassail Song
Farewell Farewell
Happy Man
Myths and Heroes
Close to the Wind
Grace and Favour
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
Danny Jack’s Reward
Matty Groves
Meet on the Ledge

http://www.fairportconvention.com/