FAIRPORT CONVENTION – 50:50@50 (Matty Grooves MGCD054)

50:50@50Opportunities for celebration come round with increasing frequency when you’ve been in the business as long as Fairport Convention has. The current line-up has been together for almost twenty years and before that they have a back catalogue so large that they can never hope to play it all. This year sees the band’s fiftieth birthday and the title of 50:50@50 describes its contents: seven new recordings and seven live tracks. Fairport haven’t done anything obvious, though. You’ll look in vain for the old favourites that their audiences demand they play every gig – no ‘Matty Groves’ and no ‘Meet On The Ledge’.

The album opens with the first of Chris Leslie’s new songs, a return to his favourite maritime themes. ‘Eleanor’s Dream’ feels like a sequel to ‘Lord Franklin’ and indeed it mentions Lancaster Sound, part of the fabled Northwest Passage. But Lady Franklin was Jane so Chris has given us a puzzle. The first live track is ‘Ye Mariners All’, originally from Tippler’s Tales, recorded at The Mill in Banbury, venue for the famous Cropredy warm-ups. In fact the band returns to the tradition on this album more than they have done in recent years.

‘Step By Step’ is a pretty but rather slight song and it’s followed by ‘The Naked Highwayman’ also live and a real vocal tour de force by Simon Nicol. So far so not unexpected but don’t sit back and relax just yet. Ric Sanders has re-recorded his ‘Danny Jack’s Reward’ subtitled “expensive version!” with a host of friends, woodwinds and brass and a guest appearance from Joe Broughton. It’s a superb reading of the piece but the surprises aren’t over yet. Next is another live track, ‘Jesus On The Mainline’, with Fairport taking on the role of Robert Plant’s backing group!

I’m not sure if Chris Leslie’s ‘Devil’s Work’ is autobiographical – I can’t see a professional musician doing manual work any more hazardous than fettling a fiddle. That’s another puzzle he’s set us. The next live track, ‘Mercy Bay’, is another of his epic sea songs and that’s followed by ‘Our Bus Rolls On’, a song in praise of the band. It’s a bit twee for my taste but if you can’t blow your own trumpet when you’re fifty when can you? A rewrite of ‘Angel Delight’ would have been great fun – Simon and Peggy remain from the original but I expect that their tastes have matured over the years.

Next is a superb live version of ‘Portmeirion’, possibly the best I’ve heard, and then another surprise. Fairport Convention don’t really do traditional songs like they used to but here is a new addition, ‘The Lady Of Carlisle’, with lead vocal by Jacqui McShee followed by a live version of ‘Lord Marlborough’, originally recorded a mere forty-six years ago. Unexpectedly, PJ Wright contributes ‘Summer By The Cherwell’ – self-referential, of course, but I can see it being a live hit at every Cropredy from now on.

The final live track and the album’s closer is another surprise. Guess what it might be and I bet you won’t say ‘John Condon’. This is a sensitive, thoughtful reading of the song as befits its subject matter with Gerry Conway’s brushes holding the rhythm but not intruding on Ric’s fiddle or Simon’s vocals. One second thoughts, a song of reflection is an appropriate way to send this set. We all have more to look back on than look forward to.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Mercy Bay’ – live at The Union Chapel:

Fairport Convention celebrate their golden jubilee

Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention, the legendary band who originated British folk-rock, celebrate their golden anniversary this year. When Fairport takes the stage on Saturday 27 May 2017 for their birthday concert at the Union Chapel in Islington it will be fifty years to the day since their first-ever gig.

Formed by Ashley Hutchings in 1967’s “summer of love”, Fairport Convention is one of the few touring bands with an unbroken history stretching back five decades. They have been performing and recording more or less constantly since their inception.

Fairport Convention has been one of the most influential UK bands in popular music and has nurtured the careers of some great names, among them Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and Dave Swarbrick.

The band saw many changes of personnel during its early years but Fairport Convention’s current line-up has been together since 1998. Simon Nicol, lead singer and guitarist, is the only founding member still with Fairport; bass player Dave Pegg has been in the band since 1970.

To mark its fiftieth anniversary year, Fairport Convention will be releasing a new album. Titled 50:50@50, half the tracks are studio recordings of brand-new songs and half are live performances from Fairport’s core repertoire. The album features guest vocals from Robert Plant and Jacqui McShee.

Fairport will hit the road in January on a UK-wide tour which starts at the prestigious Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow. A second tour in early summer will include the birthday concert on 27 May before the band’s year culminates at their own music festival at Cropredy, Oxfordshire, in August. Fairport’s headline set will see past members joining the current line-up on stage for a reunion performance.

“Fifty years after I first heard them the mighty Fairport Convention still sound as good as ever.” Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2

According to the BBC Music website, Fairport Convention is “…undoubtedly one of the most influential folk collectives to have ever existed.”

Fairport’s seminal albums Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief (both released in 1969) originated a whole new genre of music, British folk-rock, which celebrated English roots by combining traditional folk songs and tunes with amplified rock instruments.

This genre’s influence has percolated down the years touching artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin and Devendra Banhart, Fleet Foxes, Mumford & Sons, Seth Lakeman and Ryley Walker.

Radio 2 listeners voted Liege & Lief  “The Most Influential Folk Album of All Time’”

Mojo magazine listed Liege & Lief at number 58 in its list of “100 Records That Changed the World”.

Fairport’s story has been celebrated with several radio and TV documentaries and the band has won a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award.

Artists’ website: http://www.fairportconvention.com/