An incredible array of special guest performers has been announced for Richard Thompson’s 70th birthday celebration show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on September 30th 2019. This once in a lifetime concert will see eminent fellow musicians, friends and family grace the stage to mark the milestone birthday of this iconic and much respected artist.
Joining Richard Thompson on an exceptional night will be: Alistair Anderson, Ashley Hutchings, Bob Mould, Christine Collister, Danny Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg, David Gilmour, Derek Smalls (formerly of the band formally known as Spinal Tap), Eliza Carthy, Hugh Cornwell, Jack Thompson, James Walbourne, Judith Owen, Kami Thompson, Kate Rusby, Linda Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Maddy Prior, Marc Ellington, Martin Carthy, Olivia Chaney, Simon Nicol, Teddy Thompson and Zara Phillips.
Richard Thompson’s enduring musical influence and accomplishments are unparalleled. Having co-founded the ground-breaking group Fairport Convention as a teenager in the 1960s, he and his bandmates invented a distinctive strain of British folk rock. He left the group by the age of 21, followed by a decade long musical partnership with his then-wife Linda, to over 30 years as a highly successful solo artist. Thompson’s genre defying mastery of both acoustic and electric guitar along with engaging energy and onstage wit continue to earn him new fans and a place as one of the most distinctive virtuosos and writers in folk rock history. Powered by evocative songcraft, jaw-dropping guitar playing, and indefinable spirit, this venerable icon holds a coveted spot on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and counts Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Americana Music Association in Nashville and the UK Americana Music Association, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC Folk Awards, a prestigious Ivor Novello Award and, of course, an OBE, among his many accolades.
A wide range of musicians have recorded Thompson’s songs including David Gilmour, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Jones, David Byrne, Don Henley, Los Lobos, and many more. His massive body of work includes many Grammy nominated albums as well as numerous soundtracks, including Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Thompson’s latest album 13 Rivers (Proper Records) was released to widespread acclaim last September and appeared on many 2018 ‘best of the year’ lists. His accompanying tour was met with glowing reviews, including The Observer, in its Artist of the Week spread, who concluded, “Half a century after his first gig with Fairport Convention, folk-rocker Richard Thompson – trademark Stratocaster and beret intact – is as cool, energetic and contemporary as ever.”
Formerly part of Waking The Witch as well as collaborating in duo or trio form with Ashley Hutchings and violinist Ruth Angell, the clear-voiced Yorkshire-born Mills released her solo debut back in 2013, so the follow-up has been long anticipated. Joined by both Hutchings and Angell and featuring Blair Dunlop’s electric guitar on two tracks, this won’t disappoint.
All self-penned with an ear for the tradition, it opens with ‘My Brother’s A Farmer’, cello, concertina and violin colouring a slow waltzing song about her pheasant farmer brother and how the job leaves him no time for romance or a private life.
Featuring Dunlop with Angell on pump harmonium, there’s a further family connection with the six-minute ‘The Lady Of Ballantyne’, sung in the voice of her storytelling grandmother Eve Mills (nee Ballantyne) recalling her family history and of a young girl taken from her land of black stone across the waters to marry an older man she’d never met, the story coming with a rare happy ending.
A sparse arrangement of just guitar, cello and wine glasses, the intimately sung, highly traditional sounding ‘Crocuses’ was written in memory of a family member and how, her grave unmarked for some time, Mills planted crocuses which now return each year in commemoration of her life.
Hutchings and Angell joining on in the backing vocals, her grandfather gets his turn in the songbook on breezy strummed swayalong ‘The Gunsmith’s Daughter’, the old man a self-taught gunsmith who’d shoot at anything that flew, much to the consternation of his daughters, Then, hospitalised, he’d lie in bed watching the birds flying away, living their lives, and underwent sea change, never again shooting a living thing.
Mid-way in comes a brace of songs recorded live with Angell on violin and backing vocals at St. John’s Church in the North Yorkshire village of Newton-upon-Rawcliffe, the first being the slow waltz ‘No Tears For My Fisherman’, the story of a comfortable-off widow from near Robin Hood’s Bay who married a younger fisherman from Saltburn, thinking she’d be rescuing him from a life at the waves only to find their calling was stronger than that of the marriage bed, although she remained content to wait for his return, his third mistress after the sea and his boat.
The second is ‘Last Look At Home’, a jauntier fingerpicked melody serving a song about facing the uncertainty of days ahead with optimism and in the company of the one that matters to you most, assured in the knowledge that the sun will rise again.
Returning to the studio and family, the playful ‘City In My Lungs’ is sung in the voice of her great grandmother who, when she married a sailor, left the family grocery store in Wallsend where she worked to move in with the in-laws in North Yorkshire, only to become homesick for the noise and smoke of the docks, not comforted by her moody husband (“he sulks all day in his shed with his Dad/And in six long weeks I’ve only ever known him bath once”) and unable to make friends on account of her strong accent.
The song, strummed in a lively 60s folk troubadour style and accompanied by acoustic bass, concertina and violin has her begging her folks to let her come back, laying out all her woes , swearing she’d even become a nun for “a great big drag of the city in my lungs”. There is, however, a cute turnaround as he agrees to let her go, but says he’d miss her, and she decides “the city life was never much of a place for raising babies on”.
The same grandmother is the narrator for ‘William’, a low key, spare solo showcase for Mills that talks about how, in 1941, the ship on which her son was serving was torpedoed with only fourteen survivors, he not being among them. Her hair turned white overnight, but she refused to accept he was gone, everyone thinking she’d gone mad with grief. Just under four years later, at Christmas, he knocked on the front door.
Again featuring Dunlop and with Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne on melodeon, Mills returns to marriage for skittering ‘The Wheeldale Crossing’, or, more accurately, not marrying but living together, commonplace enough today but a rare thing in the late Georgian era, other than, of course, on the Moors where they make their own rules. `Not that this is a celebration of liberal sexual mores, but rather a tragic tale of how Jack drowned when he got caught in the crossing (“turning like a monkey on the wheel of chance”) and was washed away, only for the locals to accuse her of being a witch when, in a ritual, she burns his clothes but leaves his boots at the churchyard gate for his ghost to retrieve.
The final credited track is the strummed ‘Row Like Grace’, Angell back on pump harmonium, which, as you might rightly assume, is about Grace Darling, one of Mills’ heroines, her courageous actions here serving as a metaphor for her riding life’s tempestuous waves for her other half if he needed her.
There remains a hidden bonus number, ‘Barry Sheene’, a robust strummed singalong tribute to the legendary 70s motorcycle rider and star of the Scarborough circuit (not to mention ladies man) with Dunlop on guitar, a violin solo from Angell and everyone piling in on backing vocals. Ride on indeed.
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Lauded by Bob Dylan, and every other folk musician of importance, Ashley Hutchings MBE has had a storied and eventful career in Folk and world music. From his time as a founding member of Fairport Convention, his career as a session musician and record producer, and involvement with such groups as Steeleye Span, The Albion Country Band, Morris On, Rainbow Chasers and the Lark Rise Band his devotion to English folk music knows no bounds.
He has put together a new and entertaining words and music show entitle, The Beginnings of Fairport Convention. As a leading founder member of Fairport back in 1967 he is in a great position to tell the story of the start of Britain’s favourite folk-rock band.
Ashley teams up with Becky Mills to present the show which is informative, funny and full of wonderful music. Ashley has thrown in some great stories of the music scene in London in the late sixties. Stories which include Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album, and much else besides.
A Lichfield Arts Spokesman said ‘Ashley Hutchings has performed at the Guildhall many times, and his first hand stories of the music scene in 1960’s London make you feel that you are experiencing that same excitement. Add the glorious voice of Becky Mills, and you will have an unmissable evening of music’.
Tickets for this intimate night of music and story-telling are £15.50, £13.95 for Friends of Lichfield Arts and £7.75 for under 16’s. For further information and to book tickets visit www.lichfieldarts.org.uk, phone (01543) 262223, or call into the Lichfield Arts Box Office in Donegal House on Bore Street.
Visiting the docks first, this is a sort of continuance of a previously unfinished story that mixes together past recordings, new material, readings and film clips, opening with an echoey Hutchings reading an extract from John Donne’s poem of parted but constant adulterous lovers ‘Elegie XII’ with JJ Stoney providing keyboard effects. It’s followed by a 1985 live recording of ‘Kitty Come Down The Lane’ by the Ashley Hutchings All Stars, featuring Clive Gregson and Polly Bolton, and, in turn, with another reading, this time ‘The Meadow’, a single line extract from Louis MacNeice’ ‘The Strings Are False’.
The first new recording comes with the pastoral ‘Art Nouveau’, exploring the woman as flower metaphor, co-written with Ken Nicol, sung by Barry Coope and featuring string quartet arrangement by Joe Broughton, with himself on violin and Jo Hamilton on viola.
Another reading, ‘St. Valentine Day Sonnet’, is one of Hutchings’ own, about getting a rose tattoo, written in the manner of Donne, then it’s back to 1987 and a recording of the bouncy ‘Trip To Bath’ by The Albion Dance Band, Bolton again on vocals. Jane Wildsmith provides the voice of Pat in ‘Sultana Cake’, a brief extract from a letter, then it’s into the second new song, Tim Walker on trombone and Chris Sheldon on banjo for the New Orleans-influenced ‘Cul-de-Sac’, a playfully wry reference to how the original romance ended. Another live recording, the lost relationship ‘Our Stolen Season’ comes from a 2000 Rainbow Chasers concert, Hamilton on vocal and Ruth Angell on violin, followed by the first of the film clips, a brief extract (in French but translated in the booklet) from Alain Resnais’ 1960 Last Year In Marienbad before Fred Claridge’s drums introduce the Western-movie soundtrack flavoured ‘Devil-may-care In Our Dancing Shoes’, a down to the crossroads lost souls number co-penned with son Blair Dunlop who also plays acoustic guitar, that brings Pat back into the picture with the lines “Years passed by, then out of the blue/ The call of the road and a text or two.”
Michael Maloney voices an excerpt from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, followed by another French film clip, this time ‘It Was My Heart’ from Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Boi de Boulogne, the screenplay by Cocteau. Then, preceded by a lengthy introduction in which Hutchings explains the background to Gloucester Docks (and the title’s links to both the psalm ‘By Waters Of Babylon’ and Elizabeth Smart’s ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept’ as well as offering a Tristan and Isolde context to the story of doomed love), a 1988 All Stars concert recordings of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ featuring just Bolton and John Shepherd’s keyboard.
The last of the new songs, again written with Dunlop, and featuring both him and Nicol on electric guitars, brings things up to the present day with the lyrically optimistic ‘Thirty-two Years And A Lifetime’, which, after the initial set-up, breaks out into a punchy, upbeat folk-rock melody that may well have travelled over the Cork and Kerry mountains.
It ends with the brief spoken ‘Epilogue’ which brings the lost love back into his life, the pondered question “What is to become of us?” possibly answered as the tracks flows into an arrangement of the traditional ‘French Catholic Wedding Tune’ with Stoney on churchy organ and Becky Mills providing the choral vocals.
Having duly conjured a romantic glow, the second disc beats the heart with a collection of all new recordings, again intercut with clips and readings, that gets under way with rising star Kitty Macfarlane on acoustic singing her own ‘Avona And The Giant’, a song based around the legend of the Bristol giants Vincent and Goram and how, after losing the love of Avona, the latter through himself into the river, his torso forming the isles of Steepholm and Flatholm.
Macfarlane also closes the album, this time, preceded by an extract from the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, with her arrangement of ‘Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun’ from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.
In-between clips are taken from the 1932 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s WWI story A Farewell To Arms with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, Tony Richardson’s 1968 Charge of the Light Brigade and, given the theme, what else but Bogart and Bacall in Casablanca, here in the form of the “I remember every detail” scene.
There’s readings too, Michael Maloney giving John Donne another outing with ‘Aire And Angells’, Hutching and cheering crowd with 30 seconds of ‘If Love Has Wings’ from The Marriage of Figaro (Beaumarchais not Mozart) and a brace of Chekhov with two extracts, pre and post-marriage, from the playful ‘Notes from the journal of a quick-tempered man’.
There’s only one previously releases track, ‘Welcome To The World’ taken from The Albion Band’s eponymous 1999 album, the remainder being all new material. Evoking formative Fairport folk rock and preceding the Donne, ‘Above The Angels’ is sung by Mills with Nicol and Dunlop on electric guitars and Stoney tinkling the piano, ‘If There’s No Other Way’ is an acoustic, strings-arranged Hutchings/Broughton ‘love in vain’ ballad with Bolton on soaring vocals and, revisiting bird imagery, simple acoustic ‘The Swift’, with its title wordplay, is written and sung by Mills.
There’s two traditional numbers, ‘Polly On The Shore’ (or at least an except therefrom) providing a solo showcase for Dunlop, accompanying himself on electric guitar, while, co-produced by Joe Boyd, ‘Sykaleshe’ is a love song performed in their native tongue by Albanian folk outfit Saz’iso, and which seems likely to be an outtake from their 2016 album At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song. Which just leaves ‘Lost In The Haze’, father and son teaming for a first time ever I saw your face memory of first love recalling how Hutchings was smitten by a girl he met as part of a 1964 Methodist Youth Club ramble though Hertfordshire, immortalised in the photograph in the superb accompanying annotated hardback lyric booklet.
The original ‘By Gloucester Docks I sat down and wept’, released in 1987, ended on a painful note, but it finally now has a happy coda; after waiting by the Quay for 30 years, Hutchings’ ship has come in.
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If you’ve ever been to a Cropredy Festival you’ll know exactly what they do on Saturday. They gather together a bunch of former band-mates and old friends and play a mammoth set long into the darkness (subject to health and safety restrictions, of course). These days, Fairport Convention don’t need an excuse to mount a celebration but 2017 marked the band’s fiftieth anniversary and so this was the perfect opportunity to tell the band’s story in music – although not strictly in the right order. Thus we have What We Did On Our Saturday, packaged in an homage to their second album.
The album begins with their first album and (almost) their first line-up. For younger readers that was Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Iain Matthews and Judy Dyble now with Dave Mattacks on drums. They kick off with ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’ and ‘Reno Nevada’ and I was impressed at the way Richard played the sort of guitar lead appropriate to 1967. He couldn’t help himself, of course, and went off on one but I don’t suppose that anyone complained.
Chris While took over on lead vocals for ‘Suzanne’, a slightly less off-the-wall arrangement than the original. Chris does a very good Sandy Denny particularly on the rockier numbers but she’s her own woman and the grace notes and decorations are all her own. Judy and Iain get time off and the others take it in turns so the current line-up doesn’t actually appear until ‘Crazy Man Michael’ when Gerry Conway briefly wrestles the drum stool away from DM. The remainder of the first disc is taken up with selections from Liege & Lief and Full House and they keep ‘Sloth’ to under ten minutes.
The second disc opens with ‘Now Be Thankful’, a song which Chris Leslie is rapidly making his own, even though Richard elbows him off the mic on this occasion. It’s worth noting that Chris doesn’t get a break after the third track until the Fotheringay homage of ‘Ned Kelly’ and ‘Rising For The Moon’ which feature Sally Barker and PJ Wright and introduce Maartin Allcock to the stage. The latter is a feature of the revamped Fotheringay’s set but sadly, of course, Jerry Donahue isn’t available. I have to say, in passing, that Simon does a wonderful job with ‘Fotheringay’. Maart gets to lead ‘A Surfeit Of Lampreys’ and Ralph McTell takes centre stage for ‘White Dress’ but Simon keeps ‘The Hiring Fair’ for himself.
There is only one song that originates with the current line-up and that’s Chris Leslie’s ‘Our Bus Rolls On’ and now we’re on the downhill run. You know how it ends: ‘Matty Groves’ – with both drummers – and ‘Meet On The Ledge’ with everyone back on stage.
As you might imagine, I own a lot of Cropredy recordings and all have their own attractions. For me the 25th anniversary set stands out while the earlier ones: A.T.2 and The Boot have the particular ramshackle charm that we used to associate with Fairport Convention thirty-odd years ago. What We Did On Our Saturday is tight and slick without much in the way of stage chatter – an appropriately serious set to go with such a milestone in Fairport’s history. Exemplary performances as we’ve come to expect, of course, but sometimes I do miss Simon playing rhythm viola!
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Sky Arts is to broadcast a major television documentary to mark the fiftieth anniversary of legendary folk rock band Fairport Convention. Titled Fairport Convention: Folk Heroes, the 70-minute film will be transmitted at 9pm on Saturday 25 November 2017.
The film tells how five young musicians in North London formed Fairport Convention during 1967’s ‘summer of love’. The band went on to shake English folk music to its roots by fusing it with rock, an approach which outraged some purists but delighted a new and devoted audience.
In the subsequent five decades, Fairport Convention has attracted widespread critical acclaim, won a coveted BBC Lifetime Achievement Award, and Radio 2 listeners voted Fairport’s groundbreaking album Liege & Lief ‘The Most Influential Folk Album of All Time’.
The documentary has been made by London-based independent producer Special Treats Productions. The company’s previous television music documentaries include XTC: This Is Pop, I’m Not In Love: The Story Of 10cc and the award-winning film UB40: Promises And Lies.
The film features rare archive interviews and footage as well as newly-filmed interviews with the current Fairport members and, among others, Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, Iain Matthews, Judy Dyble, Joe Boyd, Ralph McTell, Maddy Prior, Bob Harris, Suggs, Rick Wakeman, Steve Winwood, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
Through these interviews, the film examines Fairport’s first five years in detail, including the tragic motorway crash which killed drummer Martin Lamble. It goes on to explain Fairport’s pivotal role in the evolution of British folk-rock; how the band fostered major talents such as Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick and spawned other notable bands including Matthews Southern Comfort, Steeleye Span, and Fotheringay.
The story is brought up to date with contemporary material filmed at Fairport’s annual ‘own brand’ music festival held at Cropredy in Oxfordshire. The closing sequence features the band’s 2017 festival performance when virtually all the surviving former members joined the current line-up on stage.
Producer/Director Charlie Thomas has been working closely with Fairport for over a year. He says: “Our aim is to explain how important Fairport’s influence has been and continues to be – in other words, why the band matters.
“We have not set out to make a comprehensive, year-by-year history of Fairport; that has been done before. The film concentrates on two periods – the first five years and the band today. The result is a celebration of a very British institution and an assertion of Fairport’s continuing relevance.”