It would not be Cropredy without an interview with the ‘Jewel In The Crown’ of the Fairport five, so here are Paul Johnson and Darren Beech again with their annual Cropredy chat with Mr. Chris Leslie just after Fairport Convention opened the festival on the Thursday afternoon.
In the interview, we talk about The New Forest Folk Festival, Gerry Colvin and the bucket, £35 Plectrums, Maart and remember Whippersnapper and the much-missed Martin Jenkins. Click on the play button below to listen.
We thought it would also be lovely idea to share a clip from the folking video archive of that Whippersnapper tour, when the band played Petworth, which also includes a vocal performance by that much missed English folk treasure Swarb.
Here is ‘Loving Hannah’.
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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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Opportunities 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.
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Marion Fleetwood and Gregg Cave met with the formation of TRADarrr and things went from there. Unlike their parent band, Fleetwood Cave’s debut album, People Like Us, consists of original material plus one cover version. Supporting Marion and Gregg are Tali Trow and Paul Johnston on double bass and drums with guest appearances from Simon Nicol, Chris Leslie, Anna Ryder, Gerry Colvin, Edwina Hayes, Debs Earl and Chris Cleverley.
Like TRADarr Fleetwood Cave enjoy big arrangements with lots of fiddle but the opener, ‘18th Day Of May’ is a relatively simple and very catchy slice of folk-rock beginning with gorgeous acapella harmonies and a nod to ‘Bonny Black Hare’ in its refrain. ‘Dancing Girls’ follows: initially a gentle song with Marion’s voice and Gregg’s acoustic guitar and some delicate electrics (Gerry Colvin?). It ups the power after a couple of minutes but maintains the mood even through its big finish mainly because Marion avoids the histrionics that pop music would demand.
There are delightful twists all the way through the album so ‘Guinea Golden’ slips into a Morris tune in the middle; ‘Gypsy Queen’ sounds biographical but is probably a rural myth written sometime last year and ‘Passage Of Time’ turns into a growling, driving rock song. There is one instrumental, the wild flying ‘Lazarus’ which gives everybody chance to go to town and the cover is Fairport Convention’s ‘Wizard Of The Worldly Game’ taken rather more slowly than the original. It’s an overlooked part of the Fairport canon but this version will undoubtedly revive its popularity.
There is a huge amount of festival potential here with anthemic songs and great hooks. I can imagine sitting in the sun singing “The bigger the tree, the deeper the roots”. This is a really good debut.
Feast Of Fiddles was formed in 1994 as a one-off concert ensemble as Hugh Crabtree thought it would be a good idea and Mike Sanderson of Nettlebed Folk Club thought so too!
Their first live recording Live 01 was released in 2002 – quite a long wait for the increasing number of fans of the band. However it was only another two years before the next CD appeared – Nicely Wrong. Three more years before yet another live recording Still Live and then after another three years the first studio album Walk Before You Fly. You guessed it, another three years for the second studio album Rise Above It and with a slight break with tradition it’s taken four years to get to studio album number three. Fast forward and in 2017 their sixth album entitled Sleight Of Elbow will be released.
Feast Of Fiddles embarks on its 24th annual spring tour in 2017 to coincide with the release of their new album. The band that has been variously likened to a “group of geography teachers” or “Bellowhead with bus passes!” doesn’t seem to be slowing down any. A band of musical friends that puts on a show of huge dynamic range performed with passion, joy and a liberal dose of fun. It all started at a folk club but has become a folk-rock institution with seven CDs to their name, several festival appearances and sell out shows up and down the UK. Typically, fiddlers Peter Knight (Steeleye Span), Chris Leslie (Fairport Convention), Phil Beer (Show of Hands), Brian McNeill (Battlefield Band), Ian Cutler (Bully Wee), Tom Leary (Lindisfarne) and Garry Blakeley (Band of Two) add their extensive range of fiddle playing styles to the rock back-line of guitars, keyboards, sax and accordion – all held together by legendary drummer Dave Mattacks. A live music entertainment like no other which is guaranteed to be enjoyed by even the most doubting of friends dragged along!
Feast Of Fiddles at the New Forest Folk Festival:
The new album Sleight Of Elbow is something of a departure for the band as it features a lot of original compositions from within the band and only a single traditional tune. One well established feature of the band is well exposed however and that is Feast Of Fiddles arrangements of tunes from other genres, film or TV.
The title track is one of two pieces by guitarist Martin Vincent which was first aired during the 2016 spring tour – the tour that Martin missed because he was in hospital getting a new valve for his heart. ‘McBrides’ is a tune from the band Moving Hearts and a real test piece for a big band. The Scottish band The McCalmans provide the first of only three songs on this recording – ‘Smugglers Song’, this rousing tale of smugglers going about their business complete with engaging chorus. The band’s arrangement of ‘String Of Pearls’ (best known through the Glen Miller Band) demonstrates perfectly the versatility of Feast Of Fiddles. Used as tour opener in 2016 it instigated immediate spontaneous applause at more than one venue. This is followed by the second song – a beautiful original from Alan Whetton who joined the band on sax and keyboards in 2012. ‘Butterfly’s Wing’ picks up the concept of chaos theory which suggests the brief flapping of a butterfly’s wing in England might result in a tornado in the mid-west of America. Another piece from Martin Vincent – ‘Paper Chase’ is probably the nearest the band has got to jazz. Written for a huge school band when Martin was teaching music the title reflects the frustration of most teachers these days dealing with increasing burden of paperwork. The next track, ‘Siamese Kashmir’, is a classic example of what Feast Of Fiddles is all about. A famous film tune segueing into classic rock. ‘The March Of The Siamese Princes And Princesses’ from the film The King And I somehow seemed to naturally lead to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’…or so thought bass player Dave Harding a frequent provider of left field material choices to open the show. A great band tune from Alan Whetton – ‘Three Legged Race’ comes next. Then a past top of show track which starts with the theme music of TV series Mission Impossible and joins with another tune from the pen of Alan Whetton ‘Mission Statement’, together almost inevitably entitled ‘Mission Improbable’. The final track on the album is the only traditional tune and one that has been a feature of the band’s repertoire ever since the very beginning. Frequently introduced as a French dance tune that morphs into a drum solo it is ‘Branle Des Chevaux’ or ‘Horses’ Brawl’ as it is better known in the UK.