Well, as we always say, it would not be Cropredy without our annual Chris Leslie interview.
Darren Beech and Paul Johnson tracked Mr. Leslie down on the Friday, luckily just before he was about to do a runner in the pink buggy to go off and do a gig with the ‘Banana Splits’.
In the interview, we talk about how the act of walking fuels the art of song-writing, the process of writing the ‘what Chris Leslie has been up to piece’ for the Cropredy programme each year and how this year’s article conjured up the visions and words of the John Tams version of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Manchester Rambler’.
We also talk about the ‘Fairport Extension’ set, why Fairport are the best backing band in the world, the much loved and dearly missed Maart, we revisit the 25th Anniversary 1992 Cropredy year and remember when Robert Plant played a very special set as part of that celebration.
The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.
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.