Fairport Convention’s Shuffle And Go is a “green and pleasant” lovely folk album that winks and waves at the past, and (to almost quote Procol Harum) it “trips the light fandango” and indeed, still “turns cartwheels ‘cross the floor”. This is wise and warm music.
Now, in his book Meet On The Ledge A History Of Fairport Convention, Patrick Humphries says that Full House’s ‘Sloth’ is “a complex narrative, the novel that Thomas Hardy always meant to write”. Well, that’s a dart to the triple twenty spot. The epic tune bleakly suggests a past that anchors its characters into an ink blot where “She’s run away, she’s run away/And she ran so bitterly” because “Now the right thing’s the wrong thing”.
The comparison is apt. Hardy’s Tess is haunted by her past, and Angel Clare and Alec return again (and again) to signpost her fate. Of course, The Mayor of Casterbridge tells the tale of Michael Henchard, he who has it all, and is dragged down by a dredged past because Elizabeth Jane really isn’t his child, and then that wedding gifted song bird dies in caged neglect. Let’s not even talk about Obscure Jude and Little Father Time! So, yeah, ‘Sloth’ touches a live wire that’s very human, very electric, and fueled with an ill-fated certainty.
But Shuffle And Go has very little to do with any unwritten Hardy novel. Truly, this album doesn’t get caught up in past glories. The band is simply comfortable in its own skin. As said, this record winks, waves, and then nods at its own history; and to quote another ageless band, Fleetwood Mac, simply chooses to Then Play On.
The first two songs are quite wonderful. ‘Don’t Reveal My Name’ is a spooky Chris Leslie penned song with Biblical references galore and smoky guitars. It’s a nice tune, with or without the Fairport tag. Oh my! ‘Cider Rain’ is folk pop perfection with the sturdy comfort of a Simon Nicol vocal.
This is good music which closely shadows their resurgent album, Myths & Heroes. ‘Good Time For A Fiddle And Bow/The Christmas Reel’ could pump up any flat tire with enough umph to dance into many more dawning miles. Oh my! (again), Simon Nicol captures the beauty of England’s public houses, places where free speech in ‘A Thousand Bars’ and sad reflections are poured to match any locally pure and melodic brew. And then there’s Leslie’s title tune ‘Shuffle And Go’, which is up-tempo with an almost Americana zydeco pulse. ‘The Year Of Fifty Nine’ is again, quick with Ric Sanders’ violin, while the lyrics mention “Sputnik”, which is a long way from John Babbacombe Lee or “sad little Matty Groves”. Ditto for the Dave Pegg’s bass bulging in Sanders’ raucous ‘Steampunkery’, as it glances with modern gusto at the ‘Dirty Linen’ of long ago.
There are light-hearted moments. ‘Linseed Memories’ is a casual stroll, and would fit into the relaxed grooves of Ralph McTell’s 1973 very fine album, Easy. ‘Jolly Springtime’ (written by James Taylor!) is a clever choral tune as various voices weave yet another “green and pleasant” moment that conjures the plaintive sound early Steeleye Span. And ‘The Byfield Steeplechase’ is timeless Fairport, with yet another epic (!) tale, in almost Morris-dance time.
Two songs touch history. ‘Moondust And Solitude’ envisions an Apollo Moon landing, with includes a radio broadcast from the time. It’s important to remember that Fairport were an essential addition to the broad and inclusive hope of the late 60’s, despite the occasional rather tragic lyric about ‘Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman’ and ‘Crazy Man Michael’. It was all part of a very nice game.
‘Moses Waits’ is the odd tune out, written (by Rob Beattie) from the point of view of a Kenyan who “waits for the tips that make up his rent”, “the union to organize”, and he thinks of “his children with their heads bowed down at school”. Then the music slides into an ethnic shuffle that touches a simple beauty that, hopefully, fulfills the pure intent of the pre-Fairport Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra. As Fairport’s signature song Meet On The Ledge still proclaims, even after all these years, “If you really mean it, it all comes round again”. It’s a brilliant tune that conjures the thought of Vin Garbutt’s very necessary song, ‘When The Oppressed Becomes Oppressor’.
The final song is a violin slow dance, ‘Precious Time’. It’s nice. It’s beautiful. But (perhaps, a gripe) Myths & Heroes also did that with ‘Jonah’s Oak’.
That said, in his old (but still optimistic) age, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in ‘Terminus’, “I trim myself to the storm of time”. Fair enough. But he also wrote, “Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime”. That’s what Shuffle And Go does because, as Emerson also said, “every wave is charmed”. And, in Fairport’s case, “every wave” is “green and pleasant” and “charmed”, thankfully, over and over again.
Artists’ website: www.fairportconvention.com
It took some finding but here is ‘Shuffle And Go’ live at Cropredy: