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.”
Here is Churchfitters new double album, Old Friends. There is no UK release date, but it will be available from their website shortly. The album will, however, be released in France from March 1st (don’t underestimate the internationalism of Folking.com)
The album is a celebration of forty years of Churchfitters, founded in the UK in 1978 before the members moved to a Brittany base from 1993 (hence the album’s release in France). The current line-up consists of Rosie Short, her brother Chris and Boris Lebret who joined in 2004 and brought with him “an array of home made scrap metal instruments” as their website puts it. This trio is the core of the group; for percussion and on tours Margaux Scherer is a more recent addition. I last saw Churchfitters about three years ago in a village hall with an audience of primarily non-folkies/non-gig attending people from the village – they loved it, Lebret’s unusual instruments gave the band an immediate interaction with the audience.
The title, Old Friends, has a double meaning: that the songs are old friends and also that there are a number of old friends who are guests on the album (Frankie Banham, Pete Jack, Thomas Lotout, Dave Pegg, Eric Richard and Ronan Robert).
The 21 songs are a mix of those composed by the band and traditional songs. There is a bouncy version of ‘Johnny Was A Shoemaker’, a moving version of ‘The House Carpenter’, a haunting ‘Black is the Crow’, a driving ‘Open the Door’ and a rather splendid ‘The Parting Glass’ to finish the album. My favourite of the traditional songs, though, is a beautifully ethereal version of ‘She Moved Through the Fair’.
Of the tracks composed by the band, I particularly like the opening track ‘He Cut Her Throat’, written by Rosie Short, which has all that you need from a murder ballad: love, marriage, leaving, jealousy, throat slitting and a lively tune. Slower and more haunting is ‘Bleeding Heart Yard’ this time a contrast between the lily white purity of the heroine and the devil who is taking her heart. Of the others, perhaps the two most powerful tracks are ‘The Turning of the Tide’ and ‘Sing (For Our Time on Earth)’ – I instantly recognised them from the concert three years ago. These are two more of Short’s songs, the former jaunty and the latter a melodic piano piece.
If you want to get a feel for the band, the video below presents four songs performed at Cropredy by the Churchfitters four-piece where you can hear their style – and see some of the home made instruments. You’ll also see that it matters not whether it’s a village hall or 20,000 people standing in a field.
As for Old Friends the album, it gets better every time I play it – a double album of folk songs and instrumentals, both self-penned and from the tradition. For me it’s also been a great reminder of just how good Churchfitters are in concert. Dates (in both countries) are on their web pages.
Paul Johnson and Darren Beech track down Dave Pegg at this year at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival. The interview gets off to a great start with Paul remembering to press the record button!
In the interview, we talk about Peggy and Nigel Schofield’s new book ‘Off the Pegg’. We discuss Brian Wilson’s ‘Pet Sounds’ set which headlined Cropredy’s Thursday night. The process that goes behind booking the bands and acts for the festival plus the challenges of announcing the line-up.
We also discuss; Smith and Brewer, Ralph McTell, Peggy’s birthday and Midnight Skyracer. Plus Maart’s new book, Metal Matty, the petition and Jethro Tull.
The video above is unseen footage from back in January 2003 when Darren Beech recorded it at the ‘Woodworm Hilton’ before the Fairport skittles evening (as mentioned in the interview). Its content, refers to that trouser incident interview that was used in the Cropredy Y2K programme. The clip was recorded with an old webcam and originally the sound was too faint to hear, so it was never used. New technology has fixed the sound issue, although the Rocking horse now sounds like it has been converted into a Harley Davidson hybrid! Anyway, we thought it would be fun to finally let it see the light of day.
Click on the play button below to listen to the 2018 Dave Pegg Interview.
If you missed the original Y2K interview (referenced in both the video and audio interview) or would like to read it again, then you can read it here.
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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Okay, first off let me declare that I’ve known Mark and Carolyn Evans, who are the core of Birmingham-based Red Shoes, for some 30 years. This, however, has no bearing on what I think of their music. Even had I not known them, I would still be a massive fan. I would also rate Carolyn as one of my all time top five female vocalists, and I’m not the only one who has compared her to Sandy Denny, admittedly her biggest influence.
Originally formed in 1983, they self-released the All Fall Down EP produced by Clive Gregson and a single on Mooncrest, a version of ‘By The Time It Gets Dark’, as well as a never-released album. However, eight years later they called it a day to focus on raising a family. Some twenty years later, they decided to give it another go.
Fate brought them into contact with Fairport Convention’s Dave Pegg who offered to produce and play on, what would become their debut album, Ring Around The Land. Released in 2009, it was followed in 2012 by All The Good Friends, produced by the late Mick Dolan and again featuring Pegg, alongside Dave Swarbrick and Bev Bevan, and including a slow, deeply sad stunning version of ‘Blackberry Way’.
Now comes their third release, this time a double CD set comprising two acts, one electric and on acoustic, the former featuring the core line up of Mark, Carolyn and guitarist Nigel King alongside drummer Rob Mason and contributions from Pegg and Ric Sanders, while the latter is just the trio. Both discs also feature guest appearances by Joe Brown on Dobro and ukulele, respectively.
As depicted on the artwork, Act One opens with ‘Salters Screen’, one of two rerecorded numbers written as a commission by Worcester County Council for a libraries and communities audio-visual project. An uptempo folk-country chugger featuring Pegg on mandolin and Brown on dobro it was written in response to the memories of Droitwich locals who used to go to Salters Super Cinema which finally closed in the 1960s. A similarly uptempo approach is taken for ‘Dust In The Hallway’, although, carried along on shuffling brushed snare with Sanders on fiddle solo, the lyrics are actually about alcoholism.
Then comes ‘Hostile Place’, a song written several years back during a brief stint under the name of The Lorelei, arranged here by King and, quite frankly, with its line “this home’s a hostile place” one of the greatest songs about a dying relationship ever written. Sung with a vocally quivering heart-wrenching intensity by Carolyn and with Sanders augmenting the emotions on violin, if you’re not a weeping wreck at the end then you have no soul.
Taking its title from the Kevin Spacey TV series, the tumblingly melodic state of the world themed ‘House Of Cards’ was written as a biting response to Donald Trump and American politics and is in turn followed by the title track. Now, long standing fans will know this as a powerful ballad written and sung by Mark, here, however, it’s transformed into one of their jaunty folk numbers in the manner of ‘Swansong’ off the previous album. Both versions are terrific.
‘I Wish It Would Rain’ finds Carolyn in soulful mode for a powerful, slow-paced calling for a cleansing of the country to wash the hate from the shores of its green and pleasant lands. The curtain then falls on the first act with the five-and-half minute ‘Maple Tree Boy’. Sanders’ violin introducing a moving traditional-folk flavoured ballad set to a military slow march inspired by the true story of Arthur Wallace, a navy medic at the Normandy lands, the first casualty he treated being a young Canadian who died in his arms from a bullet that had passed through his helmet. Wallace was haunted by the experience to the end of his days and the fact he was never able to find out the lad’s name. Another one to exercise the tear ducts.
Act Two opens with ‘Floorspot Annie’, a poignant fingerpicked number about a would be folk singer who escapes the 9-5 grind down at the club on a Tuesday night, her hopes of getting spotted never materialising but, despite the fact that “she may not play the finest note or sing the brightest tune” always cheering the audience.
‘Heart of Stourport Town’ is the second of the commissioned songs, a touching slowly strummed, melancholic Dennyesque ballad about friendship and the ‘joyous company’ community that draws on an interviews with two women who grew up in houses attached to the Tontine Hotel, built in 1772 to provide lodgings and premises for the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company, in the 1950s.
They don’t do many storysongs, but, Mark singing lead, the spare ‘Six Boats’ is a number inspired by Cornish (?) smugglers and sung in the voice of a young father condemned to hang after being betrayed to the Redcoats. Appropriately enough, this is followed by ‘Pirates’, written by Mark and sung by Carolyn, a wistful song of regret and of not putting down roots as she sings “my dreams have faded, faded far away and the sands have covered my footsteps”, Springsteen surely inspiring the line “like a pirate, riding a stolen car.”
Again penned by Mark, their debut single gets a six-minute revisiting with Brown on baritone ukulele, like the title track, has also been reimagined, transforming from its original soaring chorus ballad of desperation sung by Mark to a slower strummed, more world weary reading.
Mark taking lead again, taking its title from the Ayrshire town ‘All The Way To Troon’ is probably the newest number here, a lovely Celtic-hued folk ballad about seeking a lost love, one I can imagine club audiences swaying long to and one which Daniel O’Donnell might want to wrap his ears around.
A passionate member of the anti-fox hunting lobby, the last album featured protest song ‘Red Coat Ride’ and here she’s channeled her love of foxes into an adaptation of the similarly-themed traditional ‘Reynardine’, a stark reading featuring just her electrifying voice underscored by Mason’s rumbling drums.
And, speaking of foxes, she also has another identity as fledgling author C.S.Evans and, accompanied by King, the collection closes with her singing ‘Martha’s Song’, the words taken from her debut novel, Martha – Trinity of the Chosen, a magic-realism murder mystery in which foxes feature prominently, but existing in their own right as a celebration of childhood innocence and nature.
Although, live work will continue, there’s talk that this might be their last album, and, if so, then they are bowing out on a glorious high. However, I live in hope that it isn’t over yet. So should you.
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