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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It’s funny how some things turn out, when your path takes you somewhere that you were not expecting to go. It all started in the Kensington Village Hall (as Mr. Steve Knightley would call it) at that amazing Ralph McTell Albert Hall concert on the 12th May. I found myself sitting next to Ken Maliphant completely by chance. We got talking, and he told me about the St George’s Festival for Beckenham and mentioned that Fairport were playing on the 4th June and Ralph McTell on the 24th as part of it.
Now, Ken can spin many a “Tipplers Tale” and his story is very much interwoven with Fairport’s and the album of that name. Ken actually worked for the final record label the band was signed to at the end of the Seventies. In fact, as Dave Pegg mentioned last night, the Cropredy festival has a lot to thank Ken for as he was the main driving force behind organising the settlement figure when the label refused to fund another Fairport album. It was that settlement that financially built the first building blocks for the Cropredy festival we so love today.
After receiving the news on Friday about the sad loss of one my of my all time musical heroes Dave Swarbrick, this concert and the journey to it became a personal pilgrimage to celebrate the man and his music.
In my opinion, Swarb was the finest of English folk fiddlers and one of the most colourful characters that you will ever find on the English traditional and folk/rock music scene. He was a major facet to the gem that set me on my folk music journey all those years ago and a true inspiration to all of us at folking.com. Rest in Peace Swarb, you will be greatly missed. Keep those angels feet a dancing and that timeless twinkle of mischief in you eyes.
David Cyril Eric Swarbrick RIP 5th April 1941 – 3rd June 2016
Paul Johnson and I caught up with Gerry Conway, Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders before the concert last night and we recorded the interview below. Click on the play button to listen.
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I saw the original Fotheringay just once at a rain-swept festival which was abandoned by the artists, the crowd and the organiser in more or less that order. The sight of that spotlit stage shining in the gloom of a Yorkshire summer remains in my mind’s eye. So when I heard that a new line-up was being put together I had mixed feelings.
With all due respect to Jerry Donahue, Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson can a Fotheringay with neither Sandy Denny nor Trevor Lucas be anything more than a façade, however good the substitutes are? The three survivors have enjoyed long and distinguished careers in bands and as go-to sidesmen but Fotheringay was Trevor and Sandy’s band. That this is a great band goes without saying. PJ Wright and Sally Barker singing ‘I Don’t Believe You’ rocked and Jerry and PJ’s guitar/pedal steel duet on ‘It’ll Take A Long Time’ was sweetness itself. But was this really Fotheringay?
What persuaded me that the answer is “yes” is the genuine emotion engendered in both the performers and the audience. One young man, who probably wasn’t even born when Sandy died, stammered out his thanks to Sally as he left. “It’s the legacy”, she observed. So, yes, this is really Fotheringay.
They began with ‘Nothing More’ as if to deny the fact of the band’s demise forty-five years ago. There is more. They followed that with ‘The Sea’, ‘The Ballad Of Ned Kelly’ and ‘Winter Winds’ – the order in which they appeared on Fotheringay’s first album – perhaps settling the nerves that they all admitted to – this was only their third gig, after all. It says a lot that Sandy is played by both Sally Barker and Kathryn Roberts, either of whom could fill the role alone. Kathryn handles the piano songs but also brings the textures of flute and woodwind to the sound. Sally has Sandy’s rockier side absolutely nailed and her reading of ‘John The Gun’ is superb.
PJ Wright takes the Trevor Lucas role. He has the rumbling voice and plays pedal steel which Sandy loved. He restored ‘Knights Of The Road’, first heard on Fairport Convention’s Rosie, to Fotheringay’s repertoire and now I want to hear him sing ‘The Plainsman’.
The first set ended with a long, flowing ‘Banks Of The Nile’ and they returned for the second with renewed vigour. ‘Bold Jack Donahue’ was first followed by ‘The Way I Feel’ featuring a bass solo from Donaldson which segued into a duet with Conway and then a superb version of ‘Solo’. ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ was the second Dylan cover and the set ended with ‘Late November’ and a singalong ‘Peace In The End’ before the encore, a rocking ‘Memphis Tennessee’.
The evening was opened by Fabian Holland who started with two numbers from his debut album before turning to ‘Four Inch Screen’ from his second CD, A Day Like Tomorrow, following that with ‘The List’ and an attention grabbing ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’. Opening this show might seem like a thankless task but this audience was friendly and receptive and judging by the rate he was shifting CDs he made the right impression.
Fotheringay are perhaps less famous for what they achieved than for their unrealised potential. They released a single, ‘Peace In The End’ and ‘Winter Winds’, and an album which was probably one track too short – a reprise of Sandy Denny’s titular song would have rounded it out – and then broke up in the middle of recording a second album. Thus they became a legend.
The history of the band is a convoluted one. Their first choice guitarist, Albert Lee, rapidly became unhappy with the role he was being asked to fulfil and left to be replaced by Jerry Donahue joining the drums and bass combination of Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson alongside Sandy and Trevor Lucas. There is a feeling that Sandy’s management were not happy with her leaving Fairport Convention to form another band and wanted her to pursue a solo career. She was the only vocalist to guest on a Led Zeppelin album and won the Melody Maker female vocalist of the year award twice in succession. There was an inevitability about her future.
This box set begins with an expanded version of the eponymous first album. Its style was in some ways a return to her years with Fairport. There were covers of Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan, a bunch of songs written by Sandy and Trevor and the magnificent eight-minute ‘Banks Of The Nile’. It could have been Unhalfbricking all over again. The first song we hear is ‘Nothing More’, a portrait of Richard Thompson after Fairport’s motorway crash, and one of many Sandy songs that seem to come from a mythical world. You can believe that she did keep a unicorn somewhere. It’s followed by ‘The Sea’ depicting the disaster of a flooded London from another parallel world.
Lightfoot’s ‘The Way I Feel’ provides a counterpoint to Sandy’s lyricism with the final version giving prominence to Gerry and Pat’s rhythm section and Jerry’s lead guitar and Trevor’s ‘The Ballad Of Ned Kelly’ points in the direction of Fotheringay’s country rock tendencies, as does Dylan’s ‘Too Much Of Nothing’.
There are six demos and alternate takes fleshing out the disc, all titles from the completed work. Any other songs the band worked on may well have been pencilled in for Fotheringay 2 where they subsequently appeared.
By 2008 Jerry Donahue had completed the reconstruction of Fotheringay’s second album, adding guitar parts and, presumably, sequencing the record which, with the addition of six bonus tracks, forms the second disc of this set. It opens with ‘John The Gun’, a song later revisited by Sandy and Fairport Convention, and one of her most powerful and enduring. It’s followed by ‘Eppie Moray’, a traditional Scottish tale of attempted marriage. Trevor sings the main part but he sounds oddly subdued and the track really comes to life when Sandy takes over the narrative.
‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is lovely and it was at the height of its popularity at the time. The band’s performance stands the test of time but, with the benefit of hindsight, the song hasn’t. ‘Knights Of The Road’ was later taken up by Fairport and still sounded like a filler on Rosie but the trials and tribulations surrounding that record are the subject of another article.
That is followed by ‘Late November’ which later appeared as the first track on Sandy’s solo album The North Star Grassman And The Ravens – the first of several versions to be released. The Fotheringay rhythm track survived as the basis of Sandy’s solo version but Donahue’s lead guitar was replaced by Richard Thompson and Sandy re-did her vocals. ‘Restless’, another Trevor Lucas song, appeared on Rising For The Moon and ‘I Don’t Believe You’ sounds like a Lucas solo cut with a very Dylan-ish organ, uncredited on the 2008 release. Was that Sandy?
Wonderful as it was/is to have these tracks, they sound like the output of a band which had no stake in their future. The bonus cuts include three Joe Boyd mixes of the original tracks and I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I prefer these to Donahue’s – they seem to have the feel of the time whereas Jerry’s seem to bring the weight of years and experience to them. Still, you have to wonder if they knew which way the wind was blowing – Conway and Donaldson were experienced session musicians and I’d be prepared to bet that they were sensitive to atmosphere in the studio.
Also included are two versions of ‘Bruton Town’ – the second of which is by the new incarnation of the band with Kathryn Roberts, PJ Wright and Sally Barker fronting the original trio of Donahue, Conway and Donaldson.
The third disc collects together live performances and radio sessions. Some have already been anthologised but the majority are appearing on disc for the first time. It opens with ‘The Way I Feel’ from the band’s 1970 Rotterdam concert. Immediately we can feel the energy of the band at their best, with Donahue’s choppy guitar solo a highlight. ‘The Sea’ is more lyrical with Sandy sounding so much at ease and ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ is solid country rock giving both Conway and Donahue their heads. Muddy Waters’ ‘I’m Troubled’ was a song Fotheringay hadn’t recorded and they had a whale of time playing it as they did ‘Memphis Tennessee’, seemingly chosen spontaneously by Sandy. ‘Banks Of The Nile’ is pretty close to perfection.
The second part of the disc is a number of BBC sessions previously unreleased on CD. Prime among these is Sandy’s solo ‘The Lowlands Of Holland’ but I’d venture to say that these are amongst the best tracks that Fotheringay ever recorded as their experience of playing the songs met studio technology at just the right time. Can it now be said that they were better live?
Finally we have a DVD of four songs recorded for the German TV show Beat Club. Two of these, ‘Nothing More’ and ‘John The Gun’ were not broadcast and only ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ has been readily available.
So, everything Fotheringay ever did – as far as we know that is – together with rare photographs and sketches for sleeve art by designer Marion Appleton. It’s perfect but there is a sense of looking for what might have been but never was. Sadly, there is nothing more.
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Universal Music catalogue is pleased to announce the release of the definitive Fotheringay collection, Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay, scheduled for release on March 30th 2105. This four-disc set is the most comprehensive compilation yet of the group’s recordings, including hitherto unseen television footage, previously unreleased live recordings from a festival in Rotterdam (both from August 1970) and, for the first time, the official release of the seven existing tracks which Fotheringay recorded in session for BBC radio.
Fotheringay was the group formed by Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas in January 1970, just weeks after she left Fairport Convention on the eve of the release of the landmark Liege & Lief. Denny and Lucas recruited drummer Gerry Conway who had played alongside Lucas in Eclection before adding bass player Pat Donaldson and guitarist Jerry Donahue.
Fotheringay played its first dates on a concert tour in March 1970, recording their debut album over seven sessions between 18 February and 14 April. Simply titled Fotheringay, it proved to be the group’s sole album during its lifetime, released by Island Records in late June. Statistically, it was Sandy Denny’s most successful post-Fairport album, spending six weeks on the charts and peaking at No. 18. It featured some of her finest songs and best ever vocal performances on the traditional ‘Banks of the Nile’, and her own ‘The Pond and the Stream’, ‘Winter Winds’, ‘Nothing More’ and ‘The Sea’. Three months later, Sandy Denny was voted Britain’s Best Female Singer in the prestigious Melody Maker Poll, a feat she repeated the following year.
Although preparations began soon after to record a second album, it was abandoned in January 1971 when Sandy Denny announced she was leaving the group. Fotheringay played its farewell concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 30 January. It wasn’t entirely the end for Fotheringay. Following renewed interest in Sandy Denny and an unstoppable cult following in the decades since her death in April 1978, Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway carefully pieced together Fotheringay 2. They quite brilliantly assembled the aborted album from the 1970 master tapes and it was finally released some 34 years later. Fotheringay 2 was ecstatically received, not least for the inclusion of two more of Sandy Denny’s finest songs, ‘John the Gun’ and ‘Late November’ and superb arrangements, sung by Denny and Lucas, of the traditional ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, ‘Eppie Moray’ and Australian bush-folk classic ‘Bold Jack Donahue’.
Both albums have now been gathered together on Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay, each bolstered by a generous selection of demos, rehearsal tapes, alternate takes and mixes. The third disc combines a recording from a festival in Rotterdam in August 1970 with previously unreleased BBC session tracks, including Sandy singing a breathtaking, unaccompanied ‘Lowlands of Holland’. The final DVD disc is the real Holy Grail for her fans. The four songs recorded by the group for the German TV show Beat Club effectively double the existing footage of Sandy Denny in performance. Two of these, ‘Nothing More’ and ‘John the Gun’ were never even broadcast at the time.
Nothing More comes in hardcover book format complete with rare and previously unseen photographs of the band plus previously unseen original sketches for the Fotheringay cover by Marion Appleton, Trevor Lucas’s sister. The package includes a new essay by Mick Houghton author of a new Sandy Denny biography I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn, published by Faber & Faber on March 5th.
Fotheringay’s recordings sound better with every passing year and the group is finally emerging from under the shadow of Fairport Convention; the Fotheringay musicians all went on to have successful careers, particularly as session musicians with the likes of Cat Stevens, Joan Armatrading, the McGarrigles and Gerry Rafferty. Trevor Lucas would go on to produce Sandy’s last three solo albums, two for Fairport Convention (which he and Donahue joined in 1972, Denny re-joining in 1974) and Rock On by The Bunch which featured all of Fotheringay less than a year after the split. More than anything, however, Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay is particularly welcome for including so many crucial recordings from Sandy Denny’s remarkable career that was so tragically cut short.
Full Track Listing
DISC ONE – “Fotheringay” – Expanded
01: Nothing More ( 4:35 )
02: The Sea ( 5:30 )
03: The Ballad of Ned Kelly ( 3:31 )
04: Winter Winds ( 2:10 )
05: Peace In The End ( 4:02 )
06: The Way I Feel ( 4:44 )
07: The Pond and The Stream ( 3:16 )
08: Too Much of Nothing ( 3:53 )
09: Banks of The Nile ( 8:04 )
10: The Sea – Demo version ( 4:53 )
11: Winter Winds – Demo version ( 2:23 )
12: The Pond and The Stream – Demo version ( 3:07 )
13: The Way I Feel – Original version ( 4:04 )
14: Banks of The Nile – Alternate take ( 7:46 )
15: Winter Winds – Alternate take ( 2:28 )
DISC TWO – “Fotheringay 2” – Expanded
01: John The Gun ( 5:06 )
02: Eppie Moray ( 4:44 )
03: Wild Mountain Thyme ( 3:50 )
04: Knights of the Road ( 4:10 )
05: Late November ( 4:37 )
06: Restless ( 2:46 )
07: Gypsy Davey ( 3:41 )
08: I Don’t Believe You ( 4:44 )
09: Silver Threads and Golden Needles ( 4:29 )
10: Bold Jack Donahue ( 7:37 )
11: Two Weeks Last Summer ( 3:49 )
12: Late November – Joe Boyd mix ( 4:31 )
13: Gypsy Davey – Joe Boyd mix ( 3:52 )
14: Two Weeks Last Summer – Joe Boyd mix ( 3:58 )
15: Silver Threads and Golden Needles – alternative version (4:31)
16: Bruton Town – Rehearsal version ( 5:19 )
17: Bruton Town – 2015 version ( 4:44 ) First Time On CD
DISC THREE – Live
01: The Way I Feel ( 5:05 ) – Live in Rotterdam Previously Unreleased
02: The Sea ( 5:37 ) – Live in Rotterdam
03: Too Much Of Nothing ( 4:11 ) – Live in Rotterdam Previously Unreleased
04: Nothing More ( 4:55 ) – Live in Rotterdam
05: I’m Troubled ( 3:02 ) – Live in Rotterdam
06: Two Weeks Last Summer ( 4:47 ) – Live in Rotterdam
07: The Ballad of Ned Kelly ( 3:56 ) – Live in Rotterdam Previously Unreleased
08: Banks of The Nile ( 7:42 ) – Live in Rotterdam
09: Memphis Tennessee ( 4:12 ) – Live in Rotterdam
10: Interview / The Sea – BBC Top Gear ( 6:15 ) Previously Unreleased
11: The Lowlands of Holland – BBC Folk On One ( 2:37 ) Previously Unreleased
12: Eppie Moray – BBC Folk On One ( 4:29 ) Previously Unreleased
13: John The Gun – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 4:48 ) Previously Unreleased
14: Bold Jack Donahue – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 5:56 ) Previously Unreleased
15: Gypsy Davey – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 3:43 ) Previously Unreleased
16: Wild Mountain Thyme – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 3:53 ) Previously Unreleased
DISC FOUR – DVD – BEAT CLUB 28th NOVEMBER 1970
01. Nothing More ( 4:50 ) Previously Unreleased – not broadcast)
02. Gypsy Davey ( 3:55 ) Previously Unreleased
03. John the Gun ( 4:55 ) Previously Unreleased – not broadcast)
04. Too Much of Nothing ( 3:42 )
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