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.
Seth Lakeman has re-released his Top 20 album Ballads Of The Broken Few, with five added bonus tracks via Cooking Vinyl. Recorded during the original album sessions, with producer Ethan Johns, the previously unreleased bonus tracks are: ‘Gambling Man’, ‘Everything’, ‘Days Are Longer’, ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Bury Me Deep’. The new album will be available on CD and digital.
This November, Seth will tour the UK as special guest with Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, where he will play as part of Robert’s band and also open the shows with his own set.
Looking forward to the dates, Seth commented: “‘I’m honoured to be touring and performing with such a fantastic band and one of the world’s greatest music legends.”
Widely-praised on its release last year, Ballads Of The Broken Few showcases Seth’s dynamic song writing and playing; his soaring vocals perfectly matched by the sublime harmonies of Wildwood Kin. An epic, soulful album of compelling songs, stripped back to their essence.
Since the Mercury Prize nominated Kitty Jay (recorded in his kitchen for £300), the follow-up gold selling Freedom Fields and his last, highly acclaimed offering, Word Of Mouth, a deft collection of mini musical biographies of colourful West Country characters, Seth Lakeman has relentlessly pushed his musical boundaries and those of folk and roots music. His innovative approach, ground-breaking albums and powerful live performances have put him at the forefront of the re-emergence of British folk and successfully steered it into the mainstream. With Ballads Of The Broken Few Seth demonstrated yet again that, far from being complacent, he is constantly exploring new and bold musical paths.
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.
I had heard of the Cropredy Festival before, and had even heard of Fairport Convention, but as I had grown up with British Heavy Metal and Rock, listening to such bands as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, AC/DC and the like, my experience of Folk music was limited. I remember taking a guitar to a chap in the Medway Towns for rewiring, and him telling me he would be travelling to Cropredy that summer as he always did and always had.
However, it was several years before I attended the festival at the village of Cropredy, near Banbury in Oxfordshire. I went with my wife Sue and a couple of friends; Paul Johnson of Folking.com and his partner Yvonne.
Paul had a press pass, and was kind enough to organise a guest pass for me before the event so I could help with the photos for the backstage interviews that Paul and Darren Beech, of Folking.com had arranged to do with Chris Leslie (of Fairport Convention) and Edwina Hayes.
I saw some famous people backstage (including Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, who attends Cropredy regularly and Steve Hogarth of Marillion) which added to the excitement of the weekend. My wife was particularly taken with Edwina Hayes, purchasing her CD, and I passed her message on to Edwina herself, who told me she would be spending time with friends near the bar that evening and would be happy to sign the CD.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Bertha had decided to visit Cropredy too, spoiling that plan and sending pretty much everybody, artists included, back to their tents and campers to dry out. I have been to festivals before, including Download in 2012, and was no stranger to camping in the wet, but despite the storm our field (the newly added Field 8, to cater for the sold out show’s additional camping) did not flood, although Bertha did her best to make striking camp as unpleasant as possible on the Sunday morning.
The concert area (Field 9) has a single stage and around the perimeter are the various food stalls and other emporia. The food prices were a little on the high side, but this was expected; the quality was good, although a pizza we bought could have been passed through the machine another time, and queues got longer as the time went on (which was not surprising due to the festival selling out). We sampled the very tasty Cropredy Hop ale too.
As for the music, it was mostly very good, and I enjoyed the Chas and Dave and Marillion sets, and the Australian Pink Floyd Experience (who I have seen before in Rochester in Kent). The Waterboys were excellent, as were Edwina Hayes and Blackbeard’s Tea Party.
Fairport Convention concluded the show, and theirs was a polished performance, ending with the traditional Meet On The Ledge, their second single, released in 1968.
I didn’t see every artist, but the general atmosphere was very pleasant. The place was secure, and despite warnings of thieves operating we saw nothing to trouble us. This festival is a family event, with plenty of young people and dogs too. We took Jack, the Giant Chihuahua, who enjoyed it as much as the rest of us.
Although Bertha did her best, we all had a great time and look forward to going there again.
Beverley Martyn started her musical career at just 16 with the jug band The Levee Breakers and recorded her first single “Babe I’m Leaving You” in 1965. In 1966 she was chosen to launch Deram Records and released a single, “Happy New Year” written by Randy Newman. She contributed to the Simon & Garfunkel album Bookends, toured America with the duo and later appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival on 16 June 1967.
In 1969 she met John Martyn, whom she later married. As a duo they issued two albums, Stormbringer! and The Road to Ruin. Although she was spending more time with her children, Beverley continued to contribute to John’s solo projects until the breakdown of their marriage.
At various times, Martyn has worked with Levon Helm, Jimmy Page, Dave Pegg, Richard Thompson, John Renbourn, Ralph McTell, Davy Graham, and Sandy Denny. She appeared in the photograph on the album sleeve of Bert Jansch’s 1965 album It Don’t Bother Me; where she can be seen lounging in the background. In December 2013, Beverley appeared at the Royal Festival Hall as part of a celebration of Bert Jansch, alongside friends and contemporaries such as Donovan, Martin Carthy, Pentangle and Robert Plant. Her powerhouse performance of “” was described by Mojo as ‘sounding almost Janis Joplin-esque’. A film of the event is due to be shown by the BBC in the spring.
In 2004, Fat Boy Slim sampled Beverley Martyn’s song “Primrose Hill” for the track “North West Three” which is on his album Palookaville. Beverley still performs the song live along with ‘Auntie Aviator’, also from The Road The Ruin.
April 2014 will see the release of her new album entitled The Phoenix and the Turtle. Described by Beverley as a very personal album, it features songs written throughout her entire career, from her very first song, “Sweet Joy”, to the previously unrecorded Nick Drake & Beverley Martyn song “Reckless Jane” which was started in 1974 when Drake lived nearby Beverley in Hampstead. “We started writing the song as a bit of a joke,” she says, “I couldn’t look at it for a long time after he died, but then finally I decided to finish it.”
“When The Levee Breaks’ and ‘Going To Germany’ are songs Beverley used to sing with The Levee Breakers. Another song, ‘Women And Malt Whiskey’ is, in part, about John Martyn and other friends from the scene back then.
The Phoenix and the Turtle is Beverley’s first album in fourteen years and was recorded in Wales with guitarist and producer Mark Pavey; it also features contributions from bass player Matt Malley, ex-Counting Crows and drummer Victor Bisetti, ex-Los Lobos which were recorded “by the magic of computer” in California. The album “still has that in-a-room feel,” said Beverley recently, “it sounds like an old style analogue record. It’s very me, very transatlantic.”
This debut album by London band One Mile An Hour has a magical quality that deserves the listener’s attention. The opener ‘Sunken Ships’ starts with a light touch on guitar and Jeff Kightly‘s voice dreamily floats through the melody. The song builds with the addition of drums and distorted guitars giving body to the song.
The wistful ‘Troubled Roots’ has more of a blues feel to it, but with the added harmonies that lace all the tracks on the album, making it less stereotypical. If comparisons can be made to the feel of the album it would be a cross between early The Pretty Things and the later works of Robert Plant. Indeed Kightly’s voice has more than a passing resemblance to a young Robert Plant.
This comparison becomes even stronger in ‘Magpie Song’ . Although the voice and music are lighter than Plant, the style of the guitar work and husky vocals are not a million miles away from the album Mighty Re-arranger.
‘Freight Train’ is an instrumental that drives with the rhythm of a steam engine, but is all too short. Just as soon as it picks up a head of steam it pulls into the station! My only complaint is that this track should have been longer, because it left me wanting more.
The final epic track ‘Nine Eight’ has electric lead played with an eastern style and the slow ebb and flow of the music from light to heavy is hypnotic. This is easily the best track on a very strong first album. One Mile An Hour are a band to watch out for.