Paul Johnson and Darren Beech catch up with PJ Wright in the artists garden at the New Forest Folk Festival. PJ was performing later that day as part of The Sandy Denny Project, which also features IOTA’s Sally Barker, Anna Ryder, Marion Fleetwood and the engine room of Little Johnny England, bassist Mat Davies and drummer Mark Stevens.
PJ has been to the festival every year since it’s conception and gives a fascinating insight into how the festival started eight years ago. It includes a great story about the hiccup with the stage that was originally ordered and how one was built out of a cowshed at the very last minute, just in time for the first festival.
We also talk about Fotheringay 2 and how the idea for the Sandy Denny Project came together and we get technical with Pedal Boards, Stratocaster’s and Telecaster’s.
We close the interview with PJ being tight lipped about whether he will be playing Cropredy in some form or other and TRADarrr’s appearance at the brilliant Wickham Festival, the week before Cropredy, which is run by our old mate Peter Chegwyn.
The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.
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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This album was brought to life by the friendship between singer-songwriters Sally Barker (UK) and Vicki Genfan (USA) that spans the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Fifteen years into their friendship, these troubadours and roving minstrels have prepared a special collection of newly penned original songs. The project germinated over five days in the sweltering heat of a North Carolina Summer in a cabin in the shadow of Pilot Mountain at the foot of the Appalachians, was tended to during Autumn transatlantic song-writing sessions via Skype and successfully bloomed in a New Jersey in January as the snow drifts settled, knee deep, at the recording studio door. The resultant record In The Shadow Of A Small Mountain is a product of the modern age yet tells stories from both sides of the Atlantic with flavours of the American south infusing tales of a very British sort. Both sing and play acoustic guitar while Vicki also plays electric guitars, manditar, banjo-tar, bass & percussion. The only guest appearances are John Mettam playing drums on ‘Something Blue’, Finn Magill (low whistle and vocals) and (from Malawi, Africa) Peter Mawanga (nsansi & chisekese & vocals) on the song ‘Malaya’ (recorded by a mobile recording studio in a car park at Swannanoa Gathering at midnight!).
Sally, founder member of the Poozies, has released seven solo albums and toured consistently supporting artists such as Bob Dylan and Robert Plant until the death of her husband in 2003 after which she performed sporadically. She re-emerged on prime time TV show The Voice UK 2014 on which she was Sir Tom Jones’ finalist. Rejecting the offer of a deal from Island Records (quick cash-in covers album) she has continued to plough her own furrow with the release of her latest album Ghost Girl in February 2017.
Vicki holds the title of 2008 ‘Guitar Superstar’ having won the Guitar Player Magazine’s annual competition in front of celebrity judges Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Elliot Easton. She has released 4 solo albums, five instructional DVDs and tours throughout the US and internationally where she has supported artists such as David Crosby, David Wilcox and Larry Carlton.
Last year I was a Cropredy virgin, but this year on THAT field in August, I knew what the score was. Well, until I tried to do the camping and putting up the tent thing! Every year will bring new things I guess!
Arriving at the Folkmaster’s abode on Wednesday 9th August, things were in full swing for the journey to meet the other Folkingdotcommers in Tesco car park, on the outskirts of Banbury, early the following morning. The kitchen sink was being loaded into the Folkmaster’s car in an orderly fashion, and it was suggested that if I hadn’t bought wellies with me, that I should go out and buy some. Talk about the 11th hour, I found a store and paid for them at 5.29pm when the store closed at 5.30! I was a bit anxious at this point as surely it wasn’t going to rain? I don’t do wet camping, I don’t do camping generally!
Sparrow spit early Thursday morning came, and off we went to Banbury. Not a bad journey, although I slept most of it! (NO – I wasn’t driving)! We all arrived at mostly the same time, Paul, Jonny Mac, No Chance and ourselves were too early for breakfast, so spent some money in Tesco, before we had breakfast. Full English were ordered by all but 2 of us, and then off we set, into the midst of Cropredy bound Festival goers. All wanting to get the best fields and parking. Last year I remember the queues, but this year was plain sailing. We soon found out why, because loads of others had started out before us, so we should have forgone breakfast! We were shepherded in to Field 7B, ended up right in the middle of the field, miles away from the few loos and the even fewer showers. I was panicking already!
Tent time. Paul was in his van, so all he had to do was connect his awning. Few minutes and he was ready. No Chance had a smaller tent and he knew what he was doing, Folkmaster had a new tent which was an air based one, so he got his instructions out and sorted his out, Johnny Mac was ably putting his tent up, and there was little old me, with a new tent. Poles and all.
I tried, dear readers, I really did. The lads were brilliant though, and thank them all for it. It was suggested I wore my new wellies, as mud could well be present, due to the onslaught of rain in the days leading up to the Festival. Visions of Glastonbury encroached in my mind……
We were a bit early when finished, as we couldn’t get into the arena field until 2pm, so were twiddling our thumbs for a while. The usual banter flowed. We were expecting another member of the Folking team – Paul Johnson – but he was nowhere to be seen or heard, so we did the Chariots Of Fire walk with our chairs and bags and waited for the gates to open. On the way there, we were serenaded by medieval musicians, Myal Pyper, who were a delight to listen to.
We finally got in, and headed for our usual spot. Looking at the Stage we headed left, near Leon’s food stall, always a lovely experience to savour their food. The queue for Fairport merchandise was already growing rapidly and that did not stop all day and evening. The staff in that tent were heroes! It was the same the following day!
4pm finally arrived and Fairport Acoustic opened the Festival. Riotous applause from the crowd, a full packed arena, for the Thursday is not what usually happens apparently. A mostly cracking line up and one that I didn’t want to miss. Feast Of Fiddles came next featuring an array of the best fiddle musicians this country has produced, such as Peter Knight of Gigspanner, Hugh Crabtree – melodeon player with attitude, Garry Blakeley, Tom Leary, Ian Cutler, Brian O’Neill and Fairport’s own superb fiddler – Chris Leslie. Phil Beer, Marion Fleetwood and Sophie Crabtree came on later on in the set to enhance the line-up, totalling nine fiddle players! Legendary drummer Dave Mattocks was over from America, Martin Vincent and Dave Harding on guitars and Alan Whetton on sax and keyboards. Awesome!
Show of Hands next – favourites of mine, they played an absolutely blinding set. Highlight was their rendition of Don Henley’s classic – ‘Boys Of Summer’. The whole field was talking about how fab it was.
Chris While guested for ‘Dark Fields’ and it was indeed a lovely occasion to witness her singing on this again. Phil told us that he will be virtually taking next summer off to revive his Folkboat activities, which is why this year they have so many festivals booked and Steve will be doing solo work next summer. Really enjoyed the whole set.
Eventually we met up with our lost team mate – Paul Johnson – who had had a nightmare putting up his tent apparently, and his mobility scooter had a flat battery. Could only happen to Paul!
Next up – The Trevor Horn Band – consisting of three producers – Trevor Horn, Steve Lipson and Lol Crème (of Godley & Crème) who had played and or produced songs for other artists. A kind of covers set but all perfectly connected to these three fine producers. They sounded good too. They got the crowd going and singing along to numbers we all knew, such as ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Relax,’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, ‘Rubber Bullets’ etc. They have over 200 hit singles and albums to choose from and it was very pleasant and lively set. Nice mix.
Headliners for Thursday evening were The Divine Comedy. Frontman Neil Hannon came on and his first sentence had the ‘f’ word in it. He seemed star struck initially about the big crowd and following Trevor Horn and Lol Crème. He didn’t do it for me but I hear that they went down well with some people.
Friday came and rain was forecast. Oh no!! Kick off was at midday after the gates being opened at 11am for the festival goers.
Paul Johnson tests the folking digital interview recorder on Paul Miles, the original co-founder of folking.com – its quite funny so we have kept it in…
Josie Duncan & Pablo LaFuente (2017 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award Winners) opened up the proceedings and I could see why they had won this accolade. Scottish traditional, Gaelic, and other influences, songs from the mines and cotton mills. They have played some well-known festivals including Cambridge and in their short time together, are certainly making a mark for themselves.
Another favourite of mine – Gerry Colvin Band – delighted the crowd, for those that were aware of his music and for those that didn’t. A cracking set from Gerry and the Band. Gerry is a delight to watch and although is so hyper, can sing, play and write a fab song. Particularly ‘Watching Feathers Fall’ from his Colvin/Quarmby days. Nick Quarmby, Gerry’s sidekick who left us last year, would have been so proud of Gerry taking centre stage at Cropredy. Gerry gained a lot of fans during that set.
A Cropredy moment for me was asking Gerry later, as I came across him backstage, how he felt and could obviously tell he was ecstatically happy, he said he had met Pet Clark. She spoke to him and said get out of her dressing room. I’m sure he was joking, he usually is!!
Quill were a new name to me. Quite Gothic and I thought the lead singer Joy had a little Kate Bush about her. They have been going since the 70’s, have loyal audiences, and are amazing story-tellers. Really enjoyed them.
Darren Beech and Paul Johnson caught up with Joy from Quill shortly after the set. The Elephant in the Room EP that Joy discusses in the interview will be released on the 23rd of August.
Next up Gigspanner, who a lot of folks were waiting to see (especially the folkmaster, the editor Dai Jeffries and Paul Johnson who are huge fans). While I admire their immense talent, I am not a huge fan myself, but respect that Peter Knight and the Big Band are all superb musicians. They are a little too trad for me.
CC Smugglers were another new one on me, and were superb, in my eyes. The effervescence of the lead singer was palpable and infectious. His shirt was wet through by the time he finished. The rain had arrived by this time but didn’t dampen theirs or the audience’s spirits. CC Smugglers are a band of buskers, who had come together, to form this band. They have even performed at Glastonbury! Definitely ones to watch.
Darren Beech and Paul Johnson caught up with Chris on the Friday.
The annual Chris Leslie Cropredy interview has become a bit of a tradition for us at folking.com and Chris tells us that he looks forward to it as much as we do.
Click the play button below to take a listen.
The absolutely brilliant Pierce Brothers twins came on to a stunning welcome. They were so happy to be there and in tears of happiness! Great guys, great musicians, great energy and great stage presence. So glad the organisers brought them back after last year’s success. Something that is rarely done two years on the trot. I hope they make it third time lucky.
The amazing event of having Petula Clark attend her first festival ever at Cropredy was certainly a scoop. A favourite of my mothers, she would have loved it. Pet at 84 years of age looked and danced as though she was in her 50’s. She sounded great. She performed her hits pitch perfect and aired some numbers from her new album – From Now On, Awesome. She had the crowd eating out of her hand, and they all sang along. A very special moment. Pet did say at the end of her set that she had enjoyed it immensely, and she certainly seemed to have done so, from the audience’s point of view.
Headliner for Friday evening was the Folk Rock Legend Richard Thompson OBE. A co-founder of Fairport in the 60’s he helped pioneer British Folk Rock. He is known as one of the world’s most critically acclaimed and prolific songwriters. He didn’t disappoint. Just amazing. You would have thought four guitarists were on the stage and it was only him, doing it all. His fingers were a blur as he worked so fast. I had the pleasure of meeting Richard at the signing his new album – Acoustic Classic 2, and he was very quiet and unassuming, and lovely to talk to. No ego at all.
I will say at this point that compere for the weekend was Anthony John Clarke, who did a marvellous job of introducing artists and keeping dedications flowing and read them out to the audience. Excellent choice for an MC.
Richard Digance was missed from his usual spot on kicking off proceedings on the Saturday, but he sent a message to say he was busy touring and not to forget his album and books in the merchandise tent. When he came on to the big screens, the audience applauded him, even though it was a pre-recorded message. Lovely.
Richard’s slot was taken by the Ashley Hutchings Morris On Band, who did a marvellous job of performing some classics from the Morris On album, and we had Morris Dancers dancing on stage to complete the scene. Hankies were at the ready and the audience took part in what is usually Richard Digance’s attempt at getting the whole crowd to wave hankies Morris style! A superb sight to see.
Next up ex-Fairport member Judy Dyble and the Band Of Perfect Strangers who took us on a musical journey, ending with her promoting her autobiography – An Accidental Musician – published last year.
Plainsong included another ex-Fairport Member – Iain Matthews and was formed 45 years ago. A very pleasant set, and Iain obviously has his fans.
I then went to try and find a shower, hopefully no queues at this time, so sadly I missed most of the Cats In Space set. I could hear them from afar, but they were visual, and glad I could see even a short bit. Surprisingly only formed last year, they were a tight knit of pop rock genre. All six of them. I enjoyed what I saw. Blew a few cobwebs away!
Marillion followed. Not my cup of tea, but they clearly had their fans there, and were enjoyed by them.
Scottish multi award winning singer-songwriter Dougie McLean OBE followed. He has a global following. I hadn’t seen him before, and certainly did enjoy his set. Full of stories and song, and lots of audience participation. Particularly on his ‘Caledonia’, which has a high regard in Scotland. He also has a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Superb.
Now was the time for the BIG set!!! Three hours of Fairport and friends. And what a gift to us!!
Difficult to put this all into words as to how the atmosphere of what it was. You just had to be there. Fairport’s Golden Anniversary and an extremely emotional crowd.
Their guests came on during the course of the evening. The wonderful Chris While who picked up the vocal batton for Come All Ye, The Deserter, Tam Lin and Who Knows Where the Time Goes. Richard Thompson came back into the set after the early years stint for Walk Awhile, Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman, Sloth, Now Be Thankful and Sir Patrick Spens. As did Judy Dyble for I Don’t Know Where I Stand andIain Matthews for Time Will Show The Wiser, Reno Nevada and Suzanne in the early years opening piece. Ralph McTell sang us a version of ‘White Dress’ which was the song Dave Swarbrick wrote for Sandy Denny. That was Ralph’s only contribution, which was a shame as he is a great favourite of the Cropredy crowd. All the Folking Team gave a big cheer and Paul Miles kept saying I love him, I love him I don’t know how many times, bless him! Don’t we all!
Former Fairport member Maartin Allcock dazzled us with A Surfeit of Lampreys and Jewel in the Crown with his playing and that electric blue suit . He looked very dapper. We had Sally Barker who also sang ‘Rising For The Moon’, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks joining Gerry Conway on drums and percussion. Such a wealth of talent, emotion and music was enjoyed by all. The finale of ‘Meet On The Ledge’ had the audience spilling tears all over the now dry grass.
You came, we saw, and you conquered Fairport and all. Congratulations on your Golden Anniversary can’t wait for next year for the start of a new decade.
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The Big Red Monster of the title is probably the rusting old tractor on the back cover but even Andy Griffiths isn’t quite sure. This is Andy’s third album of original songs, gentle and thoughtful with the laid-back support of a fine group of musicians including Rick Foot, Natasha Pattinson, Glen Hughes, John Budgen and Sally Barker.
The opening song, ‘Yesterday When’, is an exercise in nostalgia of the sort that every songwriter essays at some time, nice but undemanding. However, Andy quickly picks up the power with ‘The Liquorice Field’, a story of the young farm-hand and the girl from the big house. I set out looking for the history of liquorice growing in Britain, hoping that the fenlands from which Andy hails were its source, only to find that it hasn’t been grown commercially here for over a century and, as the song implies, only in Yorkshire. The reference to liquorice, however, gives the song a unique twist.
Nostalgia returns with ‘Lighthouse Keeper’ and ‘Tyneham Valley’, the memories of a young child displaced during the last war when the village was taken over by the army – another excellent song. My favourite track is probably ‘Any Day Now’ if only for its opening line: “I can’t remember getting arrested”. I suspect that it’s largely metaphorical but I’m not sure. Then again, ‘Sake Of My Heart’ is a description of alcoholism filled with clever wordplay and an air of mystery which, on reflection, is the best writing. Actually, Andy is adept at the art of oblique writing – I’ll figure out ‘Occasional Tables’ one day.
Twice through and I’m really getting into Big Red Monster. It’s beautifully played and there is something haunting in these songs that draws the listener back.
The title track is a new recording of the song she wrote for 2015 Poozies album, Into The Well, featuring real rather than electric piano, given a softer feel and with Tom Bull on double bass, Sally Barker’s follow-up to Maid In England, the 2014 album on the back of her appearances on The Voice, is woven around a theme of abandonment and putting your heart back together.
One of the first reactions to being dumped is want retribution, and smoke-wisped jazzy blues opening track ‘Emperor Of Cool’ taps into the narrator’s embittered feelings towards the ex who cruelly tells her, “the harmony to all of your songs” he only dated her for a bet, sharing his less attractive attributes with whoever she meets.
Realisation of being broken arrives with the early Dylan influences of ‘I’m Not Whole’, the acoustic guitar riff behind the piano written and played by her son, its lyrics built around imagery of the sea and being washed up on the shore. Delivered against a steady acoustic guitar pulse and streaked by pedal steel, ‘Like Sugar’ offers a different spin, a woman lonely while her soldier husband is away at war being courted by a local chancer bringing food and stockings and offering to help with a little DIY.
Picking up the ‘Ghost Girl’ imagery and running with it, ‘Vampire of Love’, featuring Sally on piano and guitar, is a slow dance romancer with a 30s styled waltzing chorus that, set in Victorian England, draws on the dangerous sexuality embodied in the Dracula-inspired seducer.
The mood shifts again for the 60s R&B sultry groove of ‘Hand of Fate’, apparently written for Tom Jones and inspired by the offer of major label deal following The Voice, one which, perhaps wisely, she declined. Bolstering the instrumentation with keys, slide and electric guitar (Knopfleresque solo provided by PJ Wright), the country tinged ‘Mr Bang’ apparently has its inspiration in a difficult and troubled chap who also happened to be very loud drummer.
If it’s been about loss, betrayal and loneliness so far, the even more country slow waltz ‘Two Hearts’, again featuring pedal steel and with Ian Crabtree on Spanish guitar, addresses the possibility of finding new love, hope tinted with hesitancy.
Underpinned by double bass, the earlier jazz vibe resurfaces for the smoky, finger clicking ‘Queen of Reckless Feelings’, a lyrical throwback to Barker’s earlier and less complicated singleton days. She reminds me here slightly of Janis Ian, as indeed she does on the spare acoustic ‘Tell It Like It Is’, a brittle break up of an affair number, even if the publicity blurb evokes Dory Previn, another 70s singer-songwriter doyenne of songs about spurned and discarded lovers.
The album ends with Glenn Hughes on piano for the brief instrumental ‘Theme to ‘Ghost Girl’’. But, before that pedal steel, Spanish guitar and the theme of new but difficult starts are reprised with the folk and country tones of ‘Canada’, a strummed first person narrative of hardships suffered by settlers encouraged by the British Government to emigrate there in the early 1800s on the back of the fur trade boom and build new lives for their families. Some went under, but many more survived and emerged stronger for the experience, which, in a nutshell, is the message at the core of this fine album.