Fairport Convention celebrate their golden jubilee

Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention, the legendary band who originated British folk-rock, celebrate their golden anniversary this year. When Fairport takes the stage on Saturday 27 May 2017 for their birthday concert at the Union Chapel in Islington it will be fifty years to the day since their first-ever gig.

Formed by Ashley Hutchings in 1967’s “summer of love”, Fairport Convention is one of the few touring bands with an unbroken history stretching back five decades. They have been performing and recording more or less constantly since their inception.

Fairport Convention has been one of the most influential UK bands in popular music and has nurtured the careers of some great names, among them Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and Dave Swarbrick.

The band saw many changes of personnel during its early years but Fairport Convention’s current line-up has been together since 1998. Simon Nicol, lead singer and guitarist, is the only founding member still with Fairport; bass player Dave Pegg has been in the band since 1970.

To mark its fiftieth anniversary year, Fairport Convention will be releasing a new album. Titled 50:50@50, half the tracks are studio recordings of brand-new songs and half are live performances from Fairport’s core repertoire. The album features guest vocals from Robert Plant and Jacqui McShee.

Fairport will hit the road in January on a UK-wide tour which starts at the prestigious Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow. A second tour in early summer will include the birthday concert on 27 May before the band’s year culminates at their own music festival at Cropredy, Oxfordshire, in August. Fairport’s headline set will see past members joining the current line-up on stage for a reunion performance.

“Fifty years after I first heard them the mighty Fairport Convention still sound as good as ever.” Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2

According to the BBC Music website, Fairport Convention is “…undoubtedly one of the most influential folk collectives to have ever existed.”

Fairport’s seminal albums Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief (both released in 1969) originated a whole new genre of music, British folk-rock, which celebrated English roots by combining traditional folk songs and tunes with amplified rock instruments.

This genre’s influence has percolated down the years touching artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin and Devendra Banhart, Fleet Foxes, Mumford & Sons, Seth Lakeman and Ryley Walker.

Radio 2 listeners voted Liege & Lief  “The Most Influential Folk Album of All Time’”

Mojo magazine listed Liege & Lief at number 58 in its list of “100 Records That Changed the World”.

Fairport’s story has been celebrated with several radio and TV documentaries and the band has won a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award.

Artists’ website: http://www.fairportconvention.com/

New duo Fleetwood Cave announce debut album and spring tour

Fleetwood Cave

Fleetwood Cave, the new folk duo featuring Marion Fleetwood and Gregg Cave, will be launching their new album, ‘People Like Us’ with a tour of England and Wales starting in late January 2017.

Marion and Gregg met through new folk supergroup TRADarrr, who will be visiting Canterbury later in the year. Both are familiar faces on the folk circuit, having played many folk clubs and festivals between them, including Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival.
Marion has a voice which has been described as ‘mesmerising’ and ‘siren-esque’, and plays all things bowed. Ashley Hutchings MBE has said she ‘deserves to be ranked amongst the finest singers in this country’. She has been a well known figure on the Stratford music scene for many years, and is multi-instrumentalist and singer with new folk supergroup TRADarrr. She was a member of Meet On The Ledge, The Jigantics and the award winning ColvinQuarmby – now known as The Gerry Colvin Band, which she still performs with.  

Since forming folk-rock band CAVE when he was 18 years old, Gregg Cave, has been performing in concerts and at festivals in the UK and mainland Europe. In recent years Gregg has collaborated with musicians and storytellers and has been commissioned by the Arts Council and National Trust to produce two separate pieces of performance. He sings lead vocals with TRADarrr.

Their debut album as a duo, People Like Us, was Crowdfunded in eight weeks and recorded over five days in a village hall in Northampton, with the added musical input of Tali Trow (double bass) and Stratford based musician and producer Paul Johnston (drums and percussion). It includes new material from both Marion and Gregg, along with one cover – Fairport Convention track ‘Wizard Of Fhe Worldly Game’ (with the definitive lyrics to the final verse sent to them by Simon Nicol himself after an exhaustive on-line search showed much confusion!). Friends of the pair joined them to complete the recording and include Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention, Anna Ryder, Gerry Colvin, Edwina Hayes, Debs Earl and Chris Cleverley.

Their 25 date tour includes gigs across England and Wales, from Hull to Redruth and Canterbury to Wigan. They are also taking their music to Holland later in the year.

The People Like Us tour starts in Kingston, Canterbury with a gig for Folk In The Barn on 22nd January and ends at Cecil Sharp House on April 30th.

The Fairport Convention Interview from St George’s in Beckenham

Fairport at St George’s Festival for Beckenham 2016

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.

Darren Beech

FAIRPORT CONVENTION – Myths & Heroes (Matty Grooves Records MGCD053)

FCM&HBack in the late ‘60s, Fairport Convention fit right into – some would say co-created – the whole Summer of Love music scene with its ingenious mix of traditional and modern sounds.

In true avant-garde rock fashion – maybe best delineated by Patti Smith, who last week told a capacity crowd at the storied Fillmore West in San Francisco, “You’re waiting for rock, right? Well, it’s all rock to me.” – the group of just-barely-adults didn’t worry about what was cool to anyone except them. Clearly, coming to such a consensus is no simple task, especially with a shifting group of wild, wilful virtuoso talents moving in and out of the line up as they battle through business hassles and personal demons.

The magic, of course, was in Fairport’s success, which was as bewitching as the fables that they set to song. Specifically the much-storied Liege & Lief – did nothing short of create a genre. It’s easy to see how that was the best thing that ever happened to Fairport. In a way, though, it was also the worst.

Before we get to the punch line of that statement, indulge me in talking about Myths & Heroes, the band’s first album of new material since Festival Bell in 2011.

On the surface, crafting the 13-track Myths & Heroes couldn’t be simpler. Dive into the musical smorgasbord from your prolific chief songwriter, spread the call for new music to your masterful musical soul mates, and grab a smattering of exquisite tunes from the other band mates. Then let the line up of musicians, now together almost 20 years, loose. When I listen to Fairport, I always think of Sean Lennon’s confession that as a child he didn’t realize seemingly “simple” music, such as that of the Beach Boys, is incredibly intricate. Now we all know that music such as the Beach Boys’ and Fairport Convention’s, is born through a sophisticated tangle of imagination and mastery few possess.

What makes Fairport Convention’s latest music a true stand out — frankly, Myths & Heroes is their best album since Wood & Wire, released in 2000 — is the care and passion with which it was created. Clearly this is a quintet that cherishes the musical legacy it holds in trust.

How else to explain the painstaking details – Chris Leslie’s Celtic harp (yes, he’s now mastered that, too) on tunes including Rob Beattie’s ‘Man in the Water’; Ric Sanders’ nuanced mix of electric and baritone violins on the ‘Weightless/The Gravity Reel,’ by James Woods and Chris Leslie, Simon Nicol’s haunting vocals and acoustic guitar on PJ Wright’s ‘Home,’ the so-masterful-it’s-easy-to-forget percussion throughout – that combines to create contemporary music tethered to Fairport’s classic sound?

Myths & Heroes includes plenty of nods to the musicians and kindred musical spirits that have gone before them. Ric Sanders’ haunting ‘Jonah’s Oak,’ an almost classical-leaning fiddle and strings tribute is a literal salute to Johnny Jones, Rob Braviner, Geoff Hughes and others whose spirits are evoked at, yes, Jonah’s Oak in the corner of Cropredy field. That’s in stark contrast to Sanders’ other original work on this album, the sprightly ‘The Gallivant.’ The band wisely chose to fully realize the song with a full compliment of guest artists including fiddler Joe Broughton and his musical colleagues including two violinists, a trumpet and three saxophone players, a figurative nod to Fairport of yesteryear.

But modern-day Fairport has something that few other bands – no matter their history or accolades – can claim. It has fully engaged, virtuoso musicians that revere their group’s heritage. It’s that respect for the past that keeps Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Chris Leslie, Ric Sanders, and Gerry Conway continually expanding the depth and breadth of the band’s music.

As Nicol and Pegg repeatedly tell audiences, they are not a tribute band to themselves. Thank God. It’s sad to see once world-class musicians take the stage and take the seemingly easy way out as they become caricatures of their younger selves.

Which brings us, as promised, back to the downside of Fairport’s earliest success.
When fans continually take to virtual discussion boards to swoon over the music of Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick, it is a blessing, a tribute to the band. But it’s also, in my mind, a curse because they may dismiss the extraordinary music that the band now creates.

Keeping classic Fairport music on eternal repeat is akin to continually watching the first scene of a movie. No matter how enjoyable, it only foreshadows a deeper, more fully realized artistry. Look no further than Myths & Heroes, for evidence of Fairport’s continued greatness.

Nancy Dunham

Artists’ website: http://www.fairportconvention.com

THE ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – One For The Road: Live in Concert (Rooksmere RRCD114)

14TheRoadAnd the Christmas collections keep coming, this one courtesy of Santa Ashley Hutchings and his festive troupe’s first live album, neatly coinciding with their annual jollity jaunt. Recorded last December at Kings Place in London as part of their 15th anniversary tour, it features a mix of songs, tunes and reading designed to recall the pleasures of more traditional English Christmases.

With Hutchings joined by Simon Nicol and Kellie While on guitar and vocals and Simon Care on melodeon, the mood’s set with the squeeze-box led ‘Sans Day Carol’, perhaps better known as ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, which, in turn, gives way to another traditional number with While taking lead vocals for ‘The King’ before Hutchings also weighs in midway. While also takes lead on the programme’s three relatively contemporary songs, first up being Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ with the others being a melancholic reading of Alan Hull’s ‘Winter Song’ and, rather oddly, the Gary Jules arrangement of ‘Mad World’. Though given that it comes after the amusing reading about ‘How The Internet Started’ (about Abraham com and his wife, Dot), perhaps it’s quite appropriate.

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s only one whole instrumental in the whole show, Care’s arrangements of ‘Calling On’ and ‘Hogmanay’, brought together in a melodeon cocktail of the sedate and the thigh-slappingly raucous. There’s also only one band original, as following his explanation of Border Morris teams who tend to dance in the midwinter, comes ‘Mr Trill’s/Gloucester Hornpipe’, the first part penned by Hutchings and Bob Pegg with the words taken verbatim from Trill’s account of the Morris tradition to Cecil Sharp on his visit to Broomfield.

Otherwise, the tunes and songs are either Trad.arr or by those two well known practitioners of seasonal fayre, Sidney Carter and Christina Rosetti, the former represented by two obscure carols, the regional ‘Julian of Norwich’ (complete with historical background introduction) and, tambourine rattling, a robust, lusty ‘Come Love Carolling’, and the latter with a reading from her poem ‘Advent’ followed by a lovely version of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ which set her words to music by Gustav Holst.

George Woodward’s rousing ‘Past Three O’Clock’ takes things up to the interval (the recording’s so complete it has Hutchings announcing the break and that they have a shop the audience can visit) with the second half getting under way with a reading rather than rendition of ‘Herod The Cock’ leading, fittingly enough, into ‘Chanticleer’, a variation of ‘The Chanticleer’s Carol’ by William Austin from the C17th rather than more recent carols of the same name.

After ‘Mad World’, the show winds up with a batch of familiar carols, a ten minute medley of ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ (named from the tune and chorus interpolated with ‘While Shepherds Watched’), ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘The First Nowell’, taking the farewell bow with a galumphing ‘Seven Joys Of Mary’ designed to send you carousing off into the winter’s evening in search of mince pies and mulled wine. If you can’t make one of the shows, this is pretty much the next best thing.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.albionchristmas.co.uk

‘The Seven Joys Of Mary’:

Two Simons Singing: The Albion Christmas Band Celebrates 15 Years with 15+ Answers

The Albion Christmas Band

‘Tis the season that The Albion Christmas Band is out making merry music throughout England. This year band mates Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Kellie While are also celebrating 15 years together as a band.

Simon Nicol and Simon Care gamely agreed to answer (or at least consider answering!) 15 questions about the band, the music, and their own holiday traditions. Take a look at the answers and then be sure you have your tickets for an Albion Christmas Band show.

1. What’s your first memory of playing with the Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “First memory is thinking how privileged I was to be sitting next to the legend Simon Nicol.”

2. What’s the best compliment a fan ever gave you as part of Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Lots of audience members say that the show makes their Christmas and wouldn’t be the same with out it.”

Simon Nicol:  “A lady came up to get a couple of CDs signed once, and she had a couple of teenagers with her as well as her white-haired mother and aunt. She said it was the first and only time the three generations had been out to anything as a group, and that they had just the best time together: that the show had that cross-generational appeal. It made her year to have her family complete in that way.”

3. What is your first ‘Spinal Tap’ moment with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “The ‘Spinal Tap’ moment has to be doing the Christmas show in May at Folk On the Pier Festival. It was totally surreal, the whole audience got into the Christmas spirit!”

4. How does The Albion Christmas Band differ from some of the other holiday folks groups out there?

Simon Care: “I think it’s different because we don’t concentrate solely on traditional material. We look at all aspects of Christmas and winter customs using traditional and contemporary material.”

Simon Nicol: “By keeping it simple and un-showy. Apart from the odd occasion when Simon Care demonstrates his mastery of the arts of Terpsichore, I think it’s like watching a radio programme.”

5. How does your family celebrate Christmas?

Simon Care: “Usually at home on Christmas day then out with my Morris side on Boxing Day.”

Simon Nicol: “Every Christmas Eve we go to our local theatre’s Pantomime show and boo the villains and cheer the happy couple who overcome all in the name of love. Then it’s all back to the house for beer wine and snacking…”

6. Do you do holiday shopping when you tour (obviously with The Albion Christmas Band)?

Simon Care: “Yes me, Kellie and Ashley usually try to visit one of the big shopping centres during the tour, Bluewater, Trafford Centre or one of those.”

Simon Nicol: “Well, the first thing is to get Kellie something for her birthday, as it falls on the 17th of December, so I probably pick up something for the kids while I’m browsing…It can fill in the odd hour on days when the drives aren’t too huge. Getting parked up near the shops in those weeks is never easy though.”

7. What is your favourite part of touring with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Favourite part is spending time with Simon, Kellie and Ashley. Great friends as well as work colleagues.”

Simon Nicol: “Possibly having the day to myself just driving on my own, stopping when and where I want. I love my car and all the rest of the year I’m part of a travelling pack of musos so it’s a complete change of pace.”

8. What’s one thing your fans might not know about The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “We are the longest surviving Albion line-up in the Albion families 40 year history.”

9. Is there one song you’re especially looking forward to playing this year?

Simon Care: “‘The January Man’ by Dave Goulder, sung beautifully by Kellie.”

Simon Nicol: “‘The Frozen Man’ is back – the James Taylor song. Love it!”

10.What’s your favorite traditional Christmas song (whether the group plays it or not).

Simon Care: “‘On Christmas Night all Christians Sing.'”

Simon Nicol: “‘In The Bleak Midwinter,’ which we do include some years…”

11. If you could have one special musical guest perform with the band, who would it be and why?

Simon Care: “I think it would have to be Richard Thompson, just  because he is such a lovely chap and would be a delight to work with.”

Simon Nicol: “Kellie’s mum, Chris. Because their voices are blend made in heaven. But she’s always out on the road with her own outfit, St Agnes Fountain…”

12. What’s the one thing you always take with you on tour?

Simon Care: “My melodeon, toothbrush and wallet. I can buy anything else.”

Simon Nicol: “My MacBook. And my American Express card! Hang on, that’s two things.”

13. Set the record straight. Is there anything people believe about you or the band that isn’t quite true? Or –– start a rumour!

Simon Care: “I think people think that I have earned lots of money from music and live in a big posh house. Untrue.”

14. Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Simon Care: “We do like to have a nice meal and usually have a few glasses of wine to settle the nerves.”

Simon Nicol: “Taking Mr. Care for a beer or two while Kellie titivates and Ashley counts and sells the merchandise!”

15. Share a funny or heartwarming fan story.

Simon Care: “A few years ago two friends of mine came to see us in Huddersfield with their young grandson (5 years old). They contacted me to tell me that now aged ten I inspired him so much he is playing the melodeon and wants to be a professional Morris dancer.”

— By Nancy Dunham