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.”
With lots of milder spring weather finally making an appearance in Cornwall, what could be nicer than venturing down from the hills of Penwith for some live music at the Acorn Theatre? Well, it turns out that many of my neighbours took the opportunity of seeing the Julie July Band on the 30th March 2019, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed.
There has to be a certain sadness in a set comprised mostly of songs written by or associated with Sandy Denny, in that there is always an element of regret that there will be no more Denny songs, or further opportunities to hear that incomparable voice apart from those recordings already available. Yet when that set is executed with such charm, respect and professionalism, no one is likely to leave the theatre without feeling uplifted.
Julie started the show with Richard Farina’s ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ – starting an electric set with an unaccompanied song might seem a risky strategy, but the old Irish melody to which Farina set his lyric lends itself so well to an unaccompanied treatment and for me it was the perfect opening, seguing into a full band version of Sandy’s own ‘Listen, Listen’.
The rest of the set ranged over most of Sandy’s tragically short career, from the Dave Cousins songs ‘Tell Me What You See In Me’ and ‘And You Need Me’, from her brief spell with the Strawbs, to the Fotheringay version of ‘Gypsy Davey’, to songs from her solo albums like ‘Solo’ and ‘Blackwaterside’. They even found space to include the Inkspots’ ‘Whispering Grass’, which Sandy covered on Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz. While her time with Fairport Convention wasn’t represented much, two of the songs performed are associated as much with Fairport as with other recorded versions. ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ was recorded by both Fairport and the Strawbs, and the stunning ‘Fotheringay’, after which the later band was named, originally appeared on Fairport’s What We Did On Our Holidays.
Julie has promised that the band will always include Sandy Denny songs, and so they should: songs like these should never be forgotten, and Julie is an accomplished and sensitive interpreter of Sandy’s material, and the band provides her with excellent support. I was particularly struck by Steve Rezillo’s fluent lead guitar, especially on ‘Fotheringay’ with its interplay with Don MacLeod’s intricate acoustic guitar. That said, I was also intrigued to get my first aural glimpse of several tracks from the band’s forthcoming CD of original material, Lady Of The First Light, due for release in May, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing the whole thing.
Meanwhile, the band proved here that they can do justice to a whole bunch of Sandy’s songs apart from those on their CD from last year Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Given the chance to attend one of their concerts, I think any Sandy Denny fan will find much to enjoy, and if you’re not familiar with these songs, you have a treat in store.
The Julie July Band has built a substantial reputation on reinterpretations of Sandy Denny’s songs, so it comes as no surprise that the CD Who Knows Where The Time Goes, released on July 27th, is a collection of 11 songs written by Sandy, plus one song of Richard Farina’s that she recorded at least twice. Lead vocals are taken by Julie July: the rest of the band (and very accomplished they are too) being Steve Rezillo – lead guitar and vocals; Nick Smith and Don Mac (a former musical sparring partner of mine and still picking a mean guitar) – acoustic guitars; Blake Probert – bass guitar; Garry Low on drums and percussion, and the late Martin Emeny (drums on two tracks); Georgina Groom – fiddle; Chris Hutchison – piano and Hammond organ.
Even though it’s 40 years since Sandy Denny’s untimely death, there are probably few people reading this review who haven’t been touched by her voice and her music. Certainly I can still remember the first time I heard her on radio in the 60s (and even what she sang: ‘The False Bride’ and Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Milk And Honey’!). While some of the songs here date back to her time with Fairport (and even before), most of them are best known from her solo albums. Here’s the track-by-track listing.
‘The North Star Grassman And The Ravens’ is the title track from Sandy’s first solo album, from 1971. While Julie captures the spirit of Sandy’s singing particularly well here, the accompaniment here is simpler than either of the Denny recordings I’ve heard, carried by Chris Hutchison’s piano and Georgina Groom’s lyrical fiddle. Will I invite a torrent of hate mail if I say I actually prefer it this way?
‘Listen Listen’ is more lightly produced and arranged than the version on the 1972 album Sandy, and none the worse for that.
‘Fotheringay’ is the song about the castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned and finally executed: the song gave its name to Sandy’s short-lived quintet project. (Coincidentally, the band’s concert in Bangor was one of the first music reviews I ever wrote.) This version follows the version on What We Did On Our Holidays fairly closely, and it’s rather nice to hear those guitar harmonies again.
‘It’ll Take A Long Time’ is also from Sandy: It must have taken a certain amount of courage to compete with the memory of Richard Thompson’s guitar and Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel on the original recording (or, come to that, Donahue and Wilsher on the Royalty recording), but some understated slide and lead work here fill that gap very adequately.
‘Solo’ is maybe taken just a little faster than the version on Like An Old Fashioned Waltz with some very nice acoustic guitar. And it suits Julie’s voice very well.
Does anyone reading this not know ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’? First heard on record on Fairport’s Unhalfbricking (though an earlier version later appeared on the belatedly released Strawbs album All Our Own Work), the song has been covered by artists as diverse as Judy Collins, Nina Simone, 10,000 Maniacs and Daria Kulesh, and in 2007 the Fairport version was voted “Favourite Folk Track Of All Time” by Radio 2 listeners. Julie’s version has the general feel of the Fairport version, but is by no means a slavish copy, and does the song justice. In particular, the lead guitar is more restrained, in contrast to the youthfully exuberant ubiquity of Richard Thompson’s country licks on the Unhalfbricking version, against which even Sandy sometimes struggles to hold the listener’s attention.
‘The Lady’ harks back to the Sandy album, with just piano for backing. Lovely.
‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ is the Richard Farina song that put new words to the melody of ‘My Lagan Love’ (which in itself is a new-ish set of words – usually credited to Joseph Campbell – to an older song). It may seem perverse to give so much space to considering the only song on the CD that isn’t Sandy’s, but I’m going to anyway… Mimi Farina recorded this with a complex orchestral arrangement by Peter Schickele that sets off her fragile vocals admirably. Sandy recorded a folk-rock version with Fairport that I can’t quite learn to love, then a very different version on her second solo album with complex multitracking and an extended violin coda by Dave Swarbrick. Sandy’s second version is a tour de force, but for me, Julie’s unaccompanied version on this CD is truer to the song, allowing it to speak for itself. Up to now, Mimi’s version has been my favourite version, but I’m reconsidering. Sometimes all you need is a beautiful song beautifully sung.
The slightly Joni-Mitchell-ish ‘The Pond And The Stream’ appeared on the eponymous Fotheringay Julie’s version follows that version fairly closely, even reproducing the ‘Theme From Mash’-ish intro, but it’s very nicely done.
The mournful ‘Winter Winds’ also blew in on the Fotheringay Again, this version follows Sandy’s fairly closely, but maybe that’s appropriate: the Fotheringay album did mostly avoid the overproduction that sometimes clouded the later albums, at least for me.
‘Late November’ was recorded for The North Star Grassman And The Ravens and also appeared eventually on the Fotheringay 2. I particularly like the drum work from the late Martin Emeny on this arrangement, contrasting with quieter acoustic passages. Nice electric guitar too.
‘Full Moon’ was recorded for the Rendezvous sessions, but didn’t appear on that album, and I hadn’t heard it before (surprisingly – it’s a gorgeous song). However, three versions have been released on various posthumous collections. This version features piano and fiddle, and makes for a more than satisfying end to this CD.
Clearly, those lovers of Sandy Denny’s music who go to the Julie July Band’s gigs will be glad of this well-sung, well-recorded reminder of the experience (and while I’m not generally a huge fan of tribute bands, I’ll certainly be going to the band’s Cornish gig next year if I can). Hard-core Sandy’s fans and CD collectors may be harder to convince, but to my ears some of these arrangements are actually more sympathetic to the songs than the 70s recordings. And this selection would work very well as an introduction to Sandy’s own songs for anyone who isn’t familiar with her work.
The art of successfully bringing ‘folk’ music to a wider audience has been surmounted before by the likes of Steeleye, Fairport and The Corrs and with the duo Lumiere it looks as if we have another artist batting for ‘our’ side. Whether we in the folk world deserve it or not remains to be seen as sometimes it would appear a thankless task pleasing the die-hard ‘traditionalists’. Personally speaking, to scorn anything ‘commercial’ would, in my opinion be churlish as both Eilis Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon have fine voices and, when joined by the more brittle vocals of guest Sinead O’Connor on Sandy Denny’s timeless “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” this really would be an unfairly negative response. Adding a touch of gloss to this musical undercoat producer John Reynolds has assembled an exemplary band of musicians including ex-Lunasa guitarist Donogh Hennessy, Clare Kenny (bass), Caroline Dale (cellos), Kevin Armstrong (guitars), Eamonn De Barra (piano/keyboards), Julian Wilson (Hammond organ), Catriona MacKay (Harp) and Reynolds himself on drums. Although the album is unashamedly commercial it will undoubtedly appeal more to say a Radio 2 audience than Radio 1 listener but there’s nothing wrong with that so long as you’re also happy to be tagged “easy listening”. Reflecting the duo’s passion for traditional songs such as “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”, “The Streets Of Derry” and a nicely understated “Ye Jacobites” it will sit nicely among those ethereal sounds of Clannad you have in your collection.
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Sandy Denny was one of the UK’s finest singers. She was voted Melody Maker’s greatest female singer for 2 years in a row in 1970 and 1971. She was also, legendarily, the only guest vocalist Led Zeppelin ever used. Robert Plant later said, ‘It was a beautiful spectacular moment for both of us. A beautiful exchange of two vocalists.’
Sandy Denny’s signature song Who Knows Where The Time Goes was voted All Time Greatest Folk Song by BBC Radio 2 listeners but this is just one song among over fifty songs she wrote and recorded between 1968 and 1978, the greatest body of work by any British female songwriter of her time. Sandy Denny’s finest recordings and song writing were celebrated on a sell-out UK tour in May this year. The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny featured an array of singers interpreting her work, including Maddy Prior, Joan As Policewoman, Green Gartside and Thea Gilmore alongside fiddler Dave Swarbrick and guitarist Jerry Donahue who originally played with Sandy in Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. The Barbican Show on May 23rd was filmed and will be shown on BBC4 in the coming months (the final date is yet to be confirmed).
Now, due to the phenomenal and totally unprecedented demand for Island’s Complete Sandy Denny Box Set, released in November 2010, Universal Music is issuing a limited edition 4 CD version.
The original box set has become one of the most collectible box sets of all time; changing hands for between £1000 – £1500 and now, for fans that missed out, this new four disc edition will include choice selections from the box set’s 19 discs. The new 4 CD edition will be limited to 3500 copies worldwide and boasts 75 tracks, including 17 demos taken from Sandy’s home recording tapes. Among these is the first known recording (from 1967) of Who Knows Where The Time Goes, plus further home demos, rarities and alternate versions of many Fairport and Fotheringay classics as well as outtakes and demos from her solo albums.
Housed in a hard back book style package like the 2007 Live at the BBC collection, The Notes & The Music – A Collection of Demos and Rarities also includes rare photos, art work, and explanatory notes about the tracks selected.
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Whisper this, but I hadn’t been to for twenty years. I had felt it was getting too big for my personal comfort – when I first went there was one campsite, now there are seven – but an insistent invitation drew me back this year. In fact what are bigger are the camper vans, the folding chairs and, dare I say, the waistlines. We older and …er…more substantial punters do like our comforts. Some aspects of the festival are more technological and sophisticated. The bar is a marvel of mobile opulence although initially no more efficient than in the days when there was one Wadsworth’s lorry, lots of barrels and one choice of beer. That’s no reflection on the brilliant bar-staff, by the way, but logistics do sometimes let the side down.
An innovation during my absence is the big screen which, in between displaying safety information, “televises” the show. It can be a boon for those at the top of the field although it’s often obscured by a forest of flagpoles. The interesting thing is that even down the hill at the front, unless you’re actually leaning on the pit barrier, you find yourself watching the screen, not the performers. Sure, you get 10 foot high images of John Tams’ face and Graeme Taylor’s plectrum technique but it feels wrong. If they could just pipe it into the cable TV network we wouldn’t actually have to go there. Er…maybe not.
Everything else is pretty much the same. The stewards are unobtrusive, laid-back and helpful and with road closures around the site their help was invaluable. The familiar spirit of the festival remains. Two examples that I heard about: one couple left their car keys in the door when they went to bed and woke to find the car locked and the keys safely guarded and a purse containing credit cards and a good deal of money was lost overnight and returned intact the following day. I’m not sure where else that would happen. T-shirts remain the badges of identification and mutual recognition although in general clothes are less outré – that goes with the Aldi and Tesco carrier bags. There are still more food concessions than can you eat from without the aid of a tapeworm, lots of silly hats to buy and, increasingly important as one gets older, civilised toilets. Don’t laugh, it’s important. And despite promising myself that I wouldn’t visit the CD store, I failed to keep my promise.
The rain loitered with intent on Thursday afternoon but stayed away as Fairport Convention opened the proceedings with a short and none too serious acoustic set followed by Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts and Blair Dunlop. Hearing ‘Walk Awhile’ as the second song really sets you up for the weekend. Bob Harris introduced Home Service as the evening’s compère, John Tams, was too modest to introduce himself. It is so good to have the band back together although it has to be said that their failure to invite Bill Caddick to return raises awkward questions. Their set was familiar material – new boy Paul Archibald had to learn another back catalogue after all – and, in the current climate, it was impossible to listen to ‘Alright Jack’ and ‘Sorrow’ without reflecting on how little things have changed.
Hayseed Dixie might be considered a one trick pony but they perform the trick very well, although I have my reservations about their interpretations of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. A couple of serious moments were hidden in the rockgrass but I’m not sure if anybody noticed. They had a lot of fans at the festival, particularly among those who found Home Service too intellectually challenging to actually bother listening to. UB40 closed the day – slick, professional and, I have to admit, not my thing at all.
Before it actually opens to the public the arena is rather eerie. I watched Seasick Steve sound-checking with his pounding drums reverberating around the empty site. Steve was Friday’s headliner and I still can’t make up my mind whether he’s the great original everyone reckons he is or a charming old fraud. Don’t get me wrong, I love his music, but I don’t buy into his story. If I’m right he’s only following in the tradition of Bob Dylan who, in his early days, fed interviewers the most outrageous lies and watched them lap up everything he said. Listen to Folksinger’s Choice for prima facie evidence.
Moore Moss Rutter provided a suitably relaxed start to Friday, another day when the weather couldn’t make its mind up. The Travelling Band began with a Blind Lemon Jefferson tune which felt like a smart move. They moved on to their own material variously augmented by viola, cello and brass and played an exciting set which was also VERY loud. I rather liked them despite that but the contrast in approach was hard on Steve Tilston who had to follow them. I also like Steve and his partnership with The Durbevilles feels like a very natural match on a song like ‘Jackaranda’. This was a good set and The Oxenhope EP was one of my purchases. Charlie Dore provided yet more country-style music – the theme of the day, it seems. I found her set rather relaxing which was good for the late afternoon slot but I confess that I was waiting for The Dylan Project.
Like his hero, Steve Gibbons is seventy this year. How did that happen? Everything about him is unique from his look to his guitar style and the way he used to make Keith Richards appear the picture of robust good health. They played a tight set with none of Steve’s extemporising as they mixed the downbeat – ‘Dark Eyes’, ‘Sweetheart Like You’ and ‘Cold Irons Bound’ – with the simpler sentiments of ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’ and ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’. ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ seemed a most appropriate choice given the events of the preceding week.
The Urban Folk Quartet was another band who benefited from my visit to the record stall but they had released a live album at a special Cropredy price and I wasn’t about to pass that up. UFQ are another band who have found a new approach to traditional music. Frank Moon’s oud features heavily, Joe Broughton seems to play more guitar than fiddle but who’s counting, Paloma Trigas is a bundle of energy and Tom Chapman joins a small roster of singing percussionists. If you haven’t heard them yet, you really should.
The Coral: ahead of their time or brilliantly retro? They included ‘Ticket To Ride’ in a spectacular show of their 21st century rock and would have made a better final act. It was unfortunate that there was a delay before Seasick Steve took to the stage. There was none of the redneck southerner schtick you get on TV and he seemed rather low key. I chose to watch him from the top of the field to see how he would work with such a big crowd and sad to say people around me were drifting away into the cold night long before the end of his set. I’d like to see him live in a smaller, more intimate, venue but so meteoric has been his rise to fame that he doesn’t play small gigs any more.
Richard Digance is a fixture as Saturday’s opener. Part comic, part social commentator and all warm-up man he did a superb job, getting the crowd on its feet doing silly things and listening to some serious songs – ‘Jobs’ is absolutely brilliant. It’s a combination that pulled the audience together and pointed it in the right direction. Next up, it was lovely finally to see The Shee on stage: fiddles, flute, mandolin, accordion, harp and voices performing their mixture of Scottish and American music and songs. I like the way they wear their posh frocks on stage, too.
Blockheads without Ian Dury: does it work? Well, the sun came out and England won a test match while they were on stage so I guess it does. The band isn’t exactly the same, inevitably, but in Derek “The Draw” Hussey they have a suitably eccentric lead vocalist who doesn’t attempt to imitate Dury but manages to channel his attitude. Songs like ‘Inbetweenies’ and ‘What A Waste!’ have been part of the band’s DNA for so long that they can’t fail to sound good.
My live experience of Lau suggested that they could be even louder than The Blockheads but the festival sound crew just about kept them in check. Martin Green seems to have more equipment every time I see the band – now he has a keyboard to go with his accordion and pedals adding new textures to Lau’s sound palette. The accordion was frequently used as a bass instrument with Martin playing a melody on the keyboard.
A decade ago Jim Lockhart introduced me to the art of ligging Dublin-style. This involved more pints of stout than I care to remember, being invited to a couple’s engagement party and being told by a lady with the reddest hair I’ve ever seen that my destiny was linked with the sea. As the ferry back from Rosslare didn’t sink I haven’t taken her too seriously. At the time Jim was head of production at RTÉ 2fm but in his previous life he played keyboards and flute with Horslips. Sadly they broke up before I had chance to hear them live which made their performance at Cropredy something of a milestone for me. Yes, Horslips are back, although Johnny Fean’s brother Ray now sits in for drummer Eamonn Carr. The outrageous stage clothes are gone and the band is rather more soberly dressed now but can still play those hits: ‘Dearg Doom’, ‘Trouble With A Capital T’, ‘Charolais’ and ‘Mad Pat’ as well as the soaring instrumentals from The Book Of Invasions. It was a moment of magic.
I’ve tried listening to Badly Drawn Boy several times and it hasn’t worked. He has one great song, ‘Born In The UK’, but that’s not enough to hold my interest. My opinion was not helped by the fact that Horslips were cut short while Bad milked a smattering of applause for two encores. Look, this is personal recollection and I’ll be as partisan as I like, OK?
A typical Saturday set by Fairport Convention consists of some compulsory songs, explorations of the byways of their back catalogue and a succession of alumni and friends doing their thing. This wasn’t typical. Its centrepiece was a complete “Babbacombe” Lee which occupied a third of the programme and, of course, there’s a new album to promote which doesn’t leave a lot of time. They opened with ‘Walk Awhile’ and closed with ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, ‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge’. ‘Crazy Man Michael’, ‘Honour And Praise’, ‘Mr Lacey’ and ‘The Hiring Fair’ were the other oldies. Ralph McTell dropped in for a couple of songs and PJ Wright and Phil Bond augmented Fairport when lead guitar and keyboards were required but otherwise the band stood up to be counted. I’m glad I heard “Babbacombe” Lee having managed to miss it on the spring tour and the use of films on the big screen added an extra something to the show. ‘Matty Groves’ was illustrated by a video featuring Barbie and Ken and what appeared to be a meerkat in a submarine – it was late, I’d had a beer or two: who knows what I saw?
So, has Cropredy grown too big? Yes, I think it has but I’ll qualify that by saying that the infrastructure is quite capable of coping with the 20,000 people who turn up each year. But on Saturday afternoon it was almost impossible to move around the field without kicking, jostling or stepping on someone and it was impossible to sit quietly and mind one’s own business without being kicked, jostled or stepped on. Thursday has now grown into an official day and the fringe occupies two pubs in the village. It may be time to consider a second stage. I would have been more than happy to see some of the acts play a second set in a smaller venue or some of the fringe artists accommodated there. It would take the pressure off the main area and restore the relaxed atmosphere that existed back in the eighties. I missed that.
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