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The Official History of the First 35 Years of Fairport Convention
Fairport Convention's Official Website
CDs: Fairport - A History, Rareport Convention, A Fairport History, Classic Convention,
Also Included: Fairport History Book, Cropredy Chronicles Book, Family Tree and Sgt Croppers,
Write-in Freebee: Fairport Best and The Guests Free CD,
|Intoxica Hot Picks - London's collectors record shop
Andy's recommended new & recent releases (or....'I can't believe they're not buttery beats!!!'): CD corner
I shouldn't really mention CDs, as we don't really like them, and try to avoid stocking them, but the new Fairport Convention 4 disc box set, 'UnConventional', is a wonderful piece of work... all previously unreleased, covering their entire history. The giant booklet is superb, and you also get a family tree (which must have taken months!). Highly recommended (even though you'll have to go elsewhere to buy it!).
Fairport Convention - FAIRPORT UNCONVENTIONAL (Free Reed)
Another in the enterprising, and justly celebrated, continuing series of lavish (and very reasonably-priced) Free Reed box-sets, but much much more than that! This one purports to travel beyond the boundaries of all existing Fairport compilations, defiantly transcending anorakism to produce the ultimate Fairport collection in an unforgettable celebration of the band's 35-year longevity.
Well, this fantastic set is certainly all those things and more. Even if you've dutifully purchased each and every official album, tape and CD release and bootleg you could lay your hands on, it's a certainty that there'll be at least half of the selections on this set that will be new to you - and once you realise that, then you'll get an inkling of the sheer scope of the deep trawling that's been done to put this set together.
Very few of the selections have been previously released in any form, in fact, although the majority can be classified as alternative renditions of already available material. Admittedly, the sound quality of some of the items is rather poor, but that goes with the territory, as they say. The layout of the set is loosely thematic (similar to what Free Reed did, and pretty successfully too, with its recent Carthy set), but here I feel the approach works less well, purely because most Fairport fans I know have distinct preferences for particular band incarnations or time-periods and are thus not as likely to want to keep darting about from disc to disc to find their favourite selections; I too would have preferred a more strictly chronological arrangement. To be honest, there are several selections that I won't want to play often, purely because on a musical level they just don't do anything for me. And it's a London-Buses-type coincidence that after years of frustrating unavailability, the band's very first (and completely untypical) single A-side If I Had A Ribbon Bow finally gets a proper CD release both here and on the latest Ashley Hutchings Guv'nor 5 collection!
But there's more than enough non-duplication and genuine rarity value here to satisfy even the hardiest Fairport completists. Personally, I found the various album outtakes, the early demo One Sure Thing and the various Liege And Lief rehearsal cuts most fascinating. And then there are the real curios, like Richard Thompson crooning Frank Sinatra-karaoke-like on a radio session Lady Is A Tramp. This is but one demonstration of the perennial Fairport ethic of not taking everything too seriously, and the Fairport sense of fun does come through in the way the set has been compiled, although I do find that the gimmick of the portmanteau Matty Groves (while acknowledging its cleverness as an exercise) wears thin after a couple of plays.
Whatever, and notwithstanding your preferences within the vast history of the Fairport Convention band/brand-name, this set is still likely to satisfy you, since it proudly and quite legitimately boasts that it includes something from every line-up, which turns out to be genuinely representative. (Aside from the four discs in this box, there's a special bonus rarities disc yet to come, of great Cropredy performances by the band and their special guests, which will be made available to purchasers of the first five thousand copies of the set.)
The box also includes a chunky 172-page booklet with plenty of incriminating and illuminating photographic evidence, another, smaller booklet celebrating the Cropredy Festival, and of course a suitably-updated Pete Frame family tree which has already engrossed me for almost as long as it took to listen to the CDs! All told, this is a stupendous achievement for the compilers, and a most worthwhile investment.
fRoots - Simon Jones
Free Reed Revival Masters FRQCD-35
The cover of the box alone speaks volumes. So many faces, all of them familiar. It's like keeping track of your soccer team. Who's in this season? Who's transferred? All those faces, from young-and-hopeful via studied- and-driven to knowing-and-frolicsome, there on the lid of the box are the essential elements of the Fairport story. 35 years, the long and winding road that has led to this door proves their legendary maxim; truly it all comes round again.
In the midst of a windfall of repackaged, re-mastered, bonus cut addition, never-heard- before (honest!) items, all timed to tumble out in celebration of the Fairport birthday, UnConventional is the one item you're going to want, no make that need. As in common with previous Free Reed sets the attention to detail is astonishing, the packaging sumptuous and the whole is such astounding value, you should start saving your pounds now. What is truly jaw-dropping though is that the bulk of the four CDs are made up of previously unreleased versions, ridiculously obscure cuts, downright rare items and media archive selections. I'd some inkling of the scope of the collection after a visit to Nigel Schofield's abode where he gleefully regaled me with tales of first ever demos, previously unheard line-ups and legendary sound desk tapes. Suffice to say, unless you're an anorak who's trawled the globe and spent thousands finding every recorded breath, then chum, you haven't got half this! And just in case you are such a body, you're still going to want it for the tongue-in-cheek moments - Fairport as Jackie pop pin-ups anyone?
It was a somewhat jokey advert in the music press that the band themselves placed after the departure of Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue, in which the suggestion was first raised that Fairport was something to be preserved. Ironically, in 2002 their status is assured, undoubtedly holding a special niche in rock history and the affections of thousands. It's a thought worth bearing in mind as you approach this colossal work. In the pre-release form I've been listening to you just can't take it all in at one sitting - unless of course you've got the week off! Organised around four different slants on Convention's work - their story; esoteric and forgotten corners; Fairport as a British history lesson; and tracks that have a life of their own - it seems a straightforward chronological gallop occurred to no-one at Free Reed. As such, the box set then satisfies both those who want some sort of order, or those who casually dip. It also means that each disc stands on its own merits and character. What strikes you, though, as you begin to listen closely is the sheer number of songs that have fallen into common currency since Fairport exposed them. And just how much the Convention versions themselves seem to fit easily together, even though 20 years or more may separate some cuts. There is of course so much more to them than merely being the instigators of British electric folk, though Dave Swarbrick seems to revel in juiced-up takes of trad items, witness a spirited live Australian take of Bonny Bunch Of Roses.
Even though Fairport fostered some of the greatest English melodic talents, none of them dominate here. The band is the core, and even in the more cobwebby corners such as the TV-sourced Breakfast In Mayfair, or the Manor session Maverick Child, that commitment never wavers. Schofield's proud claim that they've represented every Fairport is borne out with previously unheard material from the 1972 line-up of Tom Farnell / Roger Hill and the big six-man band including Dan Ar Bras. There are also the unusual gems: 1967's One Sure Thing, Fairport's first recording, a version of The Lady Is A Tramp, allegedly used by John Peel as the basis of a Radio One competition, I Don't Believe You, a hidden Bob Dylan song that failed to make the cut for Nine, and a Fairport that wasn't, when Swarbrick, Pegg and Nicol played as Three Desperate Mortgages whirling through Sir B McKenzie. Oh, and there's a fusion Matty Groves (culled from many versions), that reminds you that even in the most familiar there lurks something great.
What else? In the finished package is a big, big book full of legend, text, photos, anecdotes and ephemera, and an update of Pete Frame's family tree - mind-boggling in complexity. There's a disc celebrating the best of those invited to the annual knees-up at Cropredy and a huge poster should be in there too. All this released on May 27th, the very date that Fairport Convention first stepped on stage, in a hall at Golders Green. How could those whey-faced individuals even begin to think they'd start all this?
Ladies and Gentlemen, here in one box set is a welcome to a show that never ends.
Irish Music Magazine - John O'Regan
As unconventional as ever, Fairport Convention has defied fashion, convention, and general hippness during their career. A folk rock institution they are long recognized as the band that brought folk music screaming in to the 20th century through electrifying the tradition. Whether by accident or design, Fairport Convention's experiment with blending traditional folk songs and contemporary electric backings has become the benchmark that measures any folk-rock crossover.
For an outfit to spawn such individual and diverse talents as Richard Thompson, Dave Swarbrick, Ashley Hutchings, Sandy Denny, and Ian Matthews, to name but a few, Fairport Convention's legendary status is a tribute to their ingenuity and the originality of their musical concept and its execution. Now some 35 years after their humble beginnings in London's Fortis Green at the height of the Summer of Love in 1967, Fairport are having a triple celebration. Firstly came the release of their most recent studio album 'XXXV'. Declaring its colours in fine form the band has now found a new sense of maturity, poise and yet not lost their characteristic streak of adventure. Secondly earlier this year they received a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards. Finally on the eve of their annual get together in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy comes what is possibly the definitive Fairport Convention compilation set 'Fairport unConventional' released by Free Reed records.
'Fairport unConventional' is the official Fairport Convention 35th birthday boxed-set. Comprising of four themed CDs 'Fairport - A History', 'Rareport Convention', 'A Fairport History' and 'Classic Convention'. 'Fairport - A History' recaps highlights from their 35 years career including BBC session recordings of 'Tam Lin' recorded for the BBC they day before Fairport premiered 'Liege and Lief' at London's Royal Festival Hall, 'Journeyman's Grace', 'Rising for The Moon', and 'Staines Morris' recorded at the 1970 Phildepelphia Folk Festival on Fairport's first US tour. 'Rareport Convention' features unreleased, rare material, 'lost' sessions and radio and TV tracks. Among these are excerpts from the Babbacombe Lee TV special 'The Man They Could Not Hang', the 1st performance of "Sailor's Life" from the BBC archives. 'A Fairport History' concentrates on Fairport recordings of 'epic tales of British history, anarchy, disaster, revolution, warfare and murder' including a 14 minute version of 'The Bonny Bunch of Roses' and Julie Matthews' stunning 'Jewel in the Crown'. 'Classic Convention' gathers a collection of Fairport favourites such as 'Walk Awhile', 'Crazy Man Michael', 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes' and 'Matty Groves' in rare live and BBC in concert recordings ending with the Cropredy anthem 'Meet on The Ledge'. Every Fairport line-up is featured from the original 1967 group of Judy Dyble, Ashley Hutchings, Iain Matthews, Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, and Martin Lamble to the current line up featuring Dave Pegg, Gerry Conway, Ric Sanders, Simon Nicol, and Chris Leslie. The 75 tracks on 'Fairport unConventional' were selected from over 1,500 tracks, including hundreds of rare and unreleased sources, and 73 tracks are available on CD for the first time!
The packaging for 'Fairport unConventional' includes a 172 Page book with band history, interviews, listening lists, and a Fairport rare picture archive documenting their life and times. Also included is a definitive 'Family Tree' designed by Pete Frame, a Cropredy festival Souvenir Booklet 'Cropredy Chronicles' featuring posters for every Cropredy Festival to date, set-lists, embarrassing pictures and 'my first Cropredy' guest & fan reminiscences and a free extra CD 'The Best and the Guests' - The Cropredy Rarities CD is also offered to the first 5,000 copies sold. The whole package comes in at around €65 and is money well spent.
Fairport Convention has spent thirty-five years at the forefront of the folk-rock scene. This tremendous contribution was recognised on Monday Feb 11 when the band received a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards. Celebrating the occasion with bottles of their 'XXXV' strong beer, this was a typically generous gesture by the band. Fairport Convention turned out in force to accept their gong from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson and Simon Nicol's brief acceptance speech was both eloquent and elegant. The whole evening was punctuated by live performances, culminating in a scorching mass improvisation led by The Chieftains and featuring more than two-dozen other musicians including Fairport Convention and Waterson-Carthy. Talking of the relationship between Fairport Convention and The Chieftains brings up an interesting true story. In 1970, Fairport Convention then was flying high on the release of 'Full House' their first album since losing Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings made their Irish debut at Dublin's National Stadium where The Chieftains supported them. 'We had all our amps and gear with us and they played without mics sitting in a semi circle and they were brilliant' Dave Pegg remembers 'and we thought Bloody Hell we've got to follow this!' Peggy need not have worried because since then Ireland has had a regular place in the Fairport diary with them returning intermittently. 'We love coming to Ireland' Simon Nicol explained, 'At times it sounds like us coming over here and playing Irish music is like bringing coals to Newcastle' fiddler Ric Sanders declares 'but the warmth of the reception we get whenever we come over really makes it all worthwhile'.
The Fairport Convention story started in 'Fairport' a house in Fortis Green in London's Muswell Hill that was once owned by a local G.P. Dr. Nicol. On his death in 1964, the family moved a nearby flat but rented the house to College students. In 1967 at the height of the British psychedelic era, Ashley Hutchings formed a band with Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, and Martin Lamble and called themselves 'Tim Turner's Narration'. At the suggestion of a friend Richard Lewis, they changed their name to Fairport Convention. Fairport Convention added vocalists Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews and played the London club scene at venues like Middle Earth and UFO.
Managed by American-born promoter Joe Boyd they recorded their first single 'If I had a Ribbon Bow' for Track Records and Polydor released their debut album 'Fairport Convention' in 1968. US singer-songwriters Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell and West Coast folk rock influenced Fairport Convention's early music. With their male/female vocal team, DJ Tommy Vance coined the phrase 'English Jefferson Airplane' to describe their music. However, when Wimbledon folk diva Sandy Denny replaced Judy Dyble, Fairport Convention started adapting British, Scots, and Irish traditional song in a rock format many coming from Sandy's vast repertoire. Iain Matthews' departure and the tragic death of drummer Martin Lamble in a road accident in 1969 heightened their resolve to create an English Folk-Rock style. Fiddler Dave Swarbrick and new drummer Dave Mattacks combined with Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, and Ashley Hutchings and made music that was unique for its time. Traditional songs met rock and roll power and the result was Fairport's now distinctive brand of Electric Folk', on the seminal 'Liege and Lief' album ('Liege and Lief' has been recently re-mastered and re-issued by Island and was voted 'Greatest folk album of all time' by listeners to BBC2's 'The Mike Harding Show')
Fairport Convention suffered fatal setbacks with Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings' departures to form Fotheringay and Steeleye Span respectively. Birmingham born bassist Dave Pegg arrived and Fairport Convention's odyssey continued. Throughout Fairport's history, there have been upheavals, fluctuating line-ups and the tragic deaths of Sandy Denny in 1978and Trevor Lucas in 1989. After recording fifteen albums and playing all over the World, Fairport Convention played a 'Farewell' tour in 1979 bowing out with two shows on August 4th opening for Led Zeppelin at Knebworth Faire and headlining at their own Cropredy Festival in Oxfordshire.
After several occasional reformations, Fairport Convention returned to life in 1985 with Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, and Dave Mattacks joined by ex Soft Machine/Albion Band violinist Ric Sanders and multi-instrumentalist Martin (Maartin) Allcock. This was the most stable line up from 1985 to 1997when Chris Leslie replaced Martin Allcock and Gerry Conway replaced Dave Mattacks. Nowadays the members of Fairport Convention are based in Oxfordshire. Their annual festival in the village of Cropredy, the site of a battle on June 29th 1644, immortalized by Ralph McTell in 'Red and Gold' attracts audiences in excess of 20,000 to enjoy a feast of folk-rock. 2002 sees Fairport Convention celebrating their 35th anniversary at Cropredy with two special shows one featuring the band's illustrious early days reuniting Judy Dyble, Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Ian Matthews and Dave Swarbrick revisiting songs from Fairport Convention, What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege and life with Vicky Clayton interpreting the Sandy Denny material. The second show features the current Fairport and an array of later members including Gerry Donahue, Dan Ar Braz, and Ralph McTell singing the Trevor Lucas songbook. The leafy Oxfordshire countryside is the perfect location for a slice of living history but for those who cant make it a blast of Fairport unConventional will satisfy the most demanding palate.
Rambles - Tom Knapp
You could never lay all the credit for the modern folk music revival, much less the integration of folk and rock styles into a new tradition, at the feet of a single band. Yet if any one entity deserved credit for initiating such sweeping changes and bringing a fresh look to the time-worn face of folk music, it would be Fairport Convention.
It's been 35 years since the British band's humble beginnings, and in those years they've numbered some of the genre's finest musicians in their ever-changing lineups, forging ties along the way to some of the greatest singers, instrumentalists and bands on both sides of the folk and rock fences. Most folk-rock enthusiasts have at least one Fairport CD in their collections, if not many. Now, the band has issued a much-anticipated box set celebrating its rich history.
This is not your typical "greatest hits" collection that throws a quantity of readily available tracks together with a few bonuses to lure the diehard completists. Nearly everything on these four CDs is rare or unreleased material, and it's sheer magic to sit back and listen to the years roll by as pretty much every variation in the band's fluid membership makes an appearance.
The band got its start in 1967 with Judy Dyble, Ashley Hutchings, Martin Lamble, Ian Matthews, Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson. In 2002,
it's Gerry Conway, Chris Leslie, Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and Ric Sanders. In the intervening years the band has worked with the likes of Martin Allcock, Martin Carthy, Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, Dave Mattacks, Robert Palmer, Robert Plant, Bruce Rowland, Dave Swarbrick and many others in a variety of long- and short-term, official and unofficial arrangements.
Each of the four CDs has a theme: "Fairport -- A History," 35 years in 22 tracks, summing up the various stages of band evolution; "Rareport Convention," providing 19 tracks of particularly rare and hard-to-find selections; "A Fairport History," comprising 16 tracks of British history in folk form; and "Classic Convention," the cream of the crop in Fairport's mutable set list, presented here in nonstandard and unreleased versions.
All told, it adds up to more than five hours of music representing every year, every lineup and every label (Polydor, Island, Vertigo and Woodworm) in the band's 35-year history.
It would be difficult indeed to narrow the contents of this set down to just a few highlights. The material presented here is uniformly excellent, even though the strengths of the band's personnel and the quality of the recordings vary widely.
Of particular note, however, is the Fairport anthem "Matty Groves." Unable to settle on just one version from the band's long love affair with this song, Don Walker and Nigel Schofield compiled a "megamix" rendition, piecing together a snippet here, a phrase there, from the just about every recorded version of the popular ballad. The effect is spectacular as the well-known narrative unfolds in the hands of so many Fairport regulars and alumni.
Other highlights range widely across the Fairport spectrum, including "If I Had a Ribbon Bow," a track recorded in '67 and spotlighting Dyble's lovely, gentle voice; the classic "Meet on the Ledge" from a 1968 BBC recording; a '68 bootleg of the band performing "Suzanne," a song by Leonard Cohen featuring dual lead vocals; the uncharacteristically bouncy "Rubber Band" from '79; and an epic, 18-minute-long live recording of "Sloth" from a 1975 performance. It would be too easy to go on listing track after track, but I'll stop myself there before I reproduce the entire catalogue of tunes in this wonderful collection.
The 169-page companion book by Schofield is a treasure in itself. Packed with biographical details, historical trivia and photos, it's a wealth of information designed to bring even the rawest of Fairport neophytes into the fold with the band's complete heritage, beginning with their first gig on May 27, 1967 in St. Michael's Hall.
There's a lot to cover -- the band has had 11 lead vocalists, 11 lead guitarists, seven drummers, six fiddlers, five keyboard players and two bassists, plus countless session and guest musicians. After wrapping up a year-by-year history on page 99, the book delves thoroughly into the background of each track on the four CDs. The book concludes with a series of interviews and other useful information.
The box set also comes with a delightful and informative array of bonus materials. Among them is a souvenir booklet detailing the history of Fairport's famed Cropredy Festival, as well as a booklet marking Martin Carthy's 60th birthday concert at the Oxford Apollo, a Beatlesesque poster recasting the extended Fairport family in a Sgt. Pepper motif, and an April 2002 Fairport newsletter.
Also not to be missed is the highly detailed family tree by Pete Frame, linking Fairport members to their roots and branches in bands from the Brumbeats, Roy Everett's Blues Hounds and Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra to Eclection, Fotheringay and Etchingham Steam Band and, of course, Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull, Pentangle and the various incarnations of the Albion Band.
Whether you're a Fairport fan from way back or a raw recruit just making the band's acquaintance, the box set will provide many hours of joyful music appreciation. This exceptional package exceeds all expectations, giving proud service to Fairport's past and keeping hopes for the band's future from ever growing dim.
CD-Now and Amazon.com
"The most satisfying fan box-set ever assembled"
"An essential purchase for Fairport fans"
"A splendidly-presented 5-hour cornucopia"
"A Box of Delights, compiled with love!"
"A lavish 35th Anniversary Box-set from the inventors of Folk-Rock"
"Truly Jaw-dropping! - Attention to detail? - Astonishing!: Packaging? - sumptious!: value? - Astonishing!"
"***** - Five Stars for Interest and Value! - No Fairport enthusiast should be without it"
HMV Choice Magazine
"An Awesome Tribute! - Ambitious; admirable; apt"
"An exceptional collection - hard to resist"
Irish Music Magazine
"The Definitive Fairport set - Money well spent!"
"The 'Must-Purchase' of the Year!"
"A truly fascinating collection that lifts the lid on Folk-Rock"
"This exceptional package exceeds all expectations"
"Every track is either great, beautiful or exceptional (or all three!)"
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