Rychard Carrington reports on Fairport Convention - The Junction, Cambridge, 11 May 2013

Fairport Convention
Junction 1, The


Oh, I remember when the folk-rock was young. Those long last days in which the idealism of the folk revival combined with hippy utopianism and a new organicism was heralded with deep exhilaration. In this context, aka 1969, Fairport Convention produced their atmospheric masterpiece, Liege and Lief. It was folk-rock's first classic, and also it's greatest.


Fast forward to 2013, and here we have five men, average age well over sixty, sitting on a stage delivering an evening of amiable tunes, ballads and banter to a seated and generally also not young audience. Folk-rock has lasted better than its attendant cultural aspirations. This Fairport won't set the world on fire, and frankly if it did I think the audience would be rather alarmed. In a way Fairport today could be described as being maturely unpretentious. Their sound is pleasant but too classy, too engaged to be bland.


Fairport's past is this line-up's raison d'etre and its confinement. Tonight we heard several good numbers written by the youngest  - 56 - and longest-haired member Chris Leslie, but does anyone actually want Leslie's songs to have more impact than Liege and Lief? Wouldn't that unbalance the established relationship between Fairport past and Fairport present? Yet Ric Sanders has been in Fairpotrt for twnety-eight years, Chris Leslie for seventeen, Gerry Conway for fifteen. And all are very good musicians. But the two central figures are bassist Dave Pegg, member for forty-three years, and guitarist Simon Nichol, member for forty-six, i.e. since he founded the band with Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson. Both men were humourous and gregarious, in an avuncular sort of way, Dave so much so that he chose to spend the time immediately before the gig manning the merchandise stall, chatting to all-comers. David Bowie should do that. 


As often in such circumstances, most numbers came either from the vintage era or the current one, with the long period in between more thinly represented. Albert and Ted from 2011's Festival Bell was great. Chris Leslie on bouzouki and fiddle did a splendid job throughout, and the twin-fiddle sound of Leslie and Saunders was a joy to hear. Drummer Gerry Conway delivered the goods at the back rather well as well. 


In fact the sound was not so different from that on Full House, the successor to Liege and Lief and Fairport's second best album (the first with Pegg on bass). From that album we were treated to three great tracks: Sir Patrick Spens, Doctor of Physick and Walk Awhile. Nice to hear The Cell Song from 1971's Babbacombe Lee as well. Impossible not to miss the late Sandy Denny's wonderful vocals on the 1960s numbers, though: Fotheringay, Farewell, Farewell, and the final two numbers Matty Groves and Meet On the Ledge. Somehow I don't think Simon Nichol would be unhappy with such a reaction. In fact this band pays tribute to its illustrious past rather well, while quietly continuing to produce good music in the present.


Writer: Rychard Carrington