Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fifty years of Fairport

27 May 1967. I was just a schoolboy in short trousers, a few months shy of my eleventh birthday, waiting out my final term at Henleaze Primary School before taking up my scholarship at Bristol Grammar School. At the same time, four young men walked onto the stage of a church in Golders Green, London: they had just begun calling themselves Fairport Convention. At the end of their show, another young man approached them and said that he could drum better than their current drummer; a tradition had set in right from the beginning of having a fluid line up.

I first became aware of Fairport at the end of 1969, from a magazine article entitled "Sounds of the 70s", in which the writer(s) discussed acts which were expected to achieve success in the 1970s. In the time between that initial show in Golders Green and the publication of that magazine article, a mere two and a half years, Fairport had already released four albums (a fifth, 'Heyday', featuring songs from this period would be released twenty years later), had recruited and released three singers, had suffered the misfortune of the van crash on the M1 in which the drummer died, and most significantly, invented the genre called 'Folk rock' - not the wishy washy American version, but full on rock treatments of traditional songs.

1969 was quite arguably the most successful year that Fairport had. The 1970 version lacked Sandy Denny, the 1971 version lacked Richard Thompson, and in 1972, the final remaining original member, Simon Nicol, left. Several very temporary line ups appeared under the Fairport name, but it seemed that the group had run its course - after five very full years. But no: Swarbrick and Pegg put together a new line up, combining forces with some of the survivors of Sandy Denny's Fotheringay, and a stable configuration appeared ... for about a year and a half. I didn't see the five member version, but I did see the group after Sandy returned.

That line up didn't last very long, and soon the group returned to the wilderness. I went to a festival in Southend sometime in 1976 which featured a very unusual line up - their picture appears on the sleeve of the atrocious "Gottle o'geer" record, but half of the people in the photo didn't play on the record. Fortunately, Simon Nicol (who engineered GoG) returned, and there was a very strong group for the years 1977-8, which I saw several times (including two times in the same week, when I finally met someone in the group). 

But by 1979, I had emigrated and the group folded - I know for a fact that my emigration did not play any part in the group's ceasing to exist. It wasn't until around 1986 that the group reformed and recorded "Gladys' leap". Although initially this was only a temporary group, Maartin Allcock and Ric Sanders soon joined to make a permanent group - which played together for an unprecedented ten years, at which stage Maart was replaced by Chris Leslie. A year later (1997), Dave Mattacks - drummer since 1969, although not during 1977/9, left, to be replaced by Gerry Conway (ex-Fotheringay). 

That line up is still playing, twenty years on! Full marks for longevity, but the sounds that they make are boring to my ears and only make me wish to hear the original recordings. 

So raise a mug to Fairport on their fiftieth birthday! They have been a part of my life for almost ever. It has to be said that their first ten years were so much better than the latter forty years.

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