Friday, September 26, 2014

Fairport Convention: Who Knows Where the Time Goes

During the late Sixties and early Seventies, Fairport Convention was sort of a British answer to the Band. Like the Band, they were a rock band that infused its music with the folk music sounds of their homeland. In the case of Fairport Convention, that music was the traditional folk music of the British Isles.

Fairport Convention’s sound was built around Richard Thompson’s prodigious guitar prowess, Simon Nichol’s guitar and songwriting, and a preference for female lead singers. In the initial incarnation of the band, that singer was Judy Dyble. Her dreamy vocals grace the band’s debut album, “Fairport Convention” (1968), a fine and eclectic psychedelic folk-rock album.

Dyble was replaced by Sandy Denny, who appears on the band’s second album, “What We Did on Our Holidays” (1969). This sophomore effort is one of the jewels in the crown of British folk-rock. Young Richard Thompson's guitar playing is in turns stately and fiery and Sandy Denny's vocals are elegant and expressive. Fairport even pulls off a very Blind Willie Johnson-like performance with “The Lord is in This Place.” “Eastern Rain,” “Fotheringay,” and “I’ll Keep it with Mine” are all standouts tracks from the album.

The band released two more classic albums in 1969, “Unhalfbricking” and “Liege and Lief.” The latter album is widely considered the band’s best and perhaps the greatest British folk-rock album ever recorded. It was certainly the most folk-oriented of the bands’ output thus far, and included outstanding tracks such as “Tam Lin,” Come All Ye,” “Matty Groves,” and “Farewell, Farewell.” 

After providing her voice to Fairport Convention’s triumvirate of classic albums from 1969, Sandy Denny departed and Fairport Convention was left without a female vocalist. Despite the loss, the band turned out yet another fine release, “Full House” (1970). Richard Thompson picks up the slack and begins singing and writing more material. The highlight of the album is the track, “Sloth,” which features a fine guitar/fiddle coda courtesy of Thompson and fiddler Dave Swarbrick.

Fairport Convention has continued up to the present day with Simon Nichol and various supporting band members and is now more of a traditional British folk band whose sound bears little resemblance to the original band.