Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention with Dave Swarbrick

A rare and special occasion. Fairport Convention with Dave Swarbrick on Sunday 7th March 1999 at The Anvil, Basingstoke. From left to right: Rick Sanders, Dave Swarbrick, Simon Nichol, Dave Pegg. Other members are off the picture.

Copyright S. J Farthing.


Concise History 1967 to 1990

The group formed in 1967. Said to be an English parallel to Jefferson Airplane.

Members:

Judy Dyble (vocals), Ian Matthews (vocals), Ashley Hutchings (bass), Richard Thompson (guitar), Simon Nichol (guitar), Martin Lamble (drums).

Fairport Convention released 1968

Sandy Denny replaced Judy Dyble

What We Did on Our Holidays

What We Did on Our Holidays released 1969

This contains the perennial Fairport anthem Meet On The Ledge, which seems to have the status of an early hit single. (It was a single, but unsuccessful).

Ian Matthews left during recording of Unhalfbricking.

The group's van crashed on the motorway after returning from a gig in 1969. Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson's girl friend were killed. Band considered splitting. Decided on new direction based on English folk music.


Unhalfbricking

Unhalfbricking released 1969

This included Dave Swarbrick as a guest musician on violin. The track Sailors Life appears, which is regarded by some as being the first ever Folk-Rock song. Also includes the Sandy Denny classic Who Knows Where the Time Goes which was one of her first compositions and recorded earlier in a less perfected slightly amorphous form with the Strawbs. Their only hit single Si Tu Dois Partir is present, which includes the sound of an accidentally breaking bottle which was being used as a percussion instrument. The story goes that they nearly stopped playing as the bottle fell to the floor and smashed, but the producer frantically waved them on to continue.

Dave Swarbrick and Dave Mattacks joined, the latter replacing Martin Lamble on drums.

Liege and Lief recorded.

Line up now: Sandy Denny, Simon Nichol, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Swarbrick, Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, every one of whom has become a giant in English folk.

Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings left.

Hutchings became an original member of Steeleye Span, and was replaced by Dave Pegg on bass.

liege and Lief

Liege and Lief released 1970.

This was their best selling album and rightly so. It is consistently good with excellent songs and musicianship. Perhaps the best combination of Sandy Denny's singing and Dave Swarbrick's fiddling on any album. There are many classic Fairport Convention tracks.

Side 1. Come All Ye, Reynardine, Matty Groves, Farewell Farewell.

Side 2. The Deserter, Instrumental Medley including Lark in the Morning, Tam Lin, Crazy Man Michael.

After Sandy Denny's departure the band continued without a recognised vocalist.

Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny

"Sandy removed herself from the most nurturing framework for her music she would ever know". - Clinton Heylin, author of No More Sad Refrains: The Story of Sandy Denny.

She founded Fotheringay with her then boyfriend Trevor Lucas, Jerry Donahue and others, the band being named after one of her own songs. The album Fotheringay was released in 1970. This is a good album and would not disappoint lovers of the her early work with Fairport Convention, but did not get the commercial success it deserved.

In September 1970 she was voted top female vocalist in the Melody Maker poll.

Fotheringay disbanded in December 1970. Over the next few years Sandy recorded and released three personal solo albums. These were somewhat melancholy including some of her own songs and some 'covers'.

Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas got married in September 1973

She re-joined Fairport Convention in February 1974 primarily only for a live album, Fairport Live Convention. She stayed for the recording of Rising for the Moon and left in 1975.

Later she considered that re-joining Fairport Convention had been a mistake, and acknowledged that there had been "a lot of musical conflicts."

She died due to injuries sustained in a fall down stairs in a friend's house on Friday, 21st April 1978, age 31.

 

Full House

Full House recorded. (Released 1970).

This was notable as the first without Sandy Denny, and the last with Richard Thompson. A harder rock style than usual. Some regard it as exceptionally good. It included the Fairport favourite Walk Awhile, the strange driving, persistent Sloth, and instrumental medley Dirty Linen.

Richard Thompson left.

Line-up now: Simon Nichol, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks.

An interesting moment in history because with hindsight we can now see that these can possibly be regarded as the "core members" in the band's history when viewed over a longer term.

Angel Delight released 1971.

If you can sum up a whole album in a few words it would be that this one is lighthearted with an element of humour. You get the impression that they enjoyed themselves recording it. Even the instrumental medley is wacky. Swarbrick is the main vocalist at the expense doing little fiddle playing, and his singing is as close to pop style as it gets.

There's a mix of original compositions and traditional songs including a number of novelty tracks. The Bridge over the River Ash, an instrumental, incredibly seems to have the whole group apart from Dave Mattacks, playing violins or violas, and drummer Mattacks playing an electric Bass. The title track is one of at least three autobiographical songs that Fairport Convention have recorded over the years. "There's a hole in the wall where a lorry came in". Wizard of the Worldly Game is a good example of Swarbrick's singing and writing. It's an anthem style tree song which seems to have a hidden message. The Journeyman's Grace is the most typical of the Fairport Convention style with some great instrumental phrases. The Bonny Black Hare, a personal favourite of Dave Swarbrick's, has its debut on this album.

Babbacombe Lee released approx 1972.

History of Fairport Convention released 1972.

A compilation consisting of about 3 or 4 tracks from each of the previous 6 albums. The chosen tracks are good, with some of Fairport's classic tracks present, but in the case of the better albums such as Liege and Lief I would rather have the whole album than a small selection. On the other hand this might be better value than buying several of the lesser albums. There's a long total playing time on the CD. It was a double album on vinyl, and had an artistic "Family Tree" of the band on the cover, apparently by Pete Frame of Rock Family Trees fame. The CD cover is different but the family tree is inside the insert.

Nichol and Mattacks left. Nichol was the last original member. Now only Dave Swarbrick and Dave Pegg remained.

"Fairport Convention went through numerous changes, at one time having five different line ups in one year."

They recruited Tony Farnell (drums) and Roger Hill (guitar), but they stayed only briefly. They probably didn't record on any released album.

They were replaced by ex-Fotheringay members Jerry Donahue (guitars), Trevor Lucas (vocals and guitar), and the return of Dave Mattacks. Fotheringay had now disbanded.

Rosie recorded. (Released 1973).

Fairport Convention 9 released 1973.

"This album displayed a new-found instrumental virtuosity".

Sandy Denny re-joined in 1974. She was with them until 75.

Fairport Live Convention released 1974 and included Sandy Denny.

Line up now Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg, Jerry Donahue, Trevor Lucas and Dave Mattacks.

Sandy Denny plays a relatively small part on this album, and sounds rather like Grace Slick. Fotheringay members brought an american influence to Fairport Convention, especially with the greater use of electric guitars played in a more mainstream rock style, but at least this album did not lose touch with its traditional sound, probably largely due to Swarbrick. The album is something of a mixture of two styles. Notable tracks are live version of Matty Groves sung as the original by Sandy Denny, and with Swarbrick of course on fiddle. There is a good long version of Sloth, and unlike the original, has Sandy Denny adding some spontaneous backing vocals. There is only limited information in the booklet of the CD and does not say who is singing Sloth, but he sounds similar to Richard Thompson (but it isn't him). The sound quality of the album is "Good", especially for the time of the recording, but not excellent. Remastering can't do much about the quality of the original tape.

Main tracks (1-9): Matty Groves, Rosie, Fiddlestix, John the Gun (Sandy Denny), Something You Got, Sloth, Dirty Linen, Down in the Flood (Dylan), Sir B. MacKenzie.

Bonus tracks were recorded in Sydney 26th January 1974, apparently before the main album at a time when Sandy Denny was not yet back in the band, but she sings one song.

Bonus tracks: The Hexhamshire Lass, Polly on the Shore, Bring Em Down, Far From Me, That'll Be The Day (the Buddy Holly song).

Rising For The Moon recorded. (Released 1975).

There is no doubt that there is some excellent material on this album, some of it reminiscent of their earlier days, perhaps mainly because of Sandy Denny's voice and she has a large influence - she sings 7 of the 11 tracks. More than this, however, it is very similar to the Fotheringay album, indeed dominated by the ex-Fotheringay members. Other tracks are show-pieces from other members of the band. Notably there is no all-instrumental track, and all tracks are original compositions, many by Sandy Denny. The best song not composed by Sandy is White Dress written by Dave Swarbrick and Ralph McTell, and said to be written specially for Sandy. Night Time Girl is a rocky up-tempo song by Swarbrick/Pegg with some American Old-Time fiddling, unusual for Swarbrick. Two other tracks are in a bluesy American style from Lucas and Donahue, and are out of place.

Who knows what tensions were taking place in the band at this time.

Around this time Mattacks left again and was replaced by Bruce Rowland, both of whom participated in the recording of Rising for the Moon.

Sandy Denny left after Rising for the Moon was recorded. Lucas left. Donahue was away playing sessions in the USA.

The band split up temporarily in February 1976

In 1976 the band re-formed with new members and a new name Fairport.

The remaining members were Swarbrick, Pegg, and Rowland and new members were added: Dan Ar Bras (gutar), Bob Brady (keyboard), Roger Burridge (violin).

The almost mythical Gottle O' Gear was released some time in 1976. This is unlisted in some discographies because it was under the name Fairport, not Fairport Convention. From the views of others it seems to be poor.

There were more personnel changes around this time and notably Simon Nicol returned.

They soon reverted to their original name Fairport Convention, and did so before any other albums were released, thus all subsequent albums were back under their 'proper' name.

Line up for the next 2 albums: Simon Nichol, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg and Bruce Rowland.

Bonny Bunch of Roses released 1977

This album is fundamentally a very traditional style throughout, largely based on English male folk song, but has the distinctive Fairport drum and bass style added which gives it a dramatic and powerful but sparse sound. It is actually quite innovative. Five tracks are of traditional origin, and the other four are written respectively by Dave Pegg, Richard Thompson, Ralph McTell and Dave Swarbrick. Dave Swarbrick concentrates on singing, with little of his fiddle playing present. The album is professionally and carefully recorded, and there is no doubt it has musical merit, however it is not likely to appeal to popular tastes. Some will love it, and some will think it marks a low-point in Fairport's career. The last track Royal Seleccion No. 13 is an instrumental medley in which Swarbrick gets his fiddle out at last.

Traditional songs on this CD: The Eynsham Poacher, Adieu Adieu, The Bonny Bunch of Roses, General Taylor.
Instrumental medley includes Haste to the Wedding. Dashing White Sergeant.

Tipplers' Tales released 1978.

This album contains lots of excellent virtuoso fiddle playing from Swarbrick. About half of the album * is some of Fairport's best ever material, largely due to Swarbrick, and it must surely be their best material done without Sandy Denny. However Fairport Convention had other members who must be allowed to contribute and it seems that the remaining tracks which Swarb did not dominate were rather ordinary, or even poor. The album was commercially unsuccessful, perhaps because it is far from being a collection of pop songs.

The album includes Swarbrick's magnificent epic Jack O'Rion which changes between being gentle and quiet, to fast and powerful, and was ahead of its time, needing good sound equipment to be appreciated properly. The CD does it proper justice. "Spend your money brisk and pop your nose in a jug of this"!

* Best tracks: Ye Marriners All, Three Drunken Maidens, Jack O'Rion, Reynard the Fox, The Widow of Westmoorland.

Something seems to have happened to Dave Swarbrick around this time. His playing had undergone a transformation. (See the Page on Dave Swarbrick on this site).

Sandy Denny, no longer in the band, died in April 1978.

In 1979 the band planned to split up, and did a Farewell Tour.

Farewell Farewell was released late 1979 from the recordings made on the farewell tour. This "final" line-up consisted of Nichol, Swarbrick, Pegg, and Mattacks. Remarkably, despite numerous personnel changes over the decade they were back to the same four members as in 1971. The album is something of a showcase of the various talents and styles of the current band but including some of the core repertoire of their past. There is one of several versions of Matty Groves, this time sung by Nichols with his distinctive interpretation, but unlike the version on the later In Real Time album this performance features Dave Swarbrick on Fiddle. Swarbrick plays a prominent role on this album doing much of the singing and playing plenty or great fiddle.

Track list (original album): Matty Groves/High Road to Linton, Orange Blossom Special (instrumental), John Lee (Swarbrick song), Bridge Over The River Ash (string quartet novelty from Angel Delight), Sir Patrick Spens, Mr Lacey (blues from their early days), Walk Awhile, The Bonny Black Hare, The Journeyman's Grace (Swarbrick song), Meet on the Ledge.

Encore Encore was released much later on CD. It is Farewell Farewell with added bonus tracks.

Bonus tracks: Rubber Band (a single), The Hen's March Through the Midden (instrumental), Flatback Caper (mandolin instrumental medley), Dirty Linen (instrumental medley).

These bonus tracks really are a bonus, not just some old out-takes, and in its extended CD version as Encore Encore this is a really good album, especially if you like Dave Swarbrick. Sound quality is good throughout.

The band split up in 1979. Again this was not to prove permanent.


Cropredy festivals started 1980, initially as an annual reunion of a band which had split up for all other purposes. According to one account they did no recording or performing, apart from the annual Cropredy festival, until 1985.

In 1985, sadly, Dave Swarbrick left because he had to give up playing in loud amplified bands due to the threat to his hearing. He continued performing both solo, and with others. He was replaced by Rick Sanders.

Gladys Leap was released in 1985.

Live album In Real Time was recorded in 1987

This is a good exciting album and includes a dramatic re-working of Matty Groves. The very different violin style of Rick Sanders is evident.

Red and Gold was released in 1989.

Fairport Convention continue to tour and release albums. Their line-up continued to change frequently as it always did. Their live act is a mixture of old and new, with throughly professional production.

Picture shows Simon Nichol, 1999.

Copyright S. J. Farthing.

Links:

Fairport Convention - the official web site.

Dave Swarbrick - The page on this site with further link(s).


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