Friday 23rd February 2018
I have a confession to make – I’d never seen Fairport Convention play live before tonight, nor had I any of their albums in my collection. There, that’s cleared the air – for me, at least.
When the acclaimed “fathers of folk-rock” formed back in 1967 I was living in Dublin, not quite a teenager but discovering a love for music that has remained with me to this day. Back then Dublin had yet to become a venue for European stag nights, had little in the way of purpose-built music venues and because of that, attracted few touring bands.
Irish radio provided me with a diet of The Dubliners, The Wolf Tones and The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem alongside Frank Sinatra. In a world before Google and Wikipedia and listings websites such as GrapevineLIVE, I kept in touch by reading New Musical Express in the hope of finding a well know act playing in Dublin, and by the good old fashioned method of reading posters stuck to lamp posts!
Through this I discovered an Irish band called Horslips – and for me, folk rock was born. From there is was a hop skip and a jump to Steeleye Span and a realisation that folk music was all about people’s lives, not songs hankering back to times long past.
Although Fairport did play Dublin’s National (boxing) Stadium in the early 70s our paths never crossed paths so tonight it was time to put that right at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds in a show organised by the most excellent Milkmaid Folk Club.
Opening the evening were Winter Wilson, a self deprecating, talented husband and wife duo. That Fairport’s Ric Sanders introduced them spoke volumes. That the whole band joined them for their last number, a measure of the respect they have for their fellow musicians.
But what of Fairport? They opened with the relatively new “Jewel in the Crown”, an anthemic song whose lyrics are not without irony. From there it was back to 1969 “Crazy Man Michael” then fast forward to the very new “Our Bus Rolls On” – for a Fairport newbie like me this was the perfect show to get a flavour of why this band have been going for over fifty years.
Fairport Convention’s line up has changed organically over time. As with any living, breathing entity they are subject to the vagaries of life, to whims and changes of circumstance. But the creature that is Fairport Convention lives on, the sum of a variety of components which come together to create a signature sound. Ralph McTell’s song “Clear Water” –likening the band to a trading ship gets it right: ‘Comedy and tragedy…. The port and starboard we sail in between’.
There was so much more; Ric Saunders comedy – oh dear, eight character passwords! But his fiddle playing a complete joy – I could have listened to “The Galivant” all evening. Simon Nicol’s rendition of Sandy Denny’s classic “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” was a fitting tribute to the songwriter for whom, he said, Fairport was happy to be her backing band.
Too soon, it seemed, it was all over as the band finally sang a folk song – a trade descriptions thing apparently! It was back to the sixties and “Matty Groves” – always good to finish with an adulterous tryst! With the crowd stamping and clapping for more the band returned as a seven piece, re-joined by Kip and Dave of Winter Wilson to round out the evening with, what else but “Meet on the Ledge”.
A gentleman beside me had traveled from Norwich. He was full of praise for The Apex itself: “It’s a wonderful venue, we have nothing like this in Norwich”. The band too had praise for this excellent space, extolling us to use it, to buy tickets to something new, to keep music live – a band after our own heart. Why has it taken me so long to discover them?