Fifty years on the road? It takes some doing, that. But, if what you’re doing, you do as well as anybody in the business – and you can reinvigorate the band every now and again – then it’s all in a day’s work. Fairport Convention came to Hope Street and wonder was found. By Denis Parkinson.
First a confession… let me take you back to 1978 and the moment I heard the John Peel show for the first time as a 14 year old on an illicit transistor radio under my bedroom sheets. First song: Eddie & The Hot Rods with ‘Do Anything You Wanna’ Do’ and my life changed in an instant. My musical taste set in stone, with everything that came before to be disregarded. Punk or nothing.
These days? I’ve changed. Everyone changes. The pleasure of moving backwards through music to discover all I had missed is now an adult joy. So many artists and genres previously dismissed now feed my soul. To my shame, though, some fell through the net…
The fiftieth anniversary tour for Fairport Convention is in town and there is one man in the audience, for the second of their two nights in Liverpool, who is experiencing them for the first time. I’ve heard of the group, of course, and I know some of their history… but the music is new to me. I’m a Fairport Convention tabula rasa with no preconceptions and no expectations.
As the room fills, I feel the warmth of regard that Fairport commands: it feels like everyone knows each other, but I don’t feel excluded. There is a shared expectation… an anticipation. Family. The lights dim and the musicians appear relaxed, confident and down to earth, with no arrogance or affectation. After fifty years (present line-up nineteen years) there is nothing to prove and the playing is stunning. The performance appears effortless. Five expert musicians who know each other, know their audience and know the music. Two sets of traditional folk songs mixed with songs from friends and self-penned compositions. Over two hours of diverse and captivating material delivered with modest and self-deprecating expertise. The anecdotes are endearing – but the jokes are frankly terrible. Groan-out-loud terrible.
There are bittersweet moments, too, as Sandy Denny is celebrated and remembered, with ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’ a haunting highlight. Richard Thompson is also acknowledged, his contribution to Fairport seminal, but clearly one of many. Other highlights include ‘Girl From The Hiring Fair’ and ‘Matty Groves’; the best murder ballad I’ve heard for some time. The encore, ‘Meet Me On The Ledge’, is emotional and stirring and sounds fresh to me – even though everyone else knows all the words.
One thing I’d like more of on this ’50:50@50′ tour, is the darkness that hovers around some of the songs; the themes and traditions of traditional folk and history songs can be domesticated by the perception that they are from another age… we live in difficult times and empathy with the past can be stirring, so let’s explore that a bit more and root about in the shadows. Fifty years of a band is a significant achievement, deserving of respect, admiration and celebration. I may be late to the party, but I thoroughly enjoyed Fairport Convention… and the best parties keep going until everyone arrives.
Let the band play on.
Pic courtesy One Fell Swoop