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(50:27; Matty Grooves)
In 1970, Fairport Convention released their fifth studio album, and not for the first time they had been going through significant change. Both founder member Ashley Hutchings and singer Sandy Denny had left the band after recordings had been completed for the previous album, ‘Liege & Lief’, and the decision had been made not to bring in another female singer but instead rely on those already in the band, bringing in bassist Dave Pegg. The line-up was Dave Swarbrick (vocals, fiddle, viola, mandolin), Richard Thompson (vocals, electric guitar), Dave Pegg (vocals, bass guitar, mandolin), Dave Mattacks (drums, percussion, harmonium, bodhran) and Simon Nicol (vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, bass guitar, electric dulcimer) and were to only record this one album, with Thompson leaving the following year to pursue a solo career. This means that in 2020 it was the fiftieth anniversary of the album, so plans were made to celebrate it at the annual Cropredy Festival until a little thing called Covid got in the way, so instead the line-up reconvened in 2020 (with Chris Leslie taking the place of the much-missed Swarb who died in 2016). To any Fairport fan, every song on this album is an old friend, as while it will have been a regular visitor to everyone’s players over the years, many of the songs have been staples in the band’s repertoire, and Cropredy is always a great place to catch up on songs they may not have played for a while (having a four hour headline as well as an acoustic set does give them the room to expand). The difference for me on this release is hearing them all back to back with Thompson playing a pivotal role – he left in 1971, and although there have been some fine guitarists in the band since then, they have pursued the majority of their career without a lead guitarist, as when you have had one of the finest guitarists in the world, who could you turn to? I travelled back to Cropredy from New Zealand in 2017 for their fiftieth anniversary, so this was recorded at their 55th, and apart from a minor break some 40 years ago they have been touring annually ever since, so is it any surprise they are incredibly tight? Peggy never left, Simon took some years off in the Seventies for good behaviour, but apart from that has been there from the very beginning, Richard Thompson has toured the world consistently either solo or in multiple different types of line-ups, Dave Mattacks has never stopped playing with major artists like Paul McCartney although at this point he had not been a constant member of the band since 1999 (although with the departure of Gerry Conway he again inhabits the drum stool) while Chris Leslie has been a constant since he joined in 96. They are all musicians’ musicians, and I hate to think how many albums Peggy has played on given he was such an in-demand session bassist for the likes of Nick Drake and others, while he was of course a member of Jethro Tull for some years. Here we have incredible musicians playing the songs from a wonderful album in front of people who know every song intimately. Is it really any surprise that this is simply awesome? Absolutely essential for all fans of folk rock.
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