Monthly Archives: June 2010

French Leave

Off to southwest France for 10 days tomorrow, so this Blog will be on hold until early July.

Perhaps the fact that ‘Les Bleues’ have contrived to screw up their World Cup campaign even more comprehensively than Ing-er-land will give us common cause with the locals.

This will be home for the next 10 days.  Just don’t mention the World Cup

Watched the England/Algeria game in a pub in Derby on Friday night and there were a lot of really angry people engaged in quite heated discussions afterwards.  I count myself fortunate that my support for the national team has never been more than lukewarm.  Having seen what the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Portugal (to name but 3) have served up I find it hard to believe that anyone could regard England as serious contenders anyway.  The widespread prediction of a fourth-place finish for England now looks more ludicrous than ever.

Anyway, it should soon  be possible to enjoy the tournament without the hype and nonsense that surrounds Capello’s also-rans.  Brazil have impressed more than anyone else, if only because they seem to have learned how to defend impressively whilst still looking good going forward.  Still hoping that Argentina can overcome their defensive limitations, but I suspect they’ll get found out sooner or later.

For now, all of this can go on the back burner as I immerse myself in a regime of red wine, goat’s cheese, confit du canard – all whilst reading lots of books and visiting the odd market.  Should be good.

à bientôt…………..

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Fear and Droning in South Africa….

I’m sure that I won’t be alone in noting that we’re now nearly a week into the World Cup and still await what you might call a genuinely gripping contest.  Reviewing the vaudeville travails of the England squad,  Fabio Capello may have come into the tournament looking like the Coach who was finally going to ‘get things right’, but the ineptitude of England’s performance against the USA  has left him looking  as bereft of inspiration as his predecessors.  Add to that a couple of injury problems in the heart of the defence and it’s clear that the England camp are following a well-worn track and are already forming the wagons into a circle.  If it’s possible, all the pre-tournament bluster about England winning the trophy seems flimsier than ever.

Not that the so-called big guns are exactly covering themselves with glory.  Only Germany’s 4-0 demolition of a limited and ageing Australian side has really quickened the pulses.  Portugal, the Ivory Coast, Argentina and Brazil have all struggled to find their true form and Spain haven’t even played yet.  So far it’s been a tournament for the plucky underdogs – notably New Zealand and North Korea – though there have been no real shock results, just a series of hugely disappointing games.

The local wildlife was unimpressed with Portugal v Ivory Coast

The stadia all look really good and if you can blot out the banshee drone  of the vuvuzelas (good luck with that) then the atmosphere has been vibrant at most games.  Talking of the dreaded vuvuzelas, I see that the BBC are contemplating the introduction of  an audio feed that screens them out.  Can’t happen soon enough for me.  The locals are bullishly asserting that they constitute a uniquely South African ingredient to the flavour of Africa’s first World Cup, so perhaps those involved in England’s bid to bring the tournament here in 2018 could follow this lead.  They could assert that gangs of drunken hooligans will add a uniquely English flavour to the tournament and should be tolerated or even encouraged.

The South Africans are also telling us that vuvuzelas are now becoming a big export item and that every visitor to the country is leaving with at least 2 of them stuffed into their luggage.  I hope that the FA, the Premier League clubs and local police are prepared to implement an immediate ban on people taking them into English grounds.  God knows, the cost of watching a Premiership match in this country is already prohibitive  and that price should at least offer some insurance from sitting right in front of  some moron blowing one of these things relentlessly throughout a tepid 0-0 stalemate.

Also, you just know that some enterprising shyster has already ordered 50,000 of the bloody things in United club colours from Taiwan and will be hawking them in the streets around Old Trafford come August.  Time to root out this particular weed before it gets established.

All English football grounds should have hundreds of these put up immediately!

Back on the pitch, it’s clear that most of what we’ve seen to date has been rather like a ‘phoney war’.  All teams are desperate not to lose their first game and a secure but boring draw is one way of  prolonging  their ambition of negotiating their way out of the group phase.  The tournament will probably only take off once teams are up against a wall and have to win or take an early trip home.  So, what we have seen so far is a lot of fearful and conservative football with everyone terrified of getting hammered. 

In this context, we should perhaps spare a thought for Australia’s Tim Cahill.  Feeling sympathy for Australians is  a concept that leaves me feeling rather queasy, but Cahill’s harsh sending off against Germany and the likely two-match ban he will incur as a result could mean that his World Cup is over unless an uninspired Australian team can redeem themselves in their 2 remaining games.  Considering that he has no doubt been preparing and psyching himself up for this tournament for a couple of years now, it must feel like saving up for a big holiday only to have your hotel burn down on your first night there.  Sport plays such a huge part in the often over-inflated sense of self-esteem flaunted by so many Aussies that his sense of despair is only likely to increase in the coming days.

I still harbour hopes that a tremendously gifted Argentina team are on the point of catching fire and illuminating the tournament.  They are far better going forward than they are in defence where Heinze and Gutierrez are a full-back pairing that make England’s Johnson & Cole look positively accomplished.  Even so to watch Messi, Mascherano and Veron dismantle Nigeria was an intermittent joy and if they can find a clinical finisher among their talented ranks then it could still be their year.

Messi and Veron could ignite the whole tournament

Listening to Culpeper’s Orchard

I was very fortunate to spend a good deal of my late teens,  twenties  and early thirties holidaying and working in Scandinavia.  Of course, I had travelled overseas before, but the opportunity to spend extended periods of time living among and working with ‘the locals’ gave me an appreciation of some different cultures that undoubtedly had a profound and lasting effect on me and still colours my attitudes to this day, although I have paid only one brief  return visit (to Denmark & Sweden) since the end of the 80’s.

My first ‘port of call’ was Denmark – and specifically Copenhagen – where I spent many happy summers in company with my half-Danish girlfriend.  Copenhagen is a great town for lovers and although my girlfriend and I were to part company by the end of the 70’s, I had fallen in love with the whole package; the girl,  the country, the food, the egalitarianism of the culture – and the music.

Well, not all of it.  The languages were a problem, for sure.  I’ve heard Swedes dismiss Danish as a throat disease and it was many years before my English palate could wrap itself around the three extra vowels ( å, æ  &  ø in Danish & Norwegian) and the somewhat ‘smeared’ pronunciation of Danish, with so much of it emanating from the throat.  My girlfriend’s little cousins used to bait me mercilessly by getting me to try to pronounce the name of that most Danish of desserts –  rød grød med fløde – literally, red porridge with cream; a summer fruit compote, often made with redcurrants and served with a swirl of cream.  Delicious to eat, hell to pronounce.

And so to to Scandinavian music….  I first visited Copenhagen in 1972 and was collected from the airport at Kastrup by my girlfriend and her Uncle.  It was late evening and as we had to travel through the heart of the city to get to Valby where the family lived, he detoured along Istedgade, the main artery of Copenhagen’s red-light area.  I’m not sure if he was testing me out to see if I was the usual bumptious Brit obsessed with Danish porn, but I think he was encouraged by my indifference.  We got on very well in fact; away from his day job, he was a very competent jazz pianist  in the John Taylor/Bill Evans mould and he introduced me to a lot of music that I still listen to now – the aforementioned Bill Evans, Taj Mahal, Dollar Brand  and a number of Scandinavian bands, foremost among which were Culpeper’s Orchard.

There was a connection here.  Several floors below in the functionally pleasant tower block where the family lived was the apartment of a young Danish singer/songwriter called Jørgen Thomsen.  He was looking for musicians to work on his repertoire of songs and a chance meeting in the lift and a series of subsequent conversations with the girlfriend’s Uncle led to him joining the band (Kashmir) and playing electric piano on  Jørgen’s first album for Sonet. 

Kashmir even played at the Roskilde Festival in 1971, but Uncle was finding it hard to reconcile the demands of being a rockstar with his day job, so he left.  However another member of that band – a guitarist and pedal steel player called Nils Tuxen had stayed in touch.   He and drummer Ken Gudman  had also left Kashmir and joined another local band – Culpeper’s Orchard.  My first visit coincided with Culpeper playing some gigs in and around the city and we caught up with them at a gig at Copenhagen University.  I was transfixed because they were great – and I will freely confess that my snobby English attitudes hadn’t anticipated that.  Nils Tuxen’s country-ish style blended wonderfully with the blues influences of the other guitarist (probably Nils Henriksen) bassist Michael Friis played a fretless with real panache and Cy Nicklin was a strong frontman with a great voice that echoed Family’s Roger Chapman, except without that weird warbling thing he used to do.  The songs were excellent, too and what’s more the lyrics were in English – because lyricist  Cy was (and is) English.  Before relocating to Denmark, he had even done some recording with an early version of English folk-rockers The Strawbs.  Musically, it would be hard to say that Culpeper sounded exactly like anyone, but influences as diverse as Jefferson Airplane, Peter Green-era but post-blues Fleetwood Mac, early Genesis and the aforementioned Family all spring to mind.  They mixed hard-hitting bluesy rock with more pastoral acoustic stuff and made it work brilliantly.  Seized with enthusiasm, I rushed out to Fona in the city centre and bought a copy of the band’s most recent album, ‘Second Sight’. 

I should really have pushed the boat out and bought a copy of the band’s eponymous first album as well and my failure to do so was to haunt me for the next 20 years.  The first album was really a good deal more impressive than ‘Second Sight’ but it never occurred to me that I would have any problem picking up a copy at some point.  Culpeper were recording for the German Polydor label who were well-known in the UK and with other European bands like Focus, PFM and Can now getting UK releases for their albums, I figured it would only be a question of time before Culpeper made a similar transition.  For whatever reason, that never happened.  I saw them play live again that summer at a Sunday afternoon free concert in the city’s Fælledparken, but Culpeper’s star was already on the wane.  By the time I returned to Denmark 2 years later, they had released a third Polydor album ‘Going for a Song’ , which I have yet to hear all of , but which got pretty lukewarm reviews and sold poorly.  Polydor dropped the band and issued a single disc ‘Best of’ album and that seemed to be that.  But Culpeper were to have one final last hurrah.

Cy Nicklin on stage with Culpeper in the early 70’s

In 1976, I moved to Copenhagen permanently – or so I thought – and to my delight I discovered that the band were active again.  They had shortened their name to simply ‘Culpeper’ (which was what everyone called them anyway) and had signed a deal with Sonet.  The fourth (and to date, final) Culpeper album duly appeared in early 1977.  Titled ‘All dressed up and nowhere to go’ it was a much more polished affair than any of the Polydor stuff.  New guitarist Thomas Pugaard- Møller was a bit of an ‘effects wizard’, using synths and pedals to spritz up his sound and the whole album was much better produced – someone had been paying attention to what the likes of Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder had been up to in the studio.  By any reckoning, ‘All dressed up and nowhere to go’ was a cracking album, but it proved to be the end of the road for Culpeper.  Since then, all we’ve had are some bootlegged copies of the first two albums (of which more in a moment) and the proper re-release-with-extra-tracks job done on the same two albums by Karma Records of Copenhagen a few years back.

There was however one last bittersweet night in the winter of 76/77, when we saw the band play live on what was probably their final tour.  The gig was at Saltlageret (The Salt Warehouse), an old building in the centre of town that had been converted into a delightful venue.  As far as I can tell, it’s now been demolished and replaced with a Planetarium…..  There I was introduced to Culpeper’s new drummer – another Brit – who, just like me, originated from Northamptonshire.  His name was Tom McEwan and he had a day job as a presenter of children’s TV shows on Danish TV.  He has since gone on to fame and fortune in Denmark as a stand-up comedian.  Anyway, the band played up a storm that night, playing  two lengthy sets and much of the new album, but also many old favourites, as well.

Talk of those ‘old favourites’  brings me back to the first (and probably the best) Culpeper album.  I had recorded a copy of the album on to a cassette – one of the first cassettes I ever owned, assuming that I could and would pick up a copy of the vinyl album in due course.  Yet, when I moved to Copenhagen in 1976 and tried to buy a copy, I was told that all of Culpeper’s Polydor albums had been deleted except for the ‘Best of’ collection.  From that point onwards, I scoured second-hand record shops across the city and even junk shops in what proved a fruitless search for the album.

Equally fruitless were my attempts to settle in Denmark; the girlfriend and I were approaching the end of our long road together and I moved back to the UK in 1977.  I thought that my Scandinavian adventures were over, but in fact I was to return within 4 years to a new country (Norway) and a whole new set of adventures.  Think I’ll save that saga for another time….

As for the album, once the internet began to become a factor in everyone’s lives, I felt sure that I would eventually track down a copy.  Sure enough, I would occasionally find some obscure website – often German in origin – where copies of the vinyl album would be advertised at ludicrous prices – over £100 in some cases.  I nursed along my now geriatric cassette and waited.  In reality, by the end of the 80’s, I was busily unloading my vinyl collection as fast as possible and moving over to CD.  I am very unsentimental about vinyl and think the people who sing its praises these days need to get out more.  From my point of view, CD’s are more economical in terms of storage, less easy to damage and have the possibility of a far longer playing time. 

 I know, I know; I’ve heard all the arguments about the alleged ‘warmth’ of the sound of vinyl compared to CD, but in all honesty, that stuff is for hi-fi nerds only in my opinion.  Like most people of my age, I listen to music far less actively than I used to in my teens and twenties.  Often music is on whilst I am writing or cooking or reading and as long as the reproduction has clarity, I am usually content.  In point of fact, I don’t really think I heard Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Electric Ladyland‘ in the way he probably intended until I bought a remastered CD version. That had so much more depth than my old vinyl version, it was almost like listening to a totally different album.

Anyway, I blocked out the major items in my CD collection fairly early on, but there were  (and still are, ‘Going for a Song’ for example) obscurities that continue to elude me.  In those days (the early 90’s), there were 2 extremely good secondhand record shops in Birmingham City Centre – Swordfish and The Plastic Factory, of which only Swordfish remains.  I was in The Plastic Factory one day when I had a moment of near epiphany as I came across both Culpeper’s first and second albums on CD.  I won’t dwell on the moment but if you’ve ever finally tracked down something you’ve been looking for over a 20 year period, you may have an inkling of how I felt.

Of course, I was delighted to have both albums on CD and my wonderment only increased when I realised from the packaging that the label releasing the album (Progressive Line) were Australian

Now, I am fairly sure that Progressive Line were bootleggers and whilst they may or may not have been based in Australia,  another thing quickly became clear – the cd’s were actually vinyl transfers with all the associated clicks, pops and turntable rumble you get with vinyl.  To make matters worse, the version of ‘Second Sight’  had a big scratch running through the central part of the album’s best track.  Only once Karma Records released digital versions transcribed from the master tapes a few years back was this problem resolved.

My near 40-year obsession with this obscure but memorable Danish band is an itch that is still only three-quarters scratched.  I have yet to hear ‘Going for a Song ‘ in its entirety and neither that or ‘All dressed up…’ are currently available on CD, though I do have an acceptable CD-R of the latter.  The guy from Karma Records told me that he has no plans to release either, so that could well be it unless some kindly soul with a copy of ‘Going for a Song’ reads this and decides to take pity on an ageing vinyl junkie.   If that person is you, my e-mail address is on the Front Page of the site.  And I will be nominating you for sainthood, an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize….

Tom Bellamy Update

The Boy Wonder has been in touch to tell me of a few upcoming gigs, as follows:

19th June – ‘Tower of Song’, Cotteridge, Birmingham

10th July – The Globe, Hay-on-Wye

27th August – Shambala Festival, Northamptonshire

More to be added once Tom lets me know….

Hate Object

 

This is a vuvuzela

It’s a long brightly-coloured horn, originally made from tin or aluminium, but latterly of plastic.

It makes a monotonous, braying noise like a drunken rhinoceros gargling with a sack of drawing pins.

South African football fans like to go to matches and blow their vuvuzelas in impromptu choirs of thousands of the damned things.  I watched a commentary-free feed of England’s final warm-up game against the United Zirconium All-Stars  (something like that anyway – 90 minutes of almost unremitting tedium, since you ask) and these things were blaring away mindlessly for the entire game.  The only thing worse would have been to actually be there in the stadium with no volume control.

Vuvuzelas are likely to be an irksome, boring and omnipresent feature of the forthcoming World Cup, along with brain-dead TV directors who just have to cut away from the action to show us (yawn….) yet another boring Mexican Wave. Colour me enthralled.

Watching the games with the volume on zero is becoming a real possibility.  The prospect of the fatuous John Motson droning mind-numbing  inconsequentialities to an accompaniment of umpteen thousand vuvuzelas is enough to make me want to eat my own head.

Rafa and schadenfreude

English is such a versatile and comprehensive language that it always comes as something of a surprise when you encounter a concept that it cannot readily express.  Just such a conundrum comes with the guilty pleasure of revelling in the misfortunes of others; perhaps all that stiff-upper-lippery and alleged English sense of ‘fair play’ frowned on such a weasellish concept and refused to acknowledge it by giving it a name.

Happily, our cousins over the water in Germany have no such scruples and thus it is that the eminently Teutonic word ‘schadenfreude‘ has gained much popular usage in recent times.  ‘Googling’ Liverpool FC and ‘schadenfreude’ together brings up over 2,600 results, many of them earnest LFC forums discussing the demise of both Rafa Benitez and his (former) club, something that encourages me to believe that I am far from being alone in revelling in the apparently endless series of screw-ups perpetrated by Benitez and his former bosses since their last substantial success (the 2006 FA Cup win).

Routinely dismissed as ‘The Spanish Waiter’ by many United fans, Benitez started his tenure well but was increasingly mired in the awful politics of Liverpool FC  in recent years.  He also showed poor judgement in the transfer market – for every success (Torres, Benayoun) there were a whole series of failures (Voronin, Babel, Insua, Arbeloa, Aquilani, selling Alonso, buying then not playing Robbie Keane etc etc).  Rafa spent shedloads of money in pursuit of that elusive 19th Championship but has taken the club backwards instead of forwards.  Now, with Torres disgruntled and Gerrard having just turned 30, with no money to speak of for the new manager to spend and with the new Stanley Park stadium as far away as ever, the prospects for the Dippers remain bleak.  And, it should be said, the Glazers look like a bunch of philanthropist sweeties compared to Gillett and Hicks.

“Taxi!!!”

So, all is not quite lost and it should be possible for United fans to bask in the discomfiture of Liverpool fans for some years to come.  Rafa will be missed, if only because his talent for shooting himself in the foot was so spectacular.  In common with many United fans, I was actually hoping that he would dig his heels in and stay, preferably holding out for the full £16 million compensation that was due to him.

Anyway, Fergie has seen off another would-be pretender to his unchallenged status as the most successful British manager of all time.  There remains the small matter of 3 more European Cups and 1 more Premiership to put us up where we really belong, but we’ll get there eventually.

I read a comment somewhere on the www recently from a Leeds fan, who (surprisingly) cited Liverpool fans as the most unpleasant of all he had encountered, simply because they behave as though the whole Dalglish-Rush-Souness era happened only last year.  They still have ludicrous expectations of what is a monumentally average team (particularly when – as is often the case – Torres is injured) and behave as though their club is still up there with the best.  In all probability, only the expectations of Newcastle fans are more ludicrous still.  Even so, I think a 7th place finish in the Premier League and a place in next season’s Johnstone’s Paint Europa League  should have the effect of lowering expectations in Dipperland for the time being at least.

United fans will be interested to see who Liverpool line up to replace Rafa.  Most of the top European coaches surely won’t touch the job with a ten-foot pole given the financial meltdown that will probably preclude anything but the most modest of summer purchases, not to mention the chaos at the top end of the club. 

So, a British coach is likely – might I suggest a candidate?  A hugely-experienced England defender with well over 80 caps and massive amounts of Champions League experience,  a player now in the twilight of his playing career who could still do a decent Player/Coach job for a year or so, a man who knows what’s needed to win the Premier League and who already has a special bond with the Liverpool faithful.  Step forward Gary Neville……

Listening to Fairport Convention

The BBC and Island Records have just collaborated on the release of a 4-CD set of Fairport Convention’s BBC sessions between 1967 and 1974.  This covers the transformation of Fairport from a West Coast-influenced band playing lots of cover versions to a band that effectively wrote the book on blending rock music with traditional English folk influences. Much of this stuff has been around for a while on various bootlegs, additional tracks on ‘expanded’ albums and also on the 1976 (cassette) and 1987 (cd) release ‘Heyday’ which concentrates on the 1968-9 era.

Sound quality on the early tracks isn’t great, frankly, probably because many of them have been lifted from illegally-taped recordings made by radio listeners,  but the announcer (David Symonds, in all probability) who introduces ‘One sure thing’ as the work of  a British version of Jefferson Airplane isn’t far from the mark.  Fairport founders Simon Nicol and Ashley Hutchings added Richard Thompson on guitar, replaced original drummer Shaun Frater with Martin Lamble and brought singers Judy Dyble & Ian Matthews (nee MacDonald) into the band.  It was this line-up that signed with Joe Boyd’s Witchseason Productions, played many 1967 London gigs at venues like UFO and Middle Earth and released an eclectic debut album on Polydor.  Although the album featured some cover versions such as Joni Mitchell’s ‘Chelsea Morning’ and Dylan’s ‘Jack O’Diamonds’, Boyd allegedly vetoed a number of other covers that formed a regular part of Fairport’s repertoire  at the time.  Several of these covers appear on the early part of the BBC /Island set, including Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’and Richard Farina’s ‘Reno, Nevada’, the latter providing Thompson with a vehicle for an extended guitar workout at early live gigs.

Early Fairport with Judy Dyble (1967)

Hindsight has probably been kinder to the  Polydor debut album than contemporary reviewers were. It can now be seen as a terrific hybrid of British and American styles, but at the time, it didn’t sell at all well.  Polydor passed on the chance to release a second album and Fairport – along with many other Witchseason artists (Nick Drake, Dr Strangely Strange , John Martyn & The Incredible String Band) made their way to the more sympathetic environment offered by Island Records.  The second Fairport album – ‘What we did on our holidays’ – was the first of a flurry of  releases from the band in 1969.

By this point, Judy Dyble had left the band and formed Trader Horne with ex-Them member Jackie McCaulay.  She was replaced by Sandy Denny, who had recorded solo and with The Strawbs.  Of the auditions to replace Dyble, Simon Nicol said that Denny stood out like ‘a clean glass in a sink full of dirty dishes’. Denny’s arrival heralded the first flowering of the  British folk influence which has been a cornerstone of Fairport’s style ever since. ‘What we did on our holidays’ featured far fewer cover versions, featuring instead adaptations of traditional songs like ‘Nottamun Town’ and ‘ She moves through the fair’. The album is also notable for Richard Thompson’s emergence as a songwriter – particularly with ”A Tale in Hard Time’ and ‘Meet on the ledge’.

‘Holidays’ was swiftly followed by ‘Unhalfbricking’, an album that bucked the trend towards original material by featuring no less than three Bob Dylan songs.  It was, however, also notable for Thompson’s ‘Genesis Hall’ and Denny’s ‘Who knows where the time goes?’  The latter was covered to great effect by Judy Collins and helped to spread Fairport’s name further afield.  Matthews left during the sessions for the album to form Matthews Southern Comfort, allowing Denny to adopt a more central role in the band.  However, the most notable song on the album in terms of Fairport’s future development was ‘A Sailor’s Life’,  an 11-minute version of an 18th century folk song recorded in one take.  Both ‘A Sailor’s Life’ and the band’s cod-French version of Dylan’s ‘If you gotta go, go now’ (‘Si tu dois partir’) featured the fiddle-playing of Dave Swarbrick.

It’s hard to say what might have happened to the band had they not suffered a serious car crash in May 1969, just before the realease of ‘Unhalfbricking’.  Drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn were both killed in the crash and though the other band members survived with only minor injuries, the crash had a severe effect on them.  Simon Nicol has talked of how they speculated about whether or not they should call it a day, on the basis that  “It had given us a lot but now it had taken away a lot: was it worth it if it was going to cost people their lives?”

The alternative American ‘Holidays’ cover with Sandy Denny (1969)

After some reflection, Fairport elected to continue with Dave Mattacks drafted in as Lambert’s replacement and Swarbrick added as a permanent member.  They were soon back in the studio recording ‘Liege and Lief’ , an album that featured Fairport staples ‘Tam Lin’ and ‘Matty Groves’ as well as a fiddle medley from Swarbrick.

The transformation of Fairport  from West Coast cover band to English folk traditionalism was effectively complete and with Swarbrick and Denny assuming an increasingly major role in proceedings, Fairport’s course for the next 40 years was established.  Hutchings wanted an even more traditionalist approach, so he  left after ‘Liege and Lief’ to  form the ultra-traditional Steeleye Span and Thompson left to go solo in 1971.

‘Liege and Lief’ is often seen as a benchmark for English folk-rock and far be it from me to disagree.  However, for all the critical approbation that has come its way over the years, it was at this point that I began to lose interest in Fairport Convention.  I should probably ‘come clean’ at this point and say that I have a limited tolerance for English traditional folk music.  History and tradition are all well and good but not at the expense of creativity.  All too often in the coming years I found that Fairport, Steeleye Span and fellow travellers were hamstrung by their insistence on allowing themselves to be limited by the demands of the format within which they were operating.  To me, the borderlands between various styles are often the most rewarding and both Denny & Thompson went on to produce work (Denny, alone and with Fotheringay, Thompson on the records he made with his then-wife, Linda Peters) that was far more stimulating simply because it avoided the comfortable options offered by the ‘folk tradition’ .  Would Fairport’s orthodoxy have permitted a ‘Late November’ , ‘The Sea’ or ‘The Great Valerio’?  I suspect not.

All of which means that I find the earlier selections from this BBC/Island box set to be by far and away the most arresting.  If we are to be strictly chronological about this, then Disc 4  (The ‘bootleg’ recordings)  followed by Disc 1 (the early Sandy Denny-era stuff) offer some fascinating insights into this stage of Fairport’s career.  As well as previously-extant covers, we get a further batch here including a number of Joni Mitchell songs from her first two albums, such as ‘Night & the City’ and ‘Marcie’ , as well as the Everly Brothers’ ‘Gone, gone, gone’  (recently revived by Alison Krauss & Robert Plant) and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a wire’.  Whilst these songs may not be original, the material arguably allows a greater degree of flexibility in the arrangements than later ‘folkier’ material.

I have no doubt that many readers would not endorse my views regarding the relative worth of 1967/8 era Fairport and the 70’s era ‘folky’ Fairport.  Then again, you’re either a lover of traditional English folk or you’re not.  Personally, I’ve always found it a bit limited in its scope.  In the end, I think Fairport became a bit too comfortable with their jigs and reels, whereas I never did, to be honest.  To each their own, I suppose…..