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Fairport Convention

The best British folk-rock band of the late '60s, Fairport Convention did more than any other act to develop a truly British variation on the folk-rock prototype by drawing upon traditional material and styles indigenous to the British Isles. While the revved-up renditions of traditional British folk tunes drew the most critical attention, the group members were also (at least at the outset) talented songwriters as well as interpreters. They were comfortable with conventional harmony-based folk-rock as well as tunes that drew upon more explicitly traditional sources, and boasted some of the best singers and instrumentalists of the day. A revolving door of personnel changes, however, saw the exit of their most distinguished talents, and basically changed the band into a living museum piece after the early '70s, albeit an enjoyable one with integrity.

When Fairport formed around 1967, their goal was not to revive British folk numbers, but to play harmony- and guitar-based folk-rock in a style strongly influenced by Californian groups of the day (especially the Byrds). The lineup that recorded their self-titled debut album in 1968 featured Richard Thompson, Ian Matthews, and Simon Nicol on guitars; Ashley Hutchings on bass; Judy Dyble on vocals; and Martin Lamble on drums. Most of the members sang, though Matthews and Dyble were the strongest vocalists in this early incarnation; all of their early work, in fact, was characterized by blends of male and female vocals, influenced by such American acts as the Mamas & the Papas and Ian & Sylvia. While their first album was derivative, it had some fine material, and the band was already showing a knack for eclecticism, excavating overlooked songs by Joni Mitchell (then virtually unknown) and Emitt Rhodes.

Fairport Convention didn't reach their peak until Dyble was replaced after the first album in 1968 by Sandy Denny, who had previously recorded both as a solo act and with the Strawbs. Denny's penetrating, resonant style qualified her as the best British folk-rock singer of all time, and provided Fairport with the best vocalist they would ever have. What We Did on Our Holidays (1969) and Unhalfbricking (1969) are their best albums, mixing strong originals, excellent covers of contemporary folk-rock songs by the likes of Mitchell and Dylan, and imaginative revivals of traditional folk songs that mixed electric and acoustic instruments with a beguiling ease.

Matthews had left the band in early 1969, and Lamble (still in his teens) died in an accident involving the group's equipment van in mid-1969. That forced Fairport to regroup, replacing Lamble with Dave Mattacks, and adding Dave Swarbrick on fiddle. Their repertoire, too, became much more traditional in focus, and electrified traditional folk numbers would dominate their next album, Liege and Lief (1969). Here critical thought diverges; some insist that this is unequivocally their peak, marking a final escape from their '60s folk-rock influences into a much more original style. This school of thought severely underestimates their songwriting talents, and others feel that they were at their best when mixing original and outside material, and contemporary and traditional styles, in fact becoming more predictable and derivative when they opted to concentrate on British folk chestnuts.

The Liege and Lief lineup didn't last long; by the end of the '60s, Ashley Hutchings had left to join Steeleye Span, replaced by Dave Pegg. More crucially, Denny was also gone, helping to form Fotheringay. Thompson was still on board for Full House (1970), but by the beginning of 1971 he too had departed, leaving Nicol as the only original member.

Fairport have kept going, on and off (mostly on), for the last 25 years, touring and performing frequently. It may be too harsh to dismiss all of their post-Thompson records out of hand; Angel Delight (1971), the first recorded without the guitarist on board, was actually their highest-charting LP in the U.K., reaching the Top Ten. Nicol's exit in late 1971 erased all vestiges of connections to their salad days. Fairport was now not so much a continuous entity as a concept, carried on by musicians dedicated to the electrified British folk style that had been mapped out on Liege and Lief.

So it continues to this day, supported by a devoted fan base (Dirty Linen, the top American roots music magazine, originally began as a Fairport Convention fanzine). Denny would actually return to the group for about a year and a half in the 1970s, prior to her death in 1978; Nicol rejoined in 1976. Keeping track of Fairport's multitudinous lineup changes is a daunting task, and the group has coexisted on an erratic basis with the various other projects of the most frequent members (Nicol, Mattacks, and Pegg, the last of whom has played with Jethro Tull since the late '70s). They played annual reunion concerts during the 1980s and '90s (sometimes joined on-stage by Fairport alumni like Thompson), events that turned into some of the most popular folk festivals in Europe. They've also released some albums of new material intermittently throughout the last couple of decades, mostly pleasant, unexceptional traditional-oriented outings that appeal primarily to diehards.

The most distinguished graduates of Fairport, however, have continued to shape the British folk and folk-rock scene with notable solo and group projects. Richard Thompson is one of the most critically acclaimed singer/songwriters in the world; Ian Matthews made some interesting recordings as a solo act and with Plainsong and Matthews Southern Comfort; Denny sang with Fotheringay and released several solo albums before her death; and Hutchings carried on the most traditional face of British folk-rock with Steeleye Span, the Albion Band, and the Etchingham Steam Band. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Cropredy Capers (Live)

Disc 1
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Disc 3
Disc 4
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Track List: Fairport UnConventional

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Disc 4

Comments

There will never be another voice like sandy Denny , LUV her.
beautiful song, beautiful voice
Good song, but this recording is rather scratchy.
Great music thanks Pandora excellent pick.
AWESOME MUSIC!

MOONSHADOW
Sandy & Co's rendition of Crazy Man Michael is about as poignant as it gets. It captures man's self-destruc t i v e , albeit oft unintentiona l , nature so well. Impossible to listen to without aching for the afflicted.
This music is beezneez!
I thought I knew alot of music this threw me acurve been zep fan since the 60s wow I guess there is more music than one person can listen to but I am trying!
1st time love it
johnnyohania n
This group appeared on my play list. I can't relate to it. Too English for me. So sorry mates, THUMBS DOWN
jkleven
Does anyone know if Dave Mattacks played with XTC
My last time I saw Fairport the band was at the McDonald club in Erdington in Birmingham in 1969. Me eternal regret is that I was too drunk to appreciate the music. I left for Alaska shortly after. Never even knew that Sandy had died until the late eighties the saddest day of my life when I found out about her death.
shantteyman
Genesis Hall and Now Be Thankful were two of the songs that dragged me away from heavy metal in the early 70's. When I heard the harmonies and Sandy's voice, it turned my ears around ! I was able to discover so much more music because of their influence !
...ah yes, Sandy Denny....& Richard Thompson too...
Sandy Denny was great. Sad to see her life & career were cut short
Beautiful. Loved listening to her since the 70's.
cmyers3402
As great a talent as there ever was. Amazing unique voice, amazing songs, amazing musicians. As perfect as could be..
cowniew
Sandy Denny with Fairport Convention are one of the greatest combinations that I know of even beyond their genre. I'm fortunate to have some of their early records. As her fans know her tragic loss is one of the saddest in music history.
cmyers3402
One of the most haunting voices ever! Still one of my very favorites.An d with comment below, yes I loved Pentangle too. But no comparison. Fairport was truly exceptional. Do you remember that she sang with Led -Zep - The Battle of Evermore, my personal LZ favorite. I think she was the only woman to sing with LZ. Miss ya Sandy
kvons1
Sandy Denny---one of the best female folk singers of our time. Such a tragic and early loss of a truly great talent. Saw Fairport way back in '69---awesom e for the time! RIP: Sandy Denny
Second concert I ever attended was The E Street Band, followed by Aerosmith, and Fairport headlined the show (University of Connecticut, 1973). Fairport - even with Denny and Thompson gone - blew them off the stage. Been one of my favorite bands ever since. The reviewer is absolutely correct, though; the band has never come close to being as good as it was with Denny and Thomspon in the lineup.
nik_dangr
On the cover of the live BBC album, the guy with the curly hair is checking out Sandy Denny's butt. Seriously, though - those guys were good. I love Sandy's voice. Even as much as Christine McVie's.
Love these guys - especially Denny and Thompson. His songs always grip me. Some of you may also be familiar with another great British folk group of the time, Pentangle. Arguable which is better, or more influential or prolific or whatever. Agreeably different. But each has a seat at the table for sure. Eh?
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIR RICHARD!
Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny come on!
cljgibbs
I saw Fairport Convention at the Bath Festival in maybe 69 or 70. As they began to play, it stopped raining and the sun emerged from behind clouds. The atmosphere was so incredible that simultaneous l y , people all got to their feet and started to dance, throwing hay from the many hay bails into the air. For me, it was the highlight of the festival.
Fairport Convention - I got to hear this fabulous band in 2004, playing in a stone barn on a rural farm in West Virginia on a very cold autumn night. They had been booked to play Shepherd University in Shepherdstow n , WV. The show was canceled, and someone in our group said to them "Well,you wanna come over to my farm? I have a big old barn ..." and so it happened. Between sets they joined us around a big bonfire, told stories and jokes, and so much more, late into the night. A fabulous night.
the fine wfmu dj irene trudel played a great sandy denny cut called the north star grassmen and the ravens. splendid
I love the sweet sadness of this group's music.
Love Richard Thompson and all that sail with him. RIP Sandy - the immortal, ever-lovely Sandy Denny...
dveritas
Joyful lamentation, listening to Fairport Convention, again.
Hearing the music reconnects me to something I thought I'd lost.
Thanks, FC.
"Sun Shade" sounds like Garfunkel with his own band behind him.
cmkmann
A great band! and they are still around! They tend to tour small clubs when in the US, and they still have their yearly Cropredy Festival every August in England.
bromide01
I don't know one damn thing about this band.
I agree with the comment on Sandy Denny. Learning more about the music of that era every day - and yes - she was a treasure. I compare her to Margo Timmons of the Junkies, a female singer who has vocals that you remember.
d.alterman
i have loved fairport ever since they covered percy's song by dylan. i miss them too esp. sandy denny in the late 1970s. Dipper NYC
How tragic to have lost Sandy Denny. I miss her every day.
They are/were one of the best bands ever. Richard Thompson is the most amazing rock and folk guitarist I have ever heard (and my 7 year old daughter was very impressed by hearing him LIVE at Brooklyn's Prospect Park!). Sandy Denny was the superlative singer of all. Dave Pegg, Dave Mattucks, Dave Swarbrick and many other members were and are just such excellent musicians. I have introduced a handful of people to their music and they have all become devoted.
If this is your first listen to them,

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