Fairport Convention

Antiwar songs by Fairport Convention
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Fairport ConventionI Fairport Convention sono un gruppo folk rock inglese. Fondati da Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings e Shaun Frater, i Fairport Convention, iniziando come gruppo di cover di rock della West Coast, sviluppano presto un loro stile che mescola il rock con la musica tradizionale folk inglese, contendendosi il titolo di più grande folk rock band inglese con i Pentangle. Dopo numerosi cambi di formazione si sciolgono nel 1979 per riformarsi per un concerto nel 1985, da allora continuano a suonare e pubblicare dischi. In parte il continuo successo che ancora oggi hanno i Fairport Convention è dovuto all'annuale festival di Cropredy, nell'Oxfordshire, ora rinominato Fairport's Cropredy Convention e che riunisce ogni anno almeno 20.000 fan sin dal 1974.


Fairport Convention is often credited with being the first British folk-rock band. Formed in 1967, Fairport rapidly developed from playing cover versions of American 'west coast' style music to an individual style which melded rock music with traditional English tunes and songs.

Bedevilled by numerous personnel changes throughout its first decade, Fairport Convention was temporarily disbanded in 1979 but played annual reunion concerts until it reformed in 1985. Since then, it has enjoyed stability and continues to tour and record regularly.

In part, the continuing success of Fairport Convention is due to the annual music festival it organises. Cropredy Festival has been held every year since 1974 near Cropredy, a village five miles north of Banbury, Oxfordshire and attracts 20,000 fans.

In 2002 the band was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Fairport Convention played its first concert in a church hall in May 1967. Based in suburban north London, the group had coalesced around a bass guitar player and bandleader named Ashley 'Tyger' Hutchings.

The youngsters 'convened' for rehearsals at a house named Fairport, the family home of rhythm guitarist Simon Nicol. Thus was born the name of a band that has endured for nearly four decades. As well as Hutchings and Nicol, there was lead guitarist Richard Thompson and Shaun Frater on drums. However, that initial line-up only played the one gig. A young drummer, Martin Lamble, was in the church hall audience and he convinced the band that he could do a better job than the incumbent. It was the first of the bewildering flurry of line-up changes that characterised Fairport's first fifteen years.

The group soon augmented its line-up with a female singer, Judy Dyble, which set it apart from the dozens of other bands springing up from the fast-moving youth culture of that summer. Fairport found no shortage of work and was soon a regular act at underground venues such as The Electric Garden, Middle Earth and UFO. The band had only been playing a few months when they caught the ear of Joe Boyd who secured them a contract with Island Records. Boyd suggested they augment the line-up with another male vocalist and so Iain Matthews (who had changed his surname from MacDonald and was spelling his forename 'Ian' at the time) joined the band and the first album, Fairport Convention, was recorded in late 1967 and released in June 1968. Later the band would play with folk guitarist Nick Drake, who also had connections with Joe Boyd and whose popularity would slowly rise after his death in 1974.

At this early stage, Fairport looked to America for material and inspiration. "The two lead vocalist approach appealed to us," Matthews recalls. "and because of our name and onstage presence, lots of people thought we were American, and we were not about to attempt to dispel that presumption." This led to the band being dubbed 'the British Jefferson Airplane'.

By the time the second LP, What We Did On Our Holidays, was released Judy Dyble had been replaced by Sandy Denny, a folk singer who had previously recorded as a soloist and with The Strawbs. The third album, Unhalfbricking, featured a guest appearance by Birmingham folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick. This album, like its predecessor, mixed strong original material with contemporary songs by artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Radio DJ John Peel was a staunch champion of Fairport's music. He played the band's albums on his influential BBC shows. Peel also recorded a number of BBC sessions which were later released later as the album Heyday.


The phrase folk-rock sprung up in the 1960s to describe a genre which brought together electric instruments and folk songs and tunes. Bob Dylan set the trend when he 'went electric' at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965 and on his album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrds developed the trend with their covers of Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man and of Pete Seeger's Turn, Turn, Turn.

Rock journalist Ritchie Unterberger writes in his book Eight Miles High:

"Prior to 1968, rather incredibly, there was not a single British rock group that played electric folk-rock consistently and well. It is thus not too surprising that the band to become roundly acclaimed as the best British folk-rock group, Fairport Convention, took its initial inspiration from American folk-rock, particularly the guitar-oriented California sort."

Although folk-rock was well-established in the USA by 1968, Fairport Convention was the first English band to concentrate on bringing rock instruments and rock arrangements to traditional songs. Initially, the British press (and Fairport Convention's members) titled this mixture 'electric folk' but the term 'folk-rock' soon became the norm. Therefore, although other bands in the UK were experimenting with the folk-rock genre (including The Strawbs and Pentangle), Fairport Convention is widely credited with 'inventing' British folk-rock.

However, Fairport Convention was also developing in other ways. As as well as revivals of traditional material with modern instrumentation and rhythms, bandmembers were increasingly composing original material and Richard Thompson had developed into a talented and inventive guitarist. Fairport Convention even entered the singles charts with Si Tu Dois Partir, a French language version of Bob Dylan's If You Gotta Go. The record just missed the top twenty but got the band a slot on Top Of The Pops, Britain's most popular television pop music programme at the time.


Things were looking rosy when disaster struck. Fairport's van crashed on the M1 motorway on the way home from a gig in Birmingham. Martin Lamble - just 19 years old - and Jeannie Franklyn, Richard Thompson's girlfriend, were killed. The rest of the band suffered injuries of varying severity. The young musicians nearly decided to call it a day. But they didn't and, once recovered, they went back into the studio. Matthews had left the band by then and Dave Mattacks took over the vacant drum stool. The resulting LP, Liege And Lief, was a classic. This was arguably Fairport Convention's finest album and it established British folk-rock as a distinct and influential genre.

Liege And Lief was launched with a sell-out concert in London's Royal Festival Hall late in 1969. Dave Swarbrick had made a big contribution to the project and he now joined the band full-time.

1970s - major changes

Despite the triumph of Liege And Lief, founder member Ashley Hutchings quit to form Steeleye Span. To compound Fairport's problems, Sandy Denny also left the band. Dave Pegg took over on bass guitar and has been in the band ever since, an unbroken stint of 34 years. Sandy Denny was irreplaceable so the band decided to continue without a female singer.

All the band members and their families moved in to The Angel, a former pub in Hertfordshire. There was nearly another tragedy when a runaway lorry crashed into the building. Dave Swarbrick was rudely awoken as the truck demolished his bedroom, leaving him unhurt but covered in rubble.

The next Fairport album was Full House but soon after its release Richard Thompson left the band. Simon Nicol was now the only original member. Dave Swarbrick developed a folk-rock opera called Babbacombe Lee and life in the ex-pub inspired the LP Angel Delight. The two albums were the first time the same Fairport line-up had recorded consecutively - every other release had seen changes in personnel from its predecessor.

Simon Nicol left Fairport early in 1972, followed by Dave Mattacks although both would rejoin later. That left the two Daves, Pegg and Swarbrick, holding the band together. The following few years were dubbed 'Fairport Confusion' as a bewildering sequence of band members came and went. Of the albums released during this period, Fairport Nine and Rosie were probably the most successful.

In 1974, Sandy Denny rejoined Fairport Convention for a couple of years. She is featured on the album Rising With The Moon but she left again in 1976. Having come to the end of the contract with Island Records, Fairport signed up with Vertigo. By now, the line-up had stabilised and Simon Nicol was back in the band. But after two of four contracted albums, Vertigo wanted out – in fact, the label ended up paying Fairport Convention not to make albums.

1979 - "Aww, mama, can this really be the end?"

In 1979 the band had no record deal and Dave Swarbrick's hearing was deteriorating rapidly. Fairport decided to call it a day. The band did a farewell tour and played a final outdoor concert in Cropredy, the Oxfordshire village where Dave and Christine Pegg lived. No record company wanted to release the live recordings of the tour and concert so the Peggs started Woodworm Records and released it themselves.

After a year, Fairport Convention staged a re-union concert in Cropredy and the famous festival was born. Over the next few years, it grew rapidly. Soon Fairport was staging New Year gigs and playing in Scandinavia. The Peggs continued to record and release the Cropredy concerts as 'official bootlegs'. Meanwhile, Dave Pegg had joined Jethro Tull and Simon Nicol had teamed up with Dave Swarbrick in an acoustic duo. In 1985 both Pegg and Nicol had some spare time. Dave Mattacks was free too. They decided to record an album of new material in the Peggs' studio.

History: post-1985

Dave Swarbrick declined to join the new band, so violin virtuoso Ric Sanders, formerly of Soft Machine, was invited to participate. Multi-instrumentalist Martin Allcock was also recruited and the five-piece recorded Fairport's only all-instrumental album Expletive Delighted.

With its mix of old stagers and new blood, this proved to be Fairport Convention's longest-lasting line-up - eleven years.

In the early nineties, a four-piece acoustic line-up emerged, the two versions of Fairport running in parallel. Woodworm continued to record and release the band's studio albums and live 'boots'. Martin Allcock left in the mid-90s and was replaced by Chris Leslie on mandolin and fiddle. Chris proved to be a talented songwriter and has made a significant contribution to the band's repertoire.

In 1998, Dave Mattacks moved to the USA and Gerry Conway, who had travelled a parallel musical road to Fairport for 30 years, took over on drums and percussion.

Into the 21st century

The new century found Fairport in fine form. Concert halls were full and records were selling well. The year 2000 was marked by the very successful 'Y2K' tour and a new studio album, The Wood And The Wire. In 2002, Fairport Convention celebrated 35 years as a band and released a new album, the appropriately titled XXXV. They also commissioned Fairport-branded 'Anniversary Ale', a bottled beer from Wadworth Brewery. The band undertook a gruelling schedule, touring the UK, Europe, Australasia, Europe, the USA and Canada.

Fairport Convention won the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2002 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Their seminal album Liege And Lief was voted 'Best Folk Album Ever' by Radio 2 listeners. Free Reed Records, an independent label, released Fairport Unconventional, a four-CD boxed set of rare and unreleased recordings from the band's 35-year career in 2002.

Fairport Convention is still one of the busiest bands on the folk-rock scene in the UK. The current line-up of Simon Nicol (lead vocal, rhythm and electric guitars), Dave Pegg (backing vocals, bass guitar, mandolin), Ric Sanders (violin), Chris Leslie (lead vocal, fiddle, bouzouki, mandolin) and Gerry Conway (percussion and drums) still packs venues on its frequent tours.

In 2004, The band staged a major fundraiser for Dave Swarbrick at Birmingham Symphony Hall, and played summer dates at home and abroad.

In August 2004, the band's new own-brand label, Matty Grooves Records (the name is a pun on an old murder ballad, "Matty Groves"), released the album Over The Next Hill and Free Reed Records released a four-CD boxed set, Cropredy Capers. In October, Fairport toured the USA and Canada and the year will end with tours by the four-piece acoustic line-up and spin-off band The Dylan Project.