There’s a whole rabbit hole of stuff waiting for you should you choose to follow Fairport Convention‘s well-trodden path across folk, blues and raga-tinged drones. The ‘f’ word can be off-putting…sweat-inducing, even, conjuring mental images of fisherman-jumpered bawlers, red-cheeked and jowly-faced and singing heartily of measles and maidens and mirth-filled merriment. With a finger in the ear and a slap of a corduroyed thigh, throaty voices conjoin in rousing, rasping harmony as a small army of six string plank spankers in real, tangled, crumb-encrusted beards – none of those uber-oiled hairy beehives that hang silkily from the faces of the tattooed hipsters down your local vegan supermarket – bash their way to a rousing, rabbling conclusion.
Book Song, from Fairport’s second album, 1969’s What We Did On Our Holidays, debunks that stereotypical cliché and then some.
Fairport Convention – Book Song
A lilting waltztime ballad, it’s exactly the sort of track that Teenage Fanclub might’ve chosen to cover – or even craftily rewrite and pass of as one of their own – around that peerless time in the mid ’90s when b-sides were pouring from them as freely as the water from a tap. Imagine it sung by Gerry Love, with Norman coming in on pitch-perfect backing vocals. Not so far out of the question, really, especially as on the back cover, Fairport look exactly like a melding together of Bandwagonesque-era Fanclub and White Album-era George Harrison, all collar-bothering hair and close-fitting denim, archtop semi acoustics and Les Pauls. Cool as folk, as some might say.
Double (triple?) tracked harmonies float across a bedrock of zinging Eastern sitars and hammered acoustic guitars, a heady blend of eyes-closed, close-knit vocals, a gently wandering bassline carrying the tune towards the uhming and ahing adlibs. There’s a short but exquisite electric guitar break, all effect-heavy psychedelics and wide-eyed out-thereness, vying for earspace with weeping pedal steel and a screeched whiff of Romany violin. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but listen out for it then repeat and you’ll never forget it.
Sandy Denny singing alongside Simon Nicol and/or Richard Thompson is as natural, honest and unpretentious a vocal as you might ever hear. Falling somewhat like Nico jigsawing herself to The Byrds, the vocal is the light dusting of icing on a particularly groovy cake; rich in content, ideal in small pieces, just enough to leave you wanting more.
The entire album is packed full of organic, rootsy, honest (again) music. Wrapped in a sleeve that unveils new things every time you study it – proper pint pots! The Furry Freak Brothers (and Sister) of folk shaking some action! – the music within is as good a microcosm of Fairport’s ouvre as you can get; Meet On The Ledge, Fotheringay, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Eastern Rain, a handful of traditional reworkings… Worth investigating.
Also there between the Island pink-labelled grooves is Fairport’s terrific version of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine, a slowly unravelling thing of quiet majesty that was first brought to these ears on the personal recommendation by the afore-mentioned Gerry Love. What more of an endorsement do you need?
Fairport Convention – I’ll Keep It With Mine
2 thoughts on “The ‘F’ Word”
It is actually Ian Matthews singing with Sandy on “Book Song”, shortly before he left Fairport to form Matthews Southern Comfort and have a number one hit record with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”. Fairport were really West Coast sounding on their first two lps. The course of 1969 changed all that. The three albums released in 1969… What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Leige & Lief were about as dynamic and revolutionary as anything ever recorded. A 5CD boxset called “Fairport Convention – 5 Classic Albums” and has their first 5 lps (including that amazing 1969 triumvirate) it is very worth picking up and currently sells new for under a tenner on Amazon.
Thanks for a very comprehensive answer. You’re spot on with that ‘West Coast’ reference.
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