You wouldn’t think, after all these years, there’d be a great deal more to say about Fairport Convention, would you? But seeing as folk STILL relentlessly refer to them as ‘Richard Thompson‘s old band‘, despite the fact that he left in 1971 and featured only on their first five albums (less than a fifth of their studio output!), clearly, it appears we are due a reappraisal. As an added bonus, there are oodles of unreleased tracks comprised within this boxset.
The band’s self titled debut from 1967 is routinely dismissed by fans and surviving band members alike, which is somewhat harsh, as it contains some electrifying tunes, four of which are included here. True, the album is in no way representative of the often devastatingly beautiful brand of folk music through which they would etch their name into to the annals of history, but you can the seeds being sown with covers of standards by Bob Dylan (‘Jack O’Diamonds‘) and Joni Mitchell (‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand‘), with the version from John Peel’s Top Gear programme being the preferred inclusion for this excellent compendium.
Stalwart fans will hardly be too taken aback by the selections from What We Did On Our Holidays, ‘Fotheringay‘ and ‘Meet On The Ledge‘ of course being two of their most famous outings, though the latter track’s ‘funk-folk’ B-side – the splendid ‘Throwaway Street Puzzle‘ is also given a berth here and really serves to remind us that there always has been more to Fairport than meets the eye. An exquisite version of ‘Eastern Rain‘ with Sandy on vocals and a rousing a capella take of ‘Nottamun Town‘ take pride of place amongst the rarities from this period.
Unhalfbricking is arguably where Fairport Convention became more than just another folk band in the eyes of the world. The horrifying events that preceded its release (drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn were both killed in a car accident shortly before its release) somehow serve to make tracks like Denny’s own ‘Who Know Where The Time Goes?‘ seem even more poignant, whilst another Dylan cover, ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now‘, (albeit translated into French, in the form of ‘Si Tu Dois Partir)’, propelled them to fame at what was most probably the most awkward time possible. Still, when you craft songs as magnificent as Thompson’s ‘Genesis Hall‘, you have no choice but to pick yourself up and try to carry on. And carry on they did, with the staggering Liege & Lief album.
If ever there was an album that defined a band coming together to defiantly vanquish its demons, then this was it. From the strident confidence of opener ‘O Come Ye‘ through the fragility of the remarkable interpretation of ‘Reynardine‘, right to the bitter end, you’re there with them, willing everyone on. It’s no surprise that nearly every track from this classic album is represented here in one form or another, whether that is original recording, out-takes, demos or exclusive radio show performances.
The beginning of disc three is taken up with various live recordings, but after that? Well, here’s where it gets really exciting – it ends with six previously unreleased songs that formed the basis of the BBC’s TV programme ‘The Man They Could Not Hang‘, but if that’s not enough, disc four is made up almost entirely of previously unreleased tracks that all but the most avid of bootleg hunters have likely never heard before. These range from the sublime (‘Sheep In The Meadow‘ is a soulful country romp of the highest order) to the amusing/bemusing bathos of the George Formby – perhaps even very early Bowie – like ‘Me With You‘. Whatever your take, this is a truly absorbing listen.
I’ve overrun my allotted word count here, folks, so I’ll just tell you that the remaining discs contain some stupendously brilliant live recordings (especially those from Fairfield Hall) selected tunes from each of their studio albums up to and including 1978’s Tipplers Tales, and some truly striking Top Gear sessions amongst many, many other gems.
In a nutshell, anybody who didn’t already regard Fairport Convention as one of the greatest bands of the past 50 years could do much worse than to invest in this outstanding collection. And if they still don’t think so, then really, they ought to take a long, hard look at themselves. Sensational stuff.
Come All Ye – The First Ten Years is out on July 28th through UMC.
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