Posts Tagged ‘Fairport Convention’

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Robert Plant called her his “favorite singer out of all the British girls there ever were.” But a compliment of her singing alone undercuts the holistic talents of the musician Sandy Denny. To be sure: Her sublime voice stands on its own in the Anglo-folk canon, but her songwriting and lyricism are equally impressive. Both aspects of her talents remain essential to the fabric of the British folk-rock movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. Though the modern music press frequently portrays Denny as a cartoon-ish caricature of a temperamental singing faerie, she in fact endures, 40 years after her death, as an unexampled lyricist and songwriter, and an equally magnetic performer.

Born Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny and raised in the London suburb of Wimbledon, Denny was inspired early on by her grandmother, Mary Smith MacLean, whom she didn’t know well, but whose presence was fierce. MacLean insisted the young Denny be called “Sandy,” the Scottish shortening of Alexandra. She also brought to Denny’s blood a musical prowess and passion, as she’d been a known balladeer of arcane Scottish traditional tunes in her time.

After finishing primary school Denny began a short stint training as a nurse at a London hospital, at the behest of her prim parents, who didn’t see music as a viable career. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’, and encouraged by her older brother David, she began working out covers by American folk singers, as well as Scottish traditionals, on a hand-me-down acoustic guitar. After learning a few chords and practicing at home, she became an audience fixture among London’s folk music houses, which were inspired by the American folk scenes in Greenwich Village and North Beach in San Francisco, and were spreading like spores across the Big Smoke. Denny soaked in each performer studiously, and often sang covers on the floor as an unpaid warmup between acts.

With a growing passion for music and live performance, Denny became acutely aware that nursing would never be a good fit. In the fall of 1965 she was accepted into a foundation course at Kingston College of Art—required studies for acceptance in a bachelors program—where there was a swelling folk music scene in nearby clubs like The Barge (an actual barge docked on the Thames). She’d already performed at the beloved floating club a couple of times and was becoming engrained in the local folk circuit, hobnobbing with scensters like visiting American Jackson C. Frank, and locals Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, who’d go on to form folk-fusion act Pentangle.

She didn’t last long at university. A busy schedule of performances at local nightclubs led to her earliest recordings with local folkies Johnny Silvo and Alex CampbellAlex Campbell and His Friends and Sandy and Johnny, both released by London’s Saga label in 1967, when she was just 20 years old. On each LP Denny performed covers by Jackson C. Frank and Tom Paxton, as well as a number of traditionals. These earliest LPs endure as momentos of Denny’s budding folk club repertoire. Her stirring version of trad “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” prelude her emotive and heartrending original compositions soon to come.

A chance encounter at The Troubadour coffeehouse swung open a gate for Denny’s interest in songwriting. Dave Cousins of London folk outfit The Strawberry Hill Boys asked Denny to join the group after seeing her perform onstage in the club’s cellar. All Our Own Work by Sandy Denny & The Strawbs was recorded over two weeks in Copenhagen. Twelve songs were captured, including Denny’s breakthrough and most enduring composition, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?,” which showcases her emotive power and palpable solitude simply and immediately in the first verse, over minor-key acoustic guitar:

“Across the purple sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know, it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming,
I have no thought of time.
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the times goes?”

But with the release of that album greatly delayed, the world would have to wait two more years to hear that beauty, on Fairport Convention’s excellent third LP, Unhalfbricking. By the time Denny joined Fairport Convention in 1968, they were already the most besainted act of the British folk-rock scene, having magnetized UFO Club owner and noted producer of the period Joe Boyd, who’d helped them secure deals with Polydor Records and then Island Records. Denny won over the group with a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s “You Never Wanted Me” during her audition and replaced singer Judy Dyble, who’d founded the group with bassist Ashley Hutchings, guitarist Simon Nicol, and guitarist Richard Thompson, notable for his later solo works and collaborations with his wife Linda.

Denny brought a more plaintive, less pop-oriented intensity to the group with her wide vocal register and open-ended songwriting style. Under Denny’s leadership, they became less focused on ape-ing American folk acts, and instead carved out a signature appreciation for British traditional songs and the negative space between notes. The Denny-penned original “Fotheringay,” which opens Fairport’s second album, What We Did on Our Holidays, is the shaky and incongruous LP’s saving grace, a mystical meditation on isolation and death, inspired by the story of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The cover of her second album with the group, Unhalfbricking, released in 1969, features a portrait of Denny’s parents, Neil and Edna, standing outside their family home in Wimbledon—the band barely visible in the background. Though the Unhalfbricking version of “Who Knows…” is notable, and prompted a slew of covers, its full band noodling and subdued vocals temper its fire, making it more pleasant than powerful. Denny stayed on with Fairport through the recording of the heralded album Liege & Lief, their first record comprised mostly of adapted British and Celtic traditional songs, with Denny’s profound delivery front and center. Today, it’s considered the most important record in the British folk-rock movement, a beacon of modernity inspired by antiquity.

Conjecture about Denny’s departure from Fairport Convention abounds to this day. Some cite a new relationship with Australian folk musician Trevor Lucas—others, her increasing thirst for alcohol. Regardless, Denny left the band shortly after the release of their most prestigious album, as unceremoniously as her audition in a humble folk music dive.

Her short-lived collaboration with Lucas, also called Fotheringay, was unremarkable, and Denny soon embarked upon a solo career that yielded mixed results. As magnetic a performer as she was, her personal insecurities and alliance to folk music traditions muddied a clear path to crossover audiences. She wasn’t a pop singer.

Her 1971 solo debut for Island Records, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, is no clearer testament to that. An album comprised of mostly Denny-written songs, the only time it veers off course is when she covers others—Dylan’s “Down in the Flood” and Charles Robins’ “Let’s Jump The Broomstick.” Of the album’s 11 original songs, eight are phenomenal. The title track, a core-rattler. It leaves one to wonder what Denny might have been capable of earlier, if empowered to write and record more originals by her peers in The Strawbs and Fairport Convention.

Her single album with The Strawbs, All Our Own Work, finally saw a release in 1973 via the Hallmark label, a nascent subsidiary of Pickwick International. For the first time, folk-rock fans heard Denny’s masterpiece, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?,” in its purest and most arresting form. Though Denny would die five years later due to a brain hemorrhage, her compositions on the passing of time, loss, love, and tradition, and her unparalleled voice, live on.

All Her Own Work: The Acoustic Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny is without doubt one of the finest singer-songwriters of her generation, in a few short years Sandy Denny helped shape the direction of British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention, and also embarked on a solo career that saw her write some of her most affecting and timeless material.

I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny is as 2CD collection of demos, acoustic recordings and live performances that reveal her music at its most unadorned and personal. As noted by Sandy biographer Mick Houghton, whose superlative study of Sandy’s life and work lends the collection its title, “In the last few years, people have been appreciating Sandy more for her songwriting… If anything, this collection makes it easier to hear the songs themselves because they’re more naked than before.”

With his unique insight into Sandy Denny’s music, Houghton tells us why I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn is an essential addition to Denny’s body of work…

Sandy started out playing around London’s folk clubs in the mid-60s. these demos tap into those roots, To some extent, in her early days she wasn’t really a songwriter at least not a prolific one. She did write the most famous song she’s known for, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’, when she was 18 or 19, in 1965, which is remarkable in itself. But at that time the folk and pop worlds were so distant from each other. Anyone outside of the folk scene wouldn’t have known who she was.

What was important about the early folk world was that it had the first generation of singer-songwriters, but were all men  Bert Jansch, Jackson C Frank, who was her boyfriend for a while; Sandy met Paul Simon, Roy Harper – and I think that probably gave her the confidence to write songs. The unique thing is that she was the only female songwriter at that point. I don’t think she saw herself as a “female songwriter”.

A chance encounter at The Troubadour coffeehouse swung open a gate for Denny’s interest in songwriting. Dave Cousins of London folk outfit The Strawberry Hill Boys asked Denny to join the group after seeing her perform onstage in the club’s cellar. All Our Own Work by Sandy Denny & The Strawbs was recorded over two weeks in Copenhagen. Twelve songs were captured, including Denny’s breakthrough and most enduring composition, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?,” which showcases her emotive power and palpable solitude simply and immediately in the first verse, over minor-key acoustic guitar:

Sandy Denny 1966 - 530

The folk scene gave her the impetus to start writing her own songs, I think the folk idiom was very much the idiom that singer-songwriters came out of, both in the UK and in America, But the other thing to bear in mind is that, at the point when she joined Fairport Convention, they didn’t know who she was, even though she was quite well known on the folk scene.

Fairport Convention’s excellent third LP, Unhalfbricking. Denny joined Fairport Convention in 1968, they were already the most besainted act of the British folk-rock scene, having magnetized UFO Club owner and noted producer of the period Joe Boyd, who’d helped them secure deals with Polydor Records and then Island Records.

Denny won over the group with a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s “You Never Wanted Me” during her audition and replaced singer Judy Dyble, who’d founded the group with bassist Ashley Hutchings, guitarist Simon Nicol, and guitarist Richard Thompson, notable for his later solo works and collaborations with his wife Linda. … Fairport opened an entirely new world for her, after making three albums with them in the space of 18 months, Leige & Lief was a collection of traditional folk songs with no outlet for her own songwriting.

Denny brought a more plaintive, less pop-oriented intensity to the group with her wide vocal register and open-ended songwriting style. Under Denny’s leadership, they became less focused on ape-ing American folk acts, and instead carved out a signature appreciation for British traditional songs and the negative space between notes. The Denny-penned original “Fotheringay,” which opens Fairport’s second album, What We Did on Our Holidays, is the shaky and incongruous LP’s saving grace, a mystical meditation on isolation and death, inspired by the story of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The cover of her second album with the group, Unhalfbricking, released in 1969, features a portrait of Denny’s parents, Neil and Edna, standing outside their family home in Wimbledon—the band barely visible in the background. Though the Unhalfbricking version of “Who Knows…” is notable, and prompted a slew of covers, its full band noodling and subdued vocals temper its fire, making it more pleasant than powerful. Denny stayed on with Fairport through the recording of the heralded album Liege & Lief, their first record comprised mostly of adapted British and Celtic traditional songs, with Denny’s profound delivery front and center. Today, it’s considered the most important record in the British folk-rock movement, a beacon of modernity inspired by antiquity.

Conjecture about Denny’s departure from Fairport Convention abounds to this day. Some cite a new relationship with Australian folk musician Trevor Lucas—others, her increasing thirst for alcohol. Regardless, Denny left the band shortly after the release of their most prestigious album, as unceremoniously as her audition in a humble folk music dive.

Interestingly, after she left Fairport, and after the first Fotheringay album, she only actually recorded one more folk song, ‘Blackwaterside’, on her first solo album. But, at the same time, she never left folk music behind. I think it was still really important to her. She took the language, she took the imagery, but she sort of abandoned folk music stylistically – through the musicians she chose to work with, rather than through anything she was particularly trying to do. I think her music is quite radical, actually. It’s too easy to say, “Oh, she was a folk singer.” But she was a singer-songwriter. She was influenced by early country-rock – The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers and groups like that. She also had a really strong sense of melody and was grounded in classical music. And I think that comes out in her songs. The big shift when you get to the 70s is: prior to Fotheringay she wrote everything on the guitar – so again that takes you back to folk music. But from 1971 onwards, she wrote everything at the piano, which freed her up a lot more and brought all these other influences into play.

Her 1971 solo debut for Island Records, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, is no clearer testament . An album comprised of mostly Denny-written songs, the only time it veers off course is when she covers others—Dylan’s “Down in the Flood” and Charles Robins’ “Let’s Jump The Broomstick.” Of the album’s 11 original songs, eight are phenomenal. The title track, a core-rattler. It leaves one to wonder what Denny might have been capable of earlier, if empowered to write and record more originals by her peers in The Strawbs and Fairport Convention.

Her single album with The Strawbs, All Our Own Work, finally saw a release in 1973 via the Hallmark label, a nascent subsidiary of Pickwick International. For the first time, folk-rock fans heard Denny’s masterpiece, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?,” in its purest and most arresting form. Though Denny would die five years later due to a brain hemorrhage, her compositions on the passing of time, loss, love, and tradition, and her unparalleled voice, live on.

Sandy Denny I've Always Kept A Unicorn Album Cover - 300

Even though all her fans and fellow musicians would say they wished she’d made an acoustic solo album, if you think about it, it wasn’t particularly the norm at the time. And this is the other thing: there weren’t that many other female singer-songwriters around in the UK. The ones that were weren’t that successful – they’d have one hit and that was it. I guess the most successful female singer-songwriter, was Joan Armatrading. But the difference between Sandy and Joan is that Joan didn’t have that folk background. I think her songs have that emotional, simple, almost Van Morrison-like aspect to them. Sandy’s songs didn’t have that. They were far more complex.

Sandy tended to record her music and vocals first, and everything else was added afterwards. Plus a lot of the versions on this collection are demos, which are just Sandy at the piano or on the guitar. That’s the way she recorded. Even if she went back and redid the vocals, this very unadorned version of just about every song she ever did always existed.

One of the great things about this collection is that it’s effectively – you can’t say it’s her “greatest hits” because she didn’t have any hits  but it’s effectively her best-known songs, and most of her best songs, in terms of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’, ‘Solo’, a lot of material from the Sandy album.

She did have this predilection for over-producing herself, and actually encouraging the people she worked with to lay on the strings on with a trowel, or to embellish too much. A lot of the blame for that gets attached to Trevor Lucas, who produced a lot of the albums, or John Wood, who engineered them. She says about her first solo album that the reason it sounded like it did was because John Wood was a “string freak”.

The producer Joe Boyd really wanted Sandy to go truly solo, but whenever she went on tour she would surround herself with a band. So asides from that defence aspect, is there an element of Sandy simply wanting to play with other musicians?.
After the Sandy album [in 1972] she actually spent most of the year performing solo. She did a whole American tour: a month of dates, just her at the piano. And I think that was a pretty awful experience for her, because she was playing stadiums with people like Loggins And Messina or the Steve Miller Band. I think she also toured with Randy Newman, which she enjoyed.

What is interesting is that she did do this famous show at a club called The Howff, in London’s Primrose Hill, at the time that Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was due to come out [1974]. That album is drenched in strings, but she did this show where she previewed all the songs solo and it easily got the best reviews she ever had. Once she’d gotten over her nerves, which would take a couple of songs, she was absolutely captivating. That show was actually taped. John Wood recorded it on Ronnie Lane’s mobile, but the tapes have gone missing.  It seems unlikely that these tapes will ever appear, but you never know. If it’s something that’s completely mis-filed and under a completely different name, who knows? What’s interesting is that Andrew Batt, who compiled I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn, did find three unreleased demos from The Bunch’s album. The Bunch was post-Fotheringay: Trevor Lucas produced and it used all the Fotheringay musicians and the Fairport musicians.

Essentially it was folk-rock musicians making a rock’n’roll album. Andrew found these three demos, which are absolutely fantastic. Sandy was a big Buddy Holly fan – had been since she was a kid – and she does two Buddy Holly songs and a version of The Everly Brothers’ ‘When Will I Be Loved’, which she sings with Linda Thompson, one of her best friends. And they’re absolutely wonderful. The duet with Linda is one of those things you’d say was worth the price of admission alone. It was probably just done in one take, With Richard playing guitar, and Linda and Sandy singing.  I don’t think people should be surprised that she liked rock’n’roll or The Beatles. She was a teenage girl in the early 60s when this whole revolution in music was happening. In a way, you can almost argue that it’s more surprising that she ended up singing folk music… Maybe that separates her from a lot of the other folk singers on the circuit, because I think they were more pure. They liked pure folk music, or they liked blues.

Sandy Denny 1971 - 300

The things that really stands out are the songs from Rendezvous, which was her last album, and the one a lot of people dislike. It is a bit of a mess, but you could argue that it features her best collection of songs, in terms of their structure and some of the things she’s trying out. There are songs on there that are much more soulful than anything she’s done before, and much simpler. It came out in ’77, but didn’t even get released in America, and Sandy died within a year, so people say her career was on the way down. But if you hear those songs in the context of this collection, unadorned, it completely reverses the notion that, creatively, she was in a downward spiral. Anything but. On their own, with just her piano and guitar, all those songs work really well. ‘One Way Donkey Ride’ and ‘I’m A Dreamer’ are fantastic songs.

During her lifetime, people saw Sandy as a singer first and a songwriter second – and, to some extent, people always remember her more as a singer with Fairport Convention. Being a member of Fairport Convention is a really hard thing to shake off; it casts a really long shadow. She never got away from it, and Richard Thompson’s still under it after about 40 albums in almost as many years.

I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny the haunting voice on Led Zep's Battle of Evermore

Robert Plant called her his “favorite singer out of all the British girls there ever were.” But a compliment of her singing alone undercuts the holistic talents of the musician Sandy Denny. To be sure: Her sublime voice stands on its own in the Anglo-folk canon, but her songwriting and lyricism are equally impressive. Both aspects of her talents remain essential to the fabric of the British folk-rock movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, in fact 40 years after her death, as an unexampled lyricist and songwriter, and an equally magnetic performer.

Born Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny and raised in the London suburb of Wimbledon, Denny was inspired early on by her grandmother, Mary Smith MacLean, whom she didn’t know well, but whose presence was fierce. MacLean insisted the young Denny be called “Sandy,” the Scottish shortening of Alexandra. She also brought to Denny’s blood a musical prowess and passion, as she’d been a known balladeer of arcane Scottish traditional tunes in her time.

After finishing primary school Denny began a short stint training as a nurse at a London hospital, at the behest of her prim parents, who didn’t see music as a viable career. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album, and encouraged by her older brother David, she began working out covers by American folk singers, as well as Scottish traditionals, on a hand-me-down acoustic guitar. After learning a few chords and practicing at home, she became an audience fixture among London’s folk music houses, which were inspired by the American folk scenes in Greenwich Village and North Beach in San Francisco, and were spreading like spores across the Big Smoke. Denny soaked in each performer studiously, and often sang covers on the floor as an unpaid warm-up between acts.

Though the Unhalfbricking version of “Who Knows…” is notable, and prompted a slew of covers, its full band noodling and subdued vocals temper its fire, making it more pleasant than powerful. Denny stayed on with Fairport through the recording of the heralded album Liege & Lief, their first record comprised mostly of adapted British and Celtic traditional songs, with Denny’s profound delivery front and center. Today, it’s considered the most important record in the British folk-rock movement, a beacon of modernity inspired by antiquity.

Sandy Denny – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
John Peel Show 1973

Unhalfbricking front

“Unhalfbricking” was the third album by the British folk rock band Fairport Convention and their second album released in 1969. It is seen as a transitional album in their history and marked a further musical move away from American influences towards more traditional English folk songs that had begun on their previous album, What We Did on Our Holidays and reached its peak on the follow-up, Liege & Lief, released later the same year. 1969 was a roller-coaster year for Fairport Convention. In January of that year they released their second album What We Did On Our Holidays, the first with singer Sandy Denny. In May they hit rock bottom with a tragedy that killed two people including one of its members. Miraculously they recovered and released the album that defines the British folk rock revival of that period, the iconic Liege and Lief. By December Sandy Denny and bass player Ashley Hutchings had left the band to form Fotheringay and Steeleye Span and the classic Fairport Convention lineup was no more. And that was not all, for these events book-ended one more album that the band managed to record and release during that prolific period, One of the classic records from that era, “Unhalfbricking”.

The band was going through a Bob Dylan phase at the time, resulting with three covers of his songs on the album. Dylan’s version of Million Dollar Bash, later to appear at the Basement Tapes album but at that point not yet released, came to the band through producer Joe Boyd’s song publishing company which had access to Dylan’s new recorded materials. The great mandolin accompaniment is courtesy of Dave Swarbrick, who made a number of excellent recordings with Martin Carthy between 1965 and 1968, and was called by  Joe Boyd to guest on a number of songs on Unhalfbricking. Another Dylan cover was for a relatively unknown song, If You Gotta Go, Go Now. Dylan recorded it in 1965 for his Bringing It All Back Home album but decided not to include it in the album, instead releasing it as a single in the Netherlands in 1967. Manfred Mann covered the song soon after Dylan recorded it in 1965. Fairport Convention gave it an interesting twist by singing it in French, translated to Si Tu Dois Partir.

Fairport Convention 1969

Fairport Convention was playing a gig at the Middle Earth and thought it would be amusing to do Dylan’s song in French Cajun style, so the band called for volunteers from the audience to help with the translation. Richard Thompson: “About three people turned up, so it was really written by committee, and consequently ended up not very Cajun, French or Dylan.” The studio version is a better attempt at the Cajun style, featuring Dave Swarbrick on fiddle, Richard Thompson on accordion and Trevor Lucas, who later formed Fotheringay with Denny, on triangle. The band was quite inventive when it came to producing interesting sounds in the studio. Joe Boyd, from his book White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s:Martin created the Cajun washboard sound for “Si Tu Dois Partir” by stacking some plastic Eames chairs and running his drumsticks along them. The percussion break was supposed to feature an empty milk bottle lying on the topmost chair, but when the time came it fell and smashed on the floor. I signaled frantically to keep playing. The crash of broken glass was absolutely in time and worked perfectly, a good omen for the session.” The song was released as a single, reaching #21 in the UK singles chart, and got the band its only appearance at Top of the Pops on August 14, 1969.

Of the three Dylan covers Percy’s Song, recorded by Dylan in 1963 for his third album The Times They Are a-Changin‘. The song did not make it into the album and was released some twenty years later on the Biograph collection. The song lyrics are a futile plea to a judge to reconsider a harsh sentence given to a driver in a fatal car accident. Sandy sings a beautiful harmony with Ian Matthews who left the group after their previous album had been the band’s male vocalist Matthews left during the recordings for Unhalfbricking to make his own album Matthews’ Southern Comfort, after recording just one track, “Percy’s Song”, and her interpretation is the best I know for this lesser known Dylan tune. Guitar player Simon Nicol said this of Denny’s vocal on the song: “It needs a voice like Sandy’s to get the shades of emotion across, from moodiness to compassion to outright fury. There’s not many singers can do that.”

One song on Unhalfbricking points to the direction that the band will take on their next album. A Sailor’s Life is a traditional song brought to the band by Sandy Denny. The song, indexed as Roud 237 in the English Folk Dance and Song Society, was previously covered by Judy Collins on her album A Maid of Constant Sorrow in 1961 and by Martin Carthy on his second album from 1966.
Fairport Convention’s version is a milestone in British folk rock, maybe the first time a serious rock interpretation was given to an old ballad. Sheila Chandra, who was inspired by Sandy Denny’s delivery of the song and later covered it herself, found similarities to Indian music in Fairport Convention’s version: “The track is actually a microcosm of 2,000 years of Indian music – it goes from Vedic chanting on two or three notes right through to full improvisations on a fixed note scale. All in one take. The band have realized that all folk music is based upon a drone, and shares a common root. For instance, the way the violin comes in with an insistent repeat of the drone note is reminiscent of the Indian wind instrument the Shenai, and its distant relative the shawm in Irish music. It all connects.” That violin is played by Dave Swarbrick, his finest contribution to the album.

Fairport Convention’s version of this poignant traditional song marks a pivotal point in the development of folk-rock, representing as it does a brilliant fusion of a traditional form with all the dynamic, exploratory approach of modern rock playing. The song had been a part of Sandy Denny’s repertoire when she joined Fairport. As a traditional song it had been known in many forms. A Sailor’s Life starts as a plaintive lament on the fickleness of sailors and the agonised waiting endured by their sweethearts until their return. The terrible irony of her rather bitter condemnation of the sailor’s life as ‘merry’ is brought home by the subsequent tragedy. The singer extols her beloved’s virtues before she sets off to find him. She hails a passing ship and is told that he is feared drowned. Beside herself with grief and despair, she runs her boat against a rock. This could be seen as a metaphor for another tragedy as she takes her own life. The song then echoes the stormy course of the bereaved woman’s grief, as it takes off into a passage of terrific ensemble playing, all instruments interweaving, building to an overwhelming intensity, before settling to a sombre resolution. There are echoes of everything from dirges to hornpipes in an extraordinary composition. The Unhalfbricking album, from which A Sailor’s Life comes, foreshadowed the more overtly folk-rock album Liege & Lief, often considered a classic of its kind. The title Unhalfbricking was taken from a word Sandy Denny came up with in the word game Ghost. The track A Sailor’s Life was done in one take.

Fairport Convention

John Wood, who was the principal sound engineer in the studio, recalls the recording of the song: “Richard and Sandy came in and said “we really think we can only do this once”. They already got Dave Swarbrick in to play on it. We put Sandy in a vocal booth (she had an awful cold that day too) and everybody else in a big semicircle. When you want to cut that sort of track, its not easy for people to work if its all sectioned off, so it was very open and that was it, one take, done. No overdubs.” Dave Swarbrick was given no specific instructions as to what to play on the song other than to just come in when the singing stops. He had fond memories from the session as well: “Sandy had a great band to soar over and a great bunch of musicians who were sympathetic. Richard and Sandy worked closely together. Richard was awesome, of course. That should be his middle name. But the band was cohesive and so special, the chemistry worked and the line-up was sensational.”

Who Knows Where The Time Goes hand written lyrics

I have two favorite songs on this album, and one of them is Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes?. Denny wrote the song early in her career with the original title The Ballad Of Time. She was not yet 20 years of age when she wrote the mature lyrics about the passage of time. She sang it during her short stint with the Strawbs in 1967,  accompanied by Dave Cousins on guitar. Judy Collins gave the song an interpretation in 1968 on her album of the same name and as a B-side on her single Both Sides Now.
The song became one of Denny’s most enduring and beloved songs, and in 2007 it was voted by BBC Radio 2 listeners as their favorite folk rock track of all time. It was the last song to be recorded for “Unhalfbricking”, and the last drummer Martin Lamble will ever record with the band.

The album was recorded in the early months of 1969 at Sound Techniques and Olympic Studios in London. Sound Techniques was a go-to studio for many great psychedelic, rock and folk British acts of the time, including Nick Drake (Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter), Incredible String Band (The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion), Jethro Tull (This Was), John Martyn (Solid Air), Pentangle (Cruel Sister), Pink Floyd (Arnold Layne), Steeleye Span (Parcel Of Rogues) and Fairport alumni Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny. John Wood assembled a roster of first-class musicians who acted as the house band for a great variety of recording sessions. Not surprisingly, many of them were associated with Fairport Convention, including Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway on drums, Danny Thompson, Dave Pegg and Pat Donaldson on bass, Richard Thompson, Jerry Donahue and Simon Nicol on guitars.

“Unhalfbricking” was released in July of 1969, several weeks after the fatal accident on the M1 that killed drummer Martin Lamble and Jeannie Franklin (“Genie the Tailor”, who designed clothes for west-coast pop and rock elites), Richard Thompson’s recent girlfriend. The event questioned the band’s resiliency, and was followed by an amazing period of recovery that gave birth to Liege and Lief. Franklin was immortalized a month later when Jack Bruce dedicated his debut solo album Songs for a Tailor to her, and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer is likely about her as well with the telling lyrics “Blue Jean Baby, L. A. lady/Seamstress for the band”.

Fairport Convention accident news clip

“Unhalfbricking” climbed to a respectable #12 in the UK album chart, its name penned by Sandy Denny who came up with the made-up word in a game of Ghost the band was playing while traveling in their beat up van to shows. Uncharacteristic for its time, the front cover features a single photograph with no indication of the band or album name. Two people, Sandy Denny’s parents, are standing in front of their house on Arthur Road, Wimbledon in the autumn of 1968. In the background we can see the band lounging in the front yard. Even more uncool is the back cover with a picture of the band engaged in the domestic task of having a meal. The whole package smells of looking back at days of yore, keeping a distance from current trends.

A&M Records, who distributed the band’s albums in the US, found the album cover’s concept abnormal and instead decided in a curious creative burst that the average American consumer’s palate might appreciate a photo of three dancing circus elephants with a girl dancing (balancing?) on top. Underestimating the American record buyer’s tolerance to the unknown, the band and album titles were slapped on the US album cover.

The B-side on the single Si Tu Dois Partir went unnoticed at the time but over the years became one of Richard Thompson’s favorite performance songs. It is also my favorite tune on the album, achingly sang by Sandy Denny. It is one of the first in Thompson’s career-long strike of beautiful melancholic songs, the album opener Genesis Hall. Thompson on the topic of the song: “Genesis Hall was the name of a building in London that was occupied by squatters. The police went in and were far too brutal in evicting the people. My father was a policeman at the time, and although he was not involved in this operation, I could see the situation from both the squatters’ and police’s points of view. This was conflicting for me, and I tried to express that.”
The August 1969 issue of the underground newspaper International Times mentions an incident that took place in the Drury Lane Bell Hotel involving police and squatters. It happened in March of that year, when Fairport Convention was in the process of recording Unhalfbricking:  Thompson covers the song from time to time on his live shows, giving it a fantastic acoustic version. A great example is from the first episode of the BBC Songwriter’s Circle series from 2010.
Several reasons why this song moves me: The lyrics, again so mature for a 20 year old who has not written too many songs up to that point. The sad yet somewhat detached mood in which Sandy Denny sings them. The part where the whole band is soaring with her when they sing “Oh, oh, helpless and slow”. The dual guitar work by Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol. Martin Lamble’s drumming, sadly not discussed too often, demonstrating his ability to play very interesting patterns behind the melody as if he was playing a melodic instrument himself. Only a month after the band finished recording the album Lamble died in that car crash. The band went through a rough period of mourning and healing and came out on the other end with the album that defines British folk rock. Check out Richard Thompson’s biography, written by Patrick Humphries. A great resource for Thompson’s fans and an interesting chronicle of Fairport Convention during the time Thompson was with the band.

Ashley Hutchings said in relation to the album cover photograph:

My memory of it is bound up with the terrible car crash. On the back cover we’re all eating around a table. The shirt and the leather waistcoat I’m wearing are what I had on when the crash happened. I can clearly remember them being bloodstained. You don’t forget things like that.

Martin Lamble, a talented musician, died in 1969 in a crash while returning from a gig, aged 19. Dave Swarbrick, a highly influential fiddle player, has had health problems but joined Fairport on stage for a number in August 2010. Simon Nicol has been the band’s lead singer and guitarist since 1975. Ashley Hutchings, an outstanding bassist, has been a major force in music and helps make folk accessible to younger listeners. Richard Thompson has composed many acclaimed songs and tours regularly. He appears in many polls for the greatest guitarists of all time. Sandy Denny composed many great and enduring songs. One of the greatest of English folk artists, she died 21 April 1978, aged 31, following a fall.

Unhalfbricking back

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In 1971, Island Records released a double sampler album called El Pea. This compilation cost the princely sum of £1.99 and featured many fledging artists who would go on to become household names,this album was a revelation, and changed my attitude to music forever.

Island Records started out with a catalogue of Jamaican music but the charismatic founder, Chris Blackwell, soon diversified into an eclectic stable of contemporary acts. Some didn’t make it, some did, but all of them appeared on one or other of the samplers Island Records released in the early 1970s.

The appeal of the samplers was clear. Punters got a chance to hear some of the best new music at a heavily discounted price, whilst the record company got to promote music that did not readily lend itself to radio or TV airplay. Some of the compilations were classic recordings in their own right, and Island Records probably came out with the classiest.

El Pea was released in the UK in 1971, but it has an enduring appeal. This was probably the folkiest of the Island samplers, with the inevitable influence of Joe Boyd. However it had its heavier moments, a touch of prog and a little reggae to make for a heady brew. The album cover was hardly arresting and probably played too much on the pun in its name – a long-playing double LP called… El Pea,  However the slapdash artwork disguises a classic album. They couldn’t even get the track listing right – you might be pleased to see Nick Drake on the album but the track listed as “One Of These Things First”, is actually the even better, astonishing, “Northern Sky”. Another track worth the purchase price is by McDonald and Giles, previously of King Crimson fame, and the album from which the track comes is one of those forgotten gems you won’t regret checking out.

You can’t get El Pea on CD, but all of the tracks are available on subsequently released CDs. Additionally a number of compilation CDs have come out over the years to reprise the glorious days of the Island sampler.

With selections ranging from much-anticipated new albums by superstars Traffic, Free, and Cat Stevens; cult demigods Mott the Hoople and Quintessence; and a handful of names that might well have been new to the average browser: Mike Heron, slipping out of the Incredible String Band with his Smiling Men With Bad Reputations debut; Nick Drake, still laboring away in absolute obscurity; and so on.

There was also a spotlight shone on Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the so-called supergroup whose own eponymous debut was still awaited with baited breath, and the choice of the virtuoso “Knife Edge” over any of the album’s more accessible tracks further confirms El Pea’s validity. Any other label would have gone for “Lucky Man,” knowing that no one could resist its plaintive charms. “Knife Edge” let the ingenue know precisely what to expect from Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

And so it goes on — from Jethro Tull to Blodwyn Pig, from Fairport Convention to Sandy Denny, 21 tracks spread across four sides of vinyl serve up one of the most generous and alluring label samplers you will ever lay your hands on

Side A

A 1 – Traffic – Empty Pages
A2 – Sandy Denny – Late November
A3 – Alan Bown – Thru The Night
A4 – John And Beverley Martyn – Auntie Aviator
A5 – Fairport Convention – Lord Marlborough

Side B
B1 – Jethro Tull – Mother Goose
B2 – Quintessence – Dive Deep
B3 – Amazing Blondel – Spring Season
B4 – McDonald & Giles – Extract From Tomorrow’s People – The Children Of Today
B5 – Tir Na Nog – Our Love Will Not Decay
B6 – Mountain – Don’t Look Around

Side C
C1 – Free – Highway Song
C2 – Incredible String Band – Waiting For You
C3 – Cat Stevens – Wild World
C4 – Bronco – Sudden Street
C5 – Mike Heron – Feast Of Stephen

Side D
D1 – Emerson Lake & Palmer – Knife Edge
D2 – Nick Drake – Northern Sky
D3 – Mott The Hoople – Original Mixed-Up Kid
D4 – Jimmy Cliff – Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving
D5 – Mick Abrahams – Greyhound Bus

Universal Records will issue a seven-CD Fairport Convention box set in July that features ‘key album tracks’, non-album singles, radio sessions and previously unreleased live recordings from all of the classic line-ups

This collection celebrates Fairport’s first 10 years, beginning with their eponymous debut for Polydor in 1968, through all of their albums for Island Records and finishing with tracks from their two albums for Vertigo, The Bonny Bunch of Roses and Tippers Tales.

Out of the 121 tracks included almost half (55 to be exact) are previously unreleased, including alternate takes, live recordings, single mixes and TV performances and the like. As well as the aforementioned album tracks, box highlights include single B-sides, BBC Radio Sessions, five songs from the French TV programme, ‘Pop 2’ (December 1970), five songs from the Television show, ‘The Man They Couldn’t Hang’ (1971) and the audio for an entire concert at The Fairfield Halls, Croydon (December 16th 1973) and more.

Completists may scoff at this not including every last note that the seminal English folk-rock group from recorded during the first decade of its existence, but what is compiled on this seven-CD set is a near-perfect overview of what Fairport Convention has been doing for 50 years. The cream of the collection is previously unreleased live material and radio sessions where guitarists Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson were able to stretch out and show off their copious abilities. The box is also a testament to how sturdy the group’s sound has been as it endured various personnel changes through even its earliest incarnations.

Sleeves notes for this release come courtesy of writer Patrick Humphries. Come All Ye: The First Ten Years will be released on 28th July 2017.

Fairport Convention-Come All Ye Box Set-Exploded Packshot.jpg

Richard Thompson

Celebrated guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson will release Acoustic Classics Vol. II on his own Beeswing record label, distributed via Proper, on August 11th. Richard will play Cropredy Festival in August, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Fairport Convention and tour the UK in October.

On the heels of the success of Acoustic Classics in 2014, Acoustic Classics Vol. II will feature acoustic renderings of classic songs from the Richard Thompson catalogue, some previously recorded by other singers, some previously available only in a band format. A second album Acoustic Rarities will be released later in the year featuring new recordings of some of the more obscure songs in the Thompson catalogue, some previously existing only as cover versions.

Fairport Convention generally have the tag of being ‘the all-time folk-rock band of Britain’ and deservedly so.
“They do in a very worthy sense have the right to be crowned the most important folk-rock band ever”
“They began with a much more American focus to their music, which is often forgotten. It was much less traditional than it became a few years later. They fell back more into being a traditional folk band, but with all the rhythmic and rock sensitivity that would come to them. Back in 1969, Liege & Lief was the seminal album which established British folk-rock as a distinct genre, separate to the hippy mysticism of America’s west coast or the earnest finger-in-the-ear traditionalism of the folk club purists. Paving the way for everyone from Steeleye Span to Lindisfarne, it mingled rock & roll attitude with a sense of indigenous history and myth that stretched back deep into folk memory.

In the first month of the 1970s. Fairport Convention had performed all be it miming, on the British TV institution Top Of The Pops in August 1969, and come within one place of the top 20, with ‘Si Tu Dois Partir,’ their French version of Bob Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now.’

That helped the Fairports album it came from, “Unhalfbricking”, climb to No. 12 in the UK chart. Then, on 17th January, 1970, they entered the bestsellers with a follow-up that, like its predecessor, has become a folk music cornerstone: Liege & Lief, it was the group’s third album inside a year, after Unhalfbricking and before that What We Did On Our Holidays. All of that during a period in which a car crash claimed their original drummer Martin Lamble.

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Sometimes it was difficult to tell traditional tunes apart from those written by the band. Although the supernatural epic “Tam Lin” and adulterous tragedy “Matty Groves” are plainly trad, the beautiful “Crazy Man Michael” was written by guitarist Richard Thompson and violinist Dave Swarbrick, while the melancholy “Farewell Farewell” is an old tune reworked with new lyrics — possibly in response to the fatal road accident on tour .

“Some of those members of Fairport did play with rock bands, including Dave Pegg who played with Jethro Tull, too. But they do in a very worthy sense have the right to be crowned the most important folk-rock band ever.

“I thought I might find something quirky, but I do have to go back to Liege And Lief because it’s the one that put them on the map. It’s the one you can’t escape, their biggie – their Aqualung, if you like!”

1. Come All Ye – 00:00 (Denny, Hutchings)
2. Reynardine – 05:02 (traditional – arr F C)
3. Matty Groves – 09:33 (traditional – arr F C)
4. Farewell Farewell – 17:44 (Thompson)
5. The Deserter – 20:24 (traditional – arr F C)
6. Medley – 24:50 (traditional x4 – arr Swarbrick, F C)
7. Tam Lin – 28:58 (traditional – arr Swarbrick)
8. Crazy Man Michael – 36:12 (Thompson, Swarbrick)

Sandy Denny – Lead Vocals
Richard Thompson – Guitars
Simon Nicol – Guitars
Ashley Hutchings – Bass Guitars
Dave Swarbrick – Violins and Viola
Dave Mattacks – Drums and Percussion

Island Records 1969

Fairport Convention remain a footnote in the careers of Richard Thompson, who was already growing into one of the most remarkable guitarists in British folk and rock , The band also included Ian Matthews and Ric Grech among others.  Heralded as one of the truly great folk rock British bands of the late ’60s. Initially inspired by American rock and folk  ( the band started out as the U.K.’s response to Jefferson Airplane as you can certainly hear in this song ) , they were immersed in songs by such artists as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, the Everly Brothers and Leonard Cohen. Though their take on “Suzanne” which failed to end up on their debut LP, a version was finally released on “Heyday”, a 1987 collection of BBC recordings. first released in 1987. As its title suggests, it consists of live versions of songs recorded for John Peels’s Top Gear radio programmes. They electrify the song and give it an edge only hinted at in the Leonard Cohen original with the gorgeous vocal of Sandy Denny’s. 

Fairport Convention, during 1969, released three albums, culminating in Liege & Lief, which represents a peak in UK folk music, and has a unique, almost otherworldly sound. This article explores that year–1969 in band’s hugely productive, tragic history. The remarkable Joe Boyd provides some insight into the band’s evolution within that brief, tumultuous period. The band signed to Island early on (their first, self-titled album was on Polydor). What followed was a series of albums that defined a special place in the coalescence of “nativist” (in the sense of perpetuating a tradition) music, which evolved from an American “sound” to one that was not only distinctly English, but altogether unique in style: a young, but highly-skilled Richard Thompson wrote and brought a sophistication to his guitar playing that belied his years; coupled with the heavenly voice of Sandy Denny and a group of talented band members, three essential albums resulted: What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and what is considered to be their peak work, Liege and Lief.

In the midst of these records, a road accident killed the drummer and Thompson’s girlfriend, injuring several other members of the band. Although Unhalfbricking may have been a popular album in the UK at the time, Liege and Lief, the album that followed (the road accident) is, in retrospect, considered the more influential, because it reflects the group’s almost complete transition away from an “American” folk orientation. Denny is often credited with this shift in focus. She left Fairport shortly after Liege and Lief to embark on a variety of experiments, including solo work, before returning to the band in 1974. Sadly, she passed away in 1977 at the age of only 31.

Thompson went on to a long career as solo artist after departing from Fairport in 1970 and the band went through various personnel changes thereafter.

Fairport Convention, Unhalfbricking, UK, Deleted, CD album (CDLP), Island, IMCD293, 621600

Fairport Convention - Unhalfbricking CD Front cover

Unhalfbricking

Singer-songwriter Ian Matthews had walked away shortly after recording for the album began, so the vocal duties mostly fell to the forever-beautiful Sandy Denny. Her tremendously expressive voice anchors the stellar guitar work of Richard Thompson (at the time, fast becoming a force in his own right). The passionate drumming of young Martin Lamble and the guest fiddle of Birmingham notable Dave Swarbrick, who would go on to take an active role in the collective until 1984, also stood at the forefront of the work. Furthermore to the departure of Matthews came a shift from American folk-rock to traditional British folk.

The most powerful song and centerpiece of Unhalfbricking is an 11-minute adaptation of “A Sailor’s Life”, a tune recovered from the turn of the 20th century and reworked thoroughly. Beginning with Denny’s forceful reading and twittering, teasing instrumentation, the track develops into a soloing, epic raga on the scale of The Doors’ The End with Thompson’s righteous guitar vigorously trading virtuosity with Swarbrick’s fiddle over a tight rhythm section dirge and less oedipal weight. In due order, this timeless aimed aesthetic would not take full effect until the following album, Liege & Lief, which is widely regarded by critics and fans as their seminal work. As such, three whole Bob Dylan covers fill out the Unhalfbricking tracklisting. A jaunty Cajun French rendition of If You Gotta Go ranks as their only hit single, out of all that history. Though the cut barely missed the UK top 20, it got them on the legacy Tops Of The Pops TV show anyway. Their version of Percy’s Song hits the appropriate stride as well, but the closing Million Dollar Bash ramshackle sing-along seems a little tacky and amateurish. Perhaps three Dylan covers was a bit much for one album.

Even so, the groundwork for immortality had been laid. Denny’s legend was born and Thompson’s was on the rise. However, drummer Martin Lamble died in a tour bus accident along with Thompson’s girlfriend while touring in support of this album, so things would never be the same again. That leaves Unhalfbricking as a time capsule of fun and discovery that cannot be repeated. It’s a moment of fleeting brilliance frozen in time, and a bargain at almost any price.

Fairport Convention, What We Did On Our Holidays - 1st, UK, Deleted, vinyl LP album (LP record), Island, ILPS9092, 252480

The band’s second album, is the best of them all, spilling over with perfect moments and climaxing with Richard Thompson’s ultimate Fairport anthem “Meet on the Ledge”. The songs are not as innocent as on the first album: Thompson’s “Tale in Hard Time” starts with the line “Take the sun from my heart, let me learn to despise”, while Sandy Denny’s medieval-sounding “Fotheringay”, which sounds at first like the story of a princess running away to escape the smothering palace life, turns out to be about Mary Queen of Scots awaiting her execution. Denny shares lead vocals with Iain Matthews, who left after this album, and both are in fine voice. Denny’s singing on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It with Mine” will leave your jaw hanging open. The band begins its journey into British traditional music with “She Moves Through the Fair”. The musicianship and arrangements are first-rate, mixing rock and folk touches with expert balance, and the production is remarkably clear for a 1968 album.

Fairport Convention, What We Did On Our Holidays - 1st, UK, Deleted, vinyl LP album (LP record), Island, ILPS9092, 252480

As usual, I came to this party late.  While the States was enjoying a folk revival in the mid-sixties that led to a range of new sounds from artists like Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene developed a little differently. Joe Boyd, who is credited with helping Dylan “plug in” at Newport, was working the London club scene with bands like Pink Floyd and managed to sign this new folk group—Fairport Convention to capture some of that American folk sound: what resulted was eventually quite different, and led to a series of albums that saw the band develop a far more distinctive sound based on traditional English folk music.

I wasn’t much of a “folkie” growing up in the States in the sixties (I was only ten years old in 1965), though as time went on, I certainly became familiar with some of the traditions- the work songs, the protest songs, and the lilting, story-telling ballads. When I finally got around to hearing some of the Fairport records from the Denny-Thompson era, I was struck by something that transcended all of the elements with which I was already familiar; there was something haunting about Sandy Denny’s voice, and the band wasn’t just strumming through another tired old ballad. The key to this record, and the band’s sound was something that gave the whole band an otherworldly quality: Denny’s voice was often characterized as “ethereal,” but it is more than just that voice; and it wasn’t just well-played folk-rock, either. Instead, I think it was raw talent, leavened, tempered and forged into something different- my guess is that the band members were changed by everything they went through in very short time.

Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief - 1st - VG, UK, Deleted, vinyl LP album (LP record), Island, ILPS9115, 551293

In the decades since its original release, more than one writer has declared Fairport Convention’s Leige and Lief  the definitive British folk-rock album, a distinction it holds at least in part because it grants equal importance to all three parts of that formula. While Fairport had begun dipping their toes into British traditional folk with their stellar version of “A Sailor’s Life” on Unhalfbricking Liege & Lief found them diving head first into the possibilities of England’s musical past, with  Ashley Hutchings digging through the archives at the Cecil Sharp House in search of musical treasure, and the musicians (in particular vocalist Sandy Denny)  eagerly embracing the dark mysteries of this music. (Only two of the album’s eight songs were group originals, though “Crazy Man Michael” and “Come All Ye” hardly stand out from their antique counterparts.) Leige and Lief was also recorded after a tour bus crash claimed the lives of origina Fairport drummer Martin Lamble  and also Richard Thompson’s girlfriend; as the members of the group worked to shake off the tragedy (and break in new drummer  Dave Mattacks  and full-time fiddler Dave Swarbrick ), they became a stronger and more adventurous unit, less interested in the neo-Jefferson Airplane direction of their earlier work and firmly committed to fusing time-worn folk with electric instruments while honoring both. And while Leige and Lief  was the most purely folk-oriented Fairport Convention album to date, it also rocked hard in a thoroughly original and uncompromising way; the “Lark in the Morning” medley swings unrelentingly, the group’s crashing dynamics wring every last ounce of drama from “Tam Lin” and “Matty Groves,” and Thompson and Swarbrick‘s soloing is dazzling throughout. Liege & Lief introduced a large new audience to the beauty of British folk, but Fairport Convention‘s interpretations spoke of the present as much as the past, and the result was timeless music in the best sense of the term.

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Fairport Convention  like many groups in that era – developed rapidly over the course of their first three albums. The dialectic of Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny was driving them towards becoming a very original and successful band when tragedy struck. Their first impulse was to disband, but decided to carry on while vowing never to play the repertoire they had developed with drummer Martin Lamble, who died in the crash. Music From Big Pink was a huge influence during that traumatic spring of 1969. It both barred the way to any further exploration of American roots music – how could a bunch of English kids possibly compete with that?  and inspired them to look for their own roots in the traditions of the British Isles. This new repertoire was driven by a combination of Sandy’s experience in folk clubs, Ashley Hutchings intense research, the addition of ace trad fiddler Dave Swarbrick, Thompson’s blues-avoiding rock guitar virtuosity and the discovery of strict-tempo dance-band drummer Dave Mattacks who steered them clear of rock clichés.

When you take in this body of work now, it is all the more remarkable that the three albums- What We Did on our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief were released within a single year, from January through December, 1969, with the deaths, injuries and marked evolution of their style all occurring within this remarkably brief period.

Among my copies are early UK Island pink labels and pink rims; as seem to be typical of my experience with Island’s output during this period, the pink labels are warmer and sound less “reproduced” but the pink rims are quieter.

If you aren’t familiar with Fairport Convention, at least buy Liege and Lief on an old Island UK pressing. These records aren’t terribly expensive. I think you’ll find, as I have, that this leads you to tap into more undiscovered, rich veins from this era of music-making in England. That so much of this material was first recorded on Island tells you just how influential that label was and remains so.

Sandy Denny

When I finally got around to hearing some of the Fairport records from the Denny-Thompson era, I was struck by something that transcended all of the elements with which I was already familiar; there was something haunting about Sandy Denny’s voice, and the band wasn’t just strumming through another tired old ballad. The key to this record, and the band’s sound was something that gave the whole band an otherworldly quality: Denny’s voice was often characterized as “ethereal,” but it is more than just that voice; and it wasn’t just well-played folk-rock, either. Instead, I think it was raw talent, leavened, tempered and forged into something different- my guess is that the band members were changed by everything they went through in very short time.

Fairport Convention are still performing and have become something of an English institution , but for me , the magic that is in this LP and the other two seminal albums that they recorded in 1969 will never be surpassed . These albums are the equal to anything that was recorded in the sixties

Before her untimely death, Denny managed to squeeze in a duet on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Zoso” album (a/k/a LZ IV) as well write “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (1967), later covered by Judy Collins with great success.

Boyd’s rather remarkable life included organizing European tours of blues and soul artists such as Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, handling the “sound” at the 1965 Newport Festival (where Dylan ‘went’ electric) and operating the UFO Club, where Pink Floyd developed their sound. His book, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960’s recounts much of this in detail and is a fascinating read.