Posts Tagged ‘Joe Boyd’

Unhalfbricking front

1969 was a roller-coaster year for Folk Rock band Fairport Convention. In January of that year they released their second album “What We Did On Our Holidays”, the first one to feature 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 Fairport at that time, “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”.

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 background we can see the band lounging in the front yard. Clever positioning of the band members’ heads, one per rectangle in the fence. 

Fairport Convention 1969

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 for the unknown, the band and album titles were slapped on the US album cover.

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 on the Basement Tapes album but at that point not yet released, The song 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 had 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 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, in his book White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s recalls: “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 signalled 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 the UK singles chart, and got the band its first appearance at Top of the Pops on August 14th, 1969.

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 favourite performance songs. It is also my favourite 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. 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. 

The third of the Dylan cover’s is 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 Denny sings a beautiful harmony with Ian Matthews who had left the group after their previous album, 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 the band would 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 this album.

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.”

I have two favourite 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. 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 favourite folk rock track of all time. It was the last song to be recorded for Unhalfbricking, and the last drummer Martin Lamble would 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 back

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The Man Upstairs released back in 2014, made with producer Joe Boyd (Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention) and was envisioned as “a kind of Judy Collins 1965-era album: half covers, half originals.” Robyn Hitchcock has now shared an album of outtakes from the record, naming it the  “The Man Downstairs Demos & Rarities” it is now available for download and limited edition CD exclusively through Bandcamp.

These songs were recorded by Charlie Francis and Jessica Corcoran in 2013 in the lead up to making “The Man Upstairs” album. These previously unreleased versions of “River Man”, “Arnold Layne” and “I Pray When I’m Drunk”, as well as demos for “All Love And No Peace” and “Cavendish Square” extending the concept of the original album.

“These songs were mostly recorded in 2013 as demos for ‘The Man Upstairs,'” says Robyn. ” in his attic, and in many cases didn’t survive being re-cut with Joe Boyd in London when it came to session time.” Listen to the whole thing below.

Robyn Hitchcock is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist. After leading The Soft Boys in the late 1970s and releasing the influential Underwater Moonlight, Hitchcock launched a prolific solo career. Robyn has also been selling some of his paintings online, and giving a portion of the proceeds to help touring musicians during COVID-19. The five he initially put up on Ebay have all sold but maybe there will be more.

Robyn also recently told us about the music, movies and books he’s been digging during pandemic lockdown.

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In the autumn of 2013 I moved into the upstairs apartment of a house in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight. It was just along the road from the house in the photo (left). Charles and Emma Darwin had stayed there in 1859 and found it a tad damp and chilly, apparently. 154 years later, central heating had yet to arrive. I’d already been recording demos for the album I was scheduled to make with Joe Boyd producing, back in London, the week that I moved in. So I had a lot of quality time on trains and ferries, which was fun, in a slow, eternal way. By November the whole of “The Man Upstairs” was recorded – and a slew of other recordings too. Hence “The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities”, out now on Tiny Ghost Records, which is basically a companion piece to the album released on Yep Roc in 2014. Only one song overlaps, but the mood is pretty continuous, and I’m pleased to be able to share some performances that slipped away when Joe and I tried re-cutting them for the official album. RH.

You can also catch Robyn and his partner Emma Swift on their regular Stageit livestreams. Their next performances are August 12th at 5 PM Eastern and August 14th at 11 AM Eastern. Emma also has an album of Bob Dylan covers out August 14th.

All vocals: Robyn Hitchcock
All instruments: Robyn Hitchcock

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This incarnation of Fairport Convention comprising lead vocalist Sandy Denny and newcomers Dave Swarbrick and Dave Mattacks, together with founder members Richard Thompson on lead guitar and some vocals, Simon Nicol on rhythm guitar and Ashley Hutchings on electric bass, rehearsed and put together the album “Liege & Lief” over the summer of 1969 at a house in Farley Chamberlayne, near Braishfield, Winchester, launching its material with a sold-out concert in London’s Royal Festival Hall on 24th September that year. Liege & Lief  was the fourth album by the English folk rock band . It is often credited, though the claim is sometimes disputed, as the first major “British folk rock” album, It is the third album the group released in the UK during 1969, all of which prominently featured Sandy Denny as lead female vocalist (Denny did not appear on the group’s 1968 debut album). 

Gone were the covers of songs by Bob Dylan and others, replaced by electrified versions of traditional English folksongs (“Reynardine”, “Matty Groves”, “The Deserter”, “Tam Lin”), new compositions by band members but with a “traditional” feel (“Come All Ye”, “Farewell, Farewell”, “Crazy Man Michael”), and the first of a long line of instrumental medleys of folk dance tunes driven by Dave Swarbrick’s violin playing. The virtuoso fiddle and mandolin player Swarbrick, was a little older than the rest of the band, had already been in a successful duo with guitarist Martin Carthy. After his appearance on Unhalfbricking, he joined Fairport full-time. Much of the traditional material had been found by Hutchings in Cecil Sharp’s collection, maintained by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, although Swarbrick has elsewhere claimed credit as the source of the traditional material used.

Also rehearsed and/or recorded, but omitted from the final album, were versions of The Byrds’ “Ballad of Easy Rider”, the traditional ballad “Sir Patrick Spens” with Sandy Denny on lead vocals, and “The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood”, a Richard Fariña lyric he had set to a traditional Irish melody, the last two of which were to appear in different arrangements on later albums by Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny, respectively.

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Liege & Lief is composed of two Middle English words: liege meaning loyal and lief meaning ready. The cover, a gatefold in grey and purple, featured cameo images of the band along with track listing and credits. On the inside of the original gatefold cover, a set of illustrated vignettes told the story of ten different aspects of English traditional music and folklore, including notes on customs such as pace-eggers and the Padstow hobby-horse, as well as collectors such as Francis James Child (of “Child Ballads” fame) and Cecil Sharp.

The band toured the UK for several months, also visiting Denmark, performing the Liege & Lief material before recording it in the studio (also including a performance recorded for BBC radio’s Top Gear). However, in November 1969, even before the album was released on 2nd December, both Hutchings and Denny quit the band: Hutchings to further pursue traditional music in a new band Steeleye Span, and Denny to form her new venture Fotheringay, with more emphasis on her own original compositions.

 “Liege and Lief” won the award for Most influential Folk Album of all time.

In 2007 a double album “Liege and Lief Deluxe Edition” was released; the second album consisted mainly of BBC radio live performances and two stylistically uncharacteristic outtakes, the great American songbooks standards “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Fly Me to the Moon”.

The Band:
Sandy Denny – vocals
Dave Swarbrick – fiddle, viola
Richard Thompson – electric & acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Simon Nicol – electric, 6-string & 12-string acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Ashley Hutchings – bass guitar, backing vocals
Dave Mattacks – drums, percussion

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The incredible Incredible String Band record is frankly amazing. It’s just very different. It’s fairly indescribable. The closest description would be a sort of folk, sometimes termed psychedelic folk: Whichever way you like to describe it, it polarises listeners – many love it, many hate it. It has enjoyed much reverence from musicians and critics. Paul McCartney, Dylan and John Peel were fans. McCartney selected the album as his favourite of 1968. Led Zeppelin were apparently heavily influenced by it, particularly around the time of producing their III album. It frequently features in “greatest albums of all time” lists. Yet many find it unlistenable.

“Plas man” on amazon describes it as “amateurs playing various instruments, and different tunes, all at the same time.” Another amazon customer was even less charitable describing it as “by far the worst album I ever bought. What the hell were they thinking or indeed smoking. Utter and complete garbage.”

In one amusing review  they write: “What I find incredible about this group is that they were ever allowed in the studio in the first place. They have all the talent of third-rate buskers, the kind of street performers whose sound makes you dash to the opposite side of the street as you approach the spot from which their horrible noise emanates.” She goes on to damn the music as “the most repulsive music I have ever heard.”

To many western ears it sounds out of tune the singing is described as beyond any notes found on any scale known to humankind! Fantastic stuff. I don’t know about you but anything that elicits such extreme views has got to be worth a listen.

In the style of a good court room drama I’m pleased to take the role of the defending barrister putting the case for the defence of this album. I will present three pieces of evidence which I will show prove beyond reasonable doubt that The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter is in fact an amazing record. In fact I can do this by an examination of the first three tracks only.

The opening song Koeeoaddi There  There are enough ideas in this 5 minute piece for a whole career let alone a single album or song. The structure of the song, like a lot of Incredible String Band songs is all over the place but in my opinion it holds together and works. It’s actually a masterpiece!. The lyrics present a description of childhood to which many of us can relate, particularly the “shadowy fingers on the curtains at night”: There is also a mention of Mike Heron’s enigmatic girlfriend Licorice in a Dr. Seuss inspired verse: But me and Licorice saw the last of them one misty twisty day Across the mournful morning, moor motoring away, The girls in the band are an interesting case. They were Christina “Licorice” McKechnie and Rose Simpson. I’m not sure whether they were more important as musicians or girlfriends – certainly it appears they were the latter before the former. Licorice was partnered with Robin Williamson and left the band in 1972 after their romantic relationship ended. Rose was Mike Heron’s partner and allegedly was invited to join the band only because Licorice had been invited too. By all accounts there was a fair bit of rivalry between Williamson and Heron personally and professionally. The girls didn’t get on either! you know, In the middle of the night she (Rose) left Robin’s sleeping bag, crawled in with Mike, and stayed with him for the next three years. you know, the swinging sixties, and just look at that cover! Or was that Rose?

The Minotaur Song which is an enjoyable call and response marching song. It features Richard Thompson and Judy Dyble from Fairport Convention. Roll up your sleeves and sing-a-long:

The thirteen minute epic A Very Cellular Song, a kind of circular suite that opens with a wavering organ riff and harpsichord refrain which ebbs and flows, and leaves and returns throughout. The lyrics are out of this world, literally: I have heard the last verse before as a yoga mantra. I had assumed this was a traditional mantra but apparently the mantra was lifted from this original ISB song.

Apparently the spiritual leader of Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan, once came into a room where a group of yoga students were singing the ISB song. Yogi asked them to keep it up, and from then on requested them to sing it after his classes. It quickly became a tradition that continues today at the end of every Kundalini Yoga class taught throughout the world.

When the Incredible String Band toured the States in the late 60s May the Long Time Sun was always the closing song at their gigs. They were invited to play Woodstock but didn’t make the edit for the original film. Originally scheduled to play the more acoustic Friday evening as one of the headliners they were bumped to the heavy rock Saturday due to the famous rain and didn’t go down so well. An opportunity lost.
The Woodstock setlist:
Invocation
The Letter
Gather Round
This Moment
Come With Me
When You Find Out Who You Are

Oddly there were no songs from “Hangman”.

listeners need to investigate, or reappraise, this most unusual and fascinating album. After Hangman the band fell within the clutches of Scientology and despite some decent later albums and continuing good sales (much of the proceeds they invested in the Church) they gradually lost their edge: Soon the new compositions began to lose their wild melodic beauty. In the studio, there were fewer moments of surprise and inspiration. Joe Boyd The band broke up in 1974, both leading members going on to take up solo careers with the occasional short lived reunion. The enigmatic Licorice, like one of her front teeth, sadly went missing in the late 80s, presumed dead.

To read more about the Incredible String Band, along with all the other artists Joe Boyd managed and produced in the late 60s – Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Nick Drake, early Pink Floyd etc. I highly recommend his brilliant and very readable White Bicycles memoir.

Shoot Out The Lights

Their final album together, and a masterpiece. After scrapping tracks produced by Gerry Rafferty, Richard & Linda Thompson totally re-recorded the entire album in a few days with Joe Boyd. Its got it all – anger, pain, misery, death, heartbreak, malice, backstabbing, falling, leaving, darkness. The darkness of the songs is reinforced by some of Thompson’s most violent guitar and counterpointed by the beauty of Linda’s vocals.

“Shoot Out the Lights”, is the acclaimed album by Linda and Richard Thompson, is typically described as the sound of a marriage falling apart. The Thompsons did, in fact, separate just before its March 15th, 1982 release, and then divorced not long after. But the roots of this project go much deeper.

Married since 1972, Richard and Linda had already released four albums as a folk-rock duo when “Sunnyvista”  became a decade-ending flop. Chrysalis decided against renewing their contract, and the Thompsons were set adrift. Then a 1980 stint opening for Gerry Rafferty, who was flying high after the track “Baker Street” seemed to open up new possibilities.

Rafferty became so enamoured with his support act that he decided to finance and produce a new Richard and Linda Thompson album. The plan was for Rafferty to shop the finished record to labels, then land the duo a new contract. But things didn’t work out quite that way.

Richard was really pleased with the batch of new songs, but he and Rafferty quickly discovered that their recording styles didn’t mesh. “I don’t think it was wholly successful,” a very diplomatic Linda said “Richard hated it.” Apparently, so did every record company to which Rafferty shopped the record. It’s been reported that he lost 30,000 pounds on the deal. That left Richard and Linda Thompson with an album’s worth of material, but still without a contract.

They eventually entered into a partnership with long-running associate Joe Boyd, who had produced the Fairport Convention records when Richard was the group’s guitarist. (Boyd was also previously engaged to Linda, before she became involved with her then-husband.) They signed to Boyd’s small Hannibal Records in 1981, agreeing to produce a new album quickly and cheaply in order to save money for an American promotional tour.

Collaborating with Boyd was mostly a breeze for Richard and Linda, after working with the exacting Rafferty. Former Fairport bandmates Simon Nicol (rhythm guitar), Dave Pegg (bass) and Dave Mattacks (drums) came aboard to re-record much of the material the Thompsons had tracked for the previous, failed album. Six of the eight songs on “Shoot Out the Lights” would, essentially, be do-overs.

That’s why Richard Thompson has argued against the notion that Shoot Out the Lights – despite featuring songs about bad relationships (“Walking on a Wire”), leaving your family (“Man in Need”) and death (“Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?”) – is simply a reflection of a couple on the brink of divorce.

“I know people call “Shoot Out the Lights” a break-up album, but I can honestly say that was never the intention,” Richard said “‘Don’t Renege on Our Love,’ ‘Wall of Death’ and ‘Walking on a Wire’ are dark, I suppose. But they were all written a year before we split up, so people can think what they like.” The clear sound of a marriage falling apart. It is about regret and resignation but no anger, and so much more sad for it. The Album, Shoot Out the Lights was a culmination of Richard & Linda Thompson’s career together. Richard Thompson cries through his guitar in a solo just as painful as the lyrics (starts at 4:42), it is incredible and he manages to convey his/their sadness in a howl from his electric guitar! He has done some great guitar work through the years but this must be one is his most emotionally demanding solos committed to record.

In hindsight, we see how their records and Richard Thompson’s texts of jealousy, rage, and betrayal lead to this emotionally  document of sadness. Linda, on the other hand, wasn’t so convinced. She didn’t write the songs, other than a shared credit on “Did She Jump…,” but she had unique insight into the way their relationship both romanticly and musical was changing.

“It was kind of a subliminal thing,” she has said. “I think we both were miserable and didn’t quite know how to get it out. I think that’s why the album is so good. We couldn’t talk to each other, so we just did it on the record.”

Shoot Out the Lights is admired for its songwriting (which many consider the best of Richard’s decades-long career), but also its performances. Recording quickly over just a few days in November 1981 gave the LP a striking immediacy. Richard’s guitar work is fiery but intricate – in particular on the title track, where he adds a prickly rumble. Linda provides a mournful lead on “Walking on a Wire,” while contributing ecstatic backing turns elsewhere.

Linda’s performances are even more remarkable given that she was suffering from spasmodic dysphonia, which causes sudden constriction in the muscles of the larynx. She often couldn’t sustain a vocal for more than a few lines, forcing Boyd to cut-and-paste in order to get complete performances. Because of this, Richard took a few more lead turns at the microphone.

In addition to that, Linda was also pregnant with the couple’s third child, which meant that she wouldn’t be in shape to tour the U.S. until about a half-year after the sessions for Shoot Out the Lights finished. In the meantime, Richard went on a solo acoustic jaunt, during which he fell in love with promoter Nancy Covey. Depending on whom you believe, he left his wife either while she was still pregnant or just after she gave birth to daughter Kamila.

Ironically, Richard and Linda Thompson’s new album quickly emerged as a critical favorite while their marriage crumbled. Shoot Out the Lights didn’t make the charts, but it nevertheless became their best-selling album in America. That inevitably led to talk of a shared U.S. tour, even though the Thompsons were no longer a couple. Linda’s friends encouraged her not to do it, but she defied everyone.

I’m a show-off, and maybe, as well as being cathartic, it was pathetic as well: We had kids and maybe I thought that if we did the tour, Richard who’d just left me would change his mind. Yes, it was very pathetic.”

Perhaps predictably, the subsequent tour featured plenty of great musicianship, but also fighting both onstage and off. The duo’s most successful album would be their last. Richard dove into a successful solo career, while Linda’s vocal work would be more sporadic – due partly to the result of her vocal condition.

In the decades since, this project’s reputation has only grown – and not just with fans and critics. “I sometimes listen to Shoot Out the Lights for reference,” Richard confessed in his interview with Uncut. “It’s weird, because as a singer-songwriter you keep revisiting your work, whereas an artist can paint a canvas, sell it and never see it again. Some songs don’t have a shelf life, because the emotions don’t last and the world view is too immature. Then there are other songs where you keep finding something new in them.”

Linda Thompson was several months pregnant when the album “Shoot out the lights” was recorded and so there was no prospect of an immediate release or supporting tour. By the time the album was released Richard and Linda Thompson’s marriage was over.

Ironically, the album was their best-selling album and acclaimed as one of their greatest artistic achievements.

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.

46 years ago this week, Nick Drake released his debut album ‘Five Leaves Left.’  Don’t go looking for extensive chart statistics to map the career of Nick Drake, because there aren’t any. That’s to say that, however much we now rightly revere the quintessential sensitive singer-songwriter, his tragically short life was painfully unrepresented by any commercial rewards on either the UK or US charts while he was alive. A far cry from today, when you hear his music playing everywhere, from album-oriented radio stations to supermarkets.

Drake’s all-too-brief recording span and his debut album Five Leaves Left. Produced by the great acoustic music frontiersman Joe Boyd and released by Island Records on 1st September 1969, the LP featured such timelessly haunting pieces as ‘Time Has Told Me,’ ‘River Man’ and ‘Way To Blue.’

Often depicted as the archetypal doomed young singer songwriter of his generation Nick Drake remains almost impossible to pin down in any such flippant way. Even nearly forty years after his death the songs of Drake find a resonance with new audiences and artists not born when he was recording the three albums that appeared in his lifetime  Five Leaves LeftBryter Layter and Pink Moon.

Five Leaves Left

Although these recordings sold relatively poorly on initial release such is their drawing power for those who love introverted, folk tinged verse and melody that Nick’s songs have sound bedded adverts, featured in successful movies and been reinterpreted by a host of admirers on larger stages than he ever inhabited. The usual irony of such matters persists Drake couldn’t contemplate long tours and loathed interviews but didn’t entirely shy away from limelight. He could be reclusive yet maintained separate circles of friends who rarely came into contact with each other but felt a bond because of their kinship with Drake himself.

Don’t go looking for extensive chart statistics to map the tragically short career of Nick Drake, because there aren’t any. That’s to say that, however much we rightly revered the quintessential sensitive singer-songwriter today, his short life was painfully unrepresented by any commercial rewards on either the UK or US charts while he was alive. A far cry from today, when you hear his music playing everywhere, from album-oriented radio stations to supermarkets.

Five Leaves Left,’ which took its title from a message near the end of a packet of Rizla cigarette papers, was recorded between the summer of 1968 and a year later. It featured contributions from Richard Thompson, then of Fairport Convention, on guitar, Danny Thompson on bass and others, as well as the beautiful string arrangements of Robert Kirby.

‘Five Leaves Left’ has come to be a classic album ,  In 1975, the NME’s Nick Kent described it as “one of those albums that seem tied to exhorting and then playing on a particular mood in the listener, like ‘Astral Weeks’ and ‘Forever Changes.’ Indeed, the public’s apparent indifference to Drake’s singular talents was not for lack of some critical approval. Mark Williams  ‘Five Leaves Left’ as a new release for the International Times, made the point that the newcomer’s voice would be compared with Donovan’s.

 

The Legacy Of Nick Drake’s Album Debut

The stranger, the search, the illusion, the myth have all deepened over the years but there is no question that Nick Drake today is more popular than ever. His second album, Bryter Layter, was placed a cool first in The Guardian’s list of ‘Alternative top 100 albums ever.’ Not second, fourteenth or ninety-ninth but number one. We’ll never know whether Nick Drake would have appreciated the attention his albums receive now but one hopes he would have sorted his personal demons out and banished them while sadly accepting that without them he may never have created his greatest work.