Fairport Convention: Liege & Lief (1969)
Fairport Convention is one of the biggest names of British folk rock to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Without them, you wouldn’t have Steeleye Span, and Richard Thompson wouldn’t embark on his own solo career and the same thing for Sandy Denny. You see, Richard Thompson was a Fairport member, so was Sandy Denny, and Ashley Hutchings (who helped form Steeleye Span). At one point, Fairport even featured future members of Jethro Tull (bassist Dave Pegg is the best known, as he was all of Tull’s albums released in the 1980s and 1990s). Fairport wasn’t known for a very steady lineup, and even for a short while, they didn’t even feature one original member (I call that the Gong and Soft Machine syndrome, as both bands faced similar fates – and funny that recent versions of Fairport feature violinist Ric Sanders, who played on Soft Machine’s Third).
Fairport’s first three albums (1968’s Fairport Convention, 1969’s What We Did on Our Holidays, and 1969’s Unhalfbricking) more or less stuck with a West Coast sound, so far as critics comparing them to Great Britain’s answer to Jefferson Airplane or The Band (Fairport even went as far as recording a version of “Million Dollar Bash” that was originally recorded by Bob Dylan & The Band that surfaced on their infamous Basement Tapes).
Already on Unhalfbricking, the album feautured a song called “A Sailor’s Life”. Instead of sounding like it came from Los Angeles or the Bay Area, this song had a much more English sound, and that was more or less the sound that would define sound of their following effort, Liege & Lief. Unfortunately, their original drummer, Martin Lambel, who wasn’t even 20 at that time, was killed in an equipment van accident, so the band quickly found a new drummer, Dave Mattacks, and quickly went to work on Liege & Lief.
This album also goes further than any of their previous albums, because instead of including versions of songs done by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and such similar (then) contemporary singer/songwriters, they now do versions of centuries old traditional folk songs from the British Isles in a rock context, giving the album a more medieval feel.
The album starts off with a Denny/Hucthings compositions, “Come All Ye”, then the next songs is a version of a traditional Irish song, “Reynardine”, which is a ballad, and is pretty much in the same style of “A Sailor’s Life” from their previous album. But it’s with “Matty Groves”, another traditional piece, that shows that Fairport’s move away from the West Coast sound was complete. It’s definately one of the highlights of the album. Another of my favorites is another traditional piece, “Tam Lin”. There also happens to be a great jig, “Medley: The Lark in the Morning; Rakish Paddy; The Foxhunter’s Jig; Toss the Features”. The closing song, “Crazy Man Michael”, written by Richard Thompson and violinist Dave Swarbrick shows that even band compositions could sound like centuries old folk songs.
I’ve been having a little hard time describing the songs, just that imagine how centuries old British Isles folk sounds would sound like under a rock setting, and you get what Fairport was doing on this album. Unfortunately this was the last album to feature Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings. Both left, Denny was to form Fotheringay, then embarking on a solo career (and briefly rejoining Fairport, as well) before her untimely death from falling down some stairs in 1978. Hutchings was to form Steeleye Span, which, along with Fairport, was one of Britain’s biggest folk rock bands. So if the thought of rock versions of centuries old British folk sounds sounds good to you, get this album.
Year of release: 1969
– Sandy Denny: vocals
– Ashley Hutchings: bass
– Richard Thompson: guitar
– Simon Nicol: guitar
– Dave Mattacks: drums
– Dave Swarbrick: violin