Release Date: January 2020 (via webstore and on tour); February commercially
Label: Matty Grooves
Once every 2-3 years, I get to relive the excitement which, as a child, I used to experience at Christmas because, once every 2-3 years, Fairport Convention release a new album of original material and the excitement surges when my advance copy of the album drops through my letterbox. So it was on Thursday 16 January 2020, when my pre-ordered copy of Fairport’s latest offering, Shuffle & Go made its appearance chez nous.
The title track to the new album will already be familiar to Fairport watchers everywhere – the song has been a feature of their live set for a couple of years now and they’ve clearly got a lot of confidence in it. It was even included at the very start of the band’s set at the last Cropredy Festival and I noticed then that a lot of audience members were singing along. So far, so good; but what about the rest of the album?
Well, whilst this is probably not the Cropredy-era Fairport album that I would choose to take to my desert island – that honour would go to either Jewel in the Crown or Myths and Heroes, Shuffle & Go is a most enjoyable listen, up there with other recent favourites such as Over the Next Hill and Festival Bell. Five of the tracks on the new album are absolute gems and most of the rest are, in time-honoured Fairport style, great fun to listen to. Seven of the tracks have been authored in-house, with five Chris Leslie songs and two tunes from Ric Sanders included in the running order, and Chris’s and Ric’s contributions are strongly supplemented with input from stalwart providers Rob Beattie, James Wood and PJ Wright. To round off the selection, there’s also a song from (that) James Taylor!
For me, the album’s standout tracks are the title track, plus another couple of Chris’s songs, the sublime Moondust and Solitude and The Year of Fifty Nine, Ric’s Precious Time and the wonderful Moses Waits, a song from Rob Beattie.
The band have also premiered Moondust and Solitude at recent shows; it’s a song about Michael Collins, the member of the Apollo 11 crew who stayed on board the Lunar Command Module whilst his colleagues, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made their historic landing on the surface of the moon in July 1969. This beautiful song focuses upon the incredible solitude that Collins must have experience as he orbited the moon alone, and almost forgotten – floating on a tin-can indeed!
Another of Chris’s songs, The Year Of Fifty Nine, also sets the imagination racing. The song tells of a UFO sighting in the Banbury area in 1959 and Chris places his three-year-old self in the role of one of the witnesses. I particularly enjoyed the reference in the song to Dan Dare, Eagle comic’s ‘Pilot of the Future’ and the hero of many a schoolboy in the 1950’s! It does appear that the area around Banbury is something of a hotspot for UFO sightings; over the years there have been many claimed sightings of flying cigar, dumbbell, disc or pyramid-shaped objects and this proliferation of extra-terrestrial observation was even the subject of an ATV investigation in 1971. Perhaps the proximity of the Hook Norton Brewery and the splendid surroundings of Banbury’s Olde Reindeer Inn is not unrelated….
Ric’s Precious Time closes the album. The tune is a mellow finale, in Ric’s melodic style (viz The Rose Hip or Portmerion) rather than in the style of his more raucous odes to the products of Mr J. Daniels. It will be well-received in concert, perfect for dreaming along to with eyes closed.
The song which perhaps stands out above all is Rob Beattie’s Moses Waits. Rob Beattie has already contributed some splendid material to the Fairport canon – Red Tide from Jewel in the Crown and Man in the Water from Myths And Heroes are two other examples of his excellent songwriting. Moses Waits is an evocative song (and does, indeed, evoke strains of Man In The Water) touching on life in Kenya, both from the perspective of the western tourist and of the deprived, exploited local resident. The song ends in a quote from the song Jambo Bwana by Them Mushrooms, a song and phrase that will surely be familiar to anyone who has visited Kenya. Simon’s delivery of the song is one of his best – easily on a par with John Condon or The Hiring Fair.
Of the rest of the songs on the album, Don’t Reveal My Name (the album’s opening track) contains some lovely percussive effects from Gerry. Good Time For Fiddle And Bow is classic Fairport – another of Chris’s ‘fiddler’ songs to complement John Gaudie and should become a live favourite.
Rob Beattie’s second song on the album, A Thousand Bars is both a celebration of Britain’s pub culture and a lament that so many of our once-great establishments have become gastro, sports or ‘don’t make eye contact’ venues. Sung by Simon, it’s almost possible to picture him sat on his once regular perch in The Chequers in Chipping Norton!
Steampunkery is another Ric tune, reminiscent of Stephane Grappelli, with tones of Danny Jack’s Revenge and chugs along nicely on the robust shoulders of Peggy’s twangy bass. Finally, it’s worth mentioning The Byfield Steeplechase, a song from PJ Wright and very much in the style of Summer By The Cherwell, a song he contributed to the 50/50 @ 50 album. The song tells the story of a race over a seven-mile course over the countryside around the village of Byfield which was won, due to the exercise of cunning, by a village boy, rather than by the favoured local squire. Byfield is, of course, a Northamptonshire village close to Cropredy and enshrined in Fairport lore as the former place of residence of Sandy Denny.
So… Shuffle & Go is a most enjoyable piece of work, highly recommended by this writer. Although not yet on general release, it is available from Fairport on their website, and will be available at all the gigs during the band’s forthcoming Winter Tour (again, check out the website for details of the tour itinerary.) And don’t forget – for a summer experience you’ll never forget – the band’s annual Cropredy Festival takes place on 13-15 August 2020 and tickets are on sale now!
Read our thoughts on the bands tour in support of Shuffle & Go HERE.
Read about the 2020 line up for Cropredy, HERE. It’s set to be a brilliant weekend!
Here’s Shuffle And Go – ‘straight from the screens’ at Cropredy 2018: