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Fairport Convention – 2020 Wintour: Live Review

The Fairport Wintour is in motion and a good chunk of the team, including several Fairport/Cropredy vets, have been in attendance. Here we look back on the opening of the tour in Southport, a stop in Manchester and a sojourn to Bath.

The Atkinson, Southport (Howard King)

5th February 2020

You always know what you’re going to get at the end of a Fairport concert and tonight’s was no different, Matty Groves and the ever emotional Meet On the Ledge accompanied by whoever is supporting them. In this case the excellent Smith and Brewer.

However, the rest of the night was a surprise as apart from the opening Walk Awhile, from Full House, it was almost totally dedicated to the new album Shuffle And Go (read our review here). Throughout the evening it was almost played in its entirety. This album and performance caters for all the wonderful talents of the band, Simon Nicol’s vocals being particularly outstanding; singing with warmth and sensitivity especially on Moses Waits.

Chris Leslie’s songwriting prowess also comes to the fore; his song dedicated to Apollo astronaut, Michael Collins, is a sheer delight, storytelling and melancholy melody ‘docking’ perfectly once a minor electronic gremlin was solved with his acoustic guitar. “Houston we have a problem,” joked Simon but the audience listened with stunned enthralment throughout.

The light-hearted banter between the band added to the relaxing atmosphere they always create, even Ric Saunder’s sometimes cringeworthy jokes could not mar his exquisite violin work, whether he is accompanying or taking a lead as he did on his self composed Steampunkery. during which he donned Chubby Brown style goggles. They brought a few giggles but were intended as a prop as he enlightened us on his new fad of Steampunk genre literature.

Once they had decided that we had heard enough of new material the song Farewell Farewell, overlooked on concert setlist since the release of the classic Liege And Leif, began a visit to more familiar material.

Peggy sported his Full House t-shirt and new Ibanez five-string bass, his fills and runs blending in superbly. He is also celebrating his 50th year in the band coinciding with the release of Full House, tracks from which completed most of the remaining setlist with aforementioned Walk Awhile, Sir Patrick Spens, Doctor Of Physick and an amazing rendition of Sloth in which everyone contributed a solo. It was here that Peggy really came into his own.

Tributes were paid to previous members and praised the work of Sloth’s composers; Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick. Simon Nicol also paid homage to Sandy Denny when introducing Who Knows Where The Time Goes, remarking that nobody, including himself, can cover this song as well as Sandy performed it. The only recorded version I’ve heard that comes anywhere near it is Eva Cassidy’s; another singer sadly taken from us too soon.

Percussionist, Gerry Conway, did the necessary. He may seem to appear to be in the background but he never overplays. One of his biggest skills is that he knows what to leave in and what to leave out; he rhythmically drives the band leaving spaces for his frontmen to deliver.

It was, I think, a brave move at this stage in their career to test out a discerning Fairport audience with so much new material but it also expresses their love for these new songs and confidence in them. Their challenging experiment paid off in every quarter and the Full House numbers gave us a superb taster for what is coming later in the year when they will play it in its entirety at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention with the assistance of Dave Mattacks and Richard Thompson.

The Southport venue visited annually at the end of January is becoming somewhat of a tradition and fills a nice break between Cropredys and is made all the more enjoyable as there is the opportunity to chat with the band. Everyone gets the chance for a meet and greet without official or private invitation.

Royal Northern College Of Music, Manchester (Dominic Walsh)

You are never far away from an anniversary with Fairport. This year, it’s the 50th anniversary of 1970’s Full House.

Walk Awhile has become a welcome and customary opener for the band. A warm up, if you will. A loosener. Just check the gears are turning!

It’s bold for a band to launch into a long and unbroken run of new songs in a live show but such is the bands confidence in the material, they justified their choice with the passion and precision in which they delivered the songs.

As Manchester’s venue is a college for music, their was plenty of patter about not being qualified to play from Dave Pegg, and a couple of retorts from other band members (and the audience) on the topic.

What qualifies this band though, is the songmanship they posses. A host of guest writers/friends have contributed many excellent pieces over the years, but the material from the pen of Chris Leslie is truly wonderful.

Don’t Reveal My Name (this writers favourite on Shuffle & Go), Moon Dust & Solitude, Good Time For A Fiddle & Bow and the title track of the album, Shuffle & Go, are all songs that will stick around in the repertoire for a long time. The stories that accompany the songs are articulately shared by Leslie, and the way in which the band deliver them shows you how much these songs already mean to the band.

A slew of material from Full House followed with a re-imagined version of Sloth, Doctor of Physick and Sir Patrick Spens. Laced with cuts from Liege & Lief (Farewell, Farewell and Matty Groves) and the always poignant Meet On The Ledge (which Richard Thompson wrote as a teenager), rounded off an excellent evening.

Check out the slideshow of Fairport’s show in Manchester. All these pictures were taken by Mike Ainscoe.

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Bath Forum, Bath (John Barlass)

14th February 2020

First, a short homage to the venue itself.  Totally in keeping with its surroundings in the historic city of Bath, the Forum is a marvellous venue – a former 1930’s cinema which has been lovingly restored to its Art Deco splendour, complete with a plaster (I assume) casting of the city’s coat of arms located above the stage.  It’s a wonderful setting for a performance by one of Britain’s classic bands.  The forum is the largest venue in the City of Bath and also one of the biggest in the South-West of England, and anyone wishing to spend a few days in this beautiful city, whilst taking in a concert, should check out the venue’s itinerary.

I’ll try to avoid repeating too much of Howard’s already detailed account of the show’s content and confine myself to a few personal observations that I made during the course of the evening. 

I thoroughly enjoyed support act, Smith and Brewer; their musicianship and vocal prowess is exceptional and the interplay between their guitars and their voices was lovely to hear, particularly as they exchanged breakneck speed guitar licks on Life’s Too Short to Get Down About the Weather and Juliet.  The sheer pleasure that they took from performing was evident and they laced their set with a great deal of good humour – I liked Ben Smith’s award to the City of Bath for ‘Best Lion,’ (apparently marginally beating Exeter’s offering) and felt strong sympathy when he explained that, whilst on tour, he’d been informed that, not only had his garden fence blown down in the recent storms, but also his boiler had packed up.  Moi Aussi!  Smith and Brewer are a tremendously entertaining duo and, on the evidence of the songs showcased in Bath, their recent album, Another Shade of Smith and Brewer is well worth a listen – try to catch them sometime.

And so on to Fairport.  As is usual on the Winter Tour, Fairport joined their support act on stage for the support act’s final song, before launching into their own set. The set for this year’s tour consists principally of material from their new album, Shuffle and Go.

Indeed, with the exceptions of Linseed Memories, The Byfield Steeplechase and Ric’s Precious Time, the album was performed in its entirety, almost in sequence.  Simon Nicol made the observation that Fairport’s loyal and understanding following allow them to be one of the few bands able to take such an approach without overloading the audience’s patience. 

The new material is very strong and the approach worked (just) although I was aware of a sense of polite relief when the band moved on to more familiar early material towards the end of their set.  No matter – I am sure that, come Cropredy time, all those who have been introduced to the new material during this tour will be singing along lustily to songs they will, by then, consider to be old friends!

Of course, as well as being the year of a new Fairport album, 2020 is also the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s classic Full House album – many people’s (including my own) personal favourite of the 30-ish studio Fairport albums. 

Now the right thing’s the wrong thing
No more excuses to come
Just one step at a time
And the war has begun

Lyrics from Sloth. Written in 1970. Fifty years on, it feels just as pertinent.

They opened their set with that album’s opening track, Walk Awhile and the set also included Doctor of Physick, Flatback Caper, Sir Patrick Spens and a terrific version of Sloth from Full House. The band, including both Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks who were members of the “Full House” line-up will be performing the complete album at this year’s Cropredy Festival – an event that isn’t to be missed!

Other highlights of Fairport set included Simon’s hugely passionate vocal delivery of Sandy Denny’s classic Who Knows Where the Time Goes (after an equally heartfelt introduction to the song), Ric donning welding goggles (to make himself look disconcertingly like Roy “Chubby” Brown…) for ‘Steampunking’ and, of course, the inevitable, always thought-provoking finale of Meet on the Ledge, for which the band were rejoined by Smith and Brewer.

A thoroughly entertaining evening.

Check out the slideshow of Fairport’s show in Bath. All these pictures were taken by John Barlass.

Fairport’s upcoming tour dates can be found here, but they’re selling out plenty of venues!

You can get the lowdown on the band’s festival here.

Fairport Convention: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Smith & Brewer: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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