Fairport Convention’s Breton adventures – now extended! Immerse yourself in Fame and Glory.
Release Date: Out now
Label: Cherry Red
Formats: CD / Download
Fairport’s involvement in Breton musician/composer’s various Excalibur projects is often overlooked by the band’s UK fanbase. Evidence of Fairport’s deep immersion in Alan’s trilogy of Rock Operas and their extensive participation in the live presentation of that work has emerged previously – initially in the form of 2009’s Fame and Glory album, released via the band’s own Matty Grooves imprint and then at the 2010 Cropredy Festival, when Fairport featured a whole chunk of Excalibur as part of their Saturday evening setlist – but I think it’s true to say that, at least on this side of the Channel, Excalibur is a neglected part of the Fairport story. Hopefully, it won’t be for much longer.
Fairport’s involvement in the project began back in Spring 1998 when Alan Simon, a long-standing Fairport admirer, made contact with Fairport via ex-member and fellow Breton Dan Ar Braz to invite the band to help to bring to life a collection of songs and tunes based upon the legend of King Arthur. Happily, the band accepted and ten-year relationship which led to the production of four albums, countless shows and huge successes, particularly in France, Spain and Germany was born. And it wasn’t just Fairport that came along – over the years, more than 120 top-class musicians, including Alan Parsons, Martin Barre, John Helliwell and Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Jacqui McShee, Maddy Prior, Justin Hayward, John Wetton and even double-Eurovision winner Johnny Logan have all taken part, in addition to European maestros such as Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider, violin supremo Didier Lockwood (ex-Magma) and multi-instrumentalist Laurent Tixier. Excalibur has been a big project!
And I’d forgotten quite how good this music is. Thankfully, Cherry Red have now issued a timely reminder of that with this reissue which, as well as including all the tracks from the 2009 Fame and Glory album in the same running order also adds three further pieces – one of which, closing track Goodbye My Friends – is released for the first time. Revisiting this album has been a genuine pleasure.
Fame and Glory is a collection of highlights of Fairport’s contributions to the Excalibur project and contains songs from each of the four Excalibur albums: Excalibur la Légande des Celtes (1999), Excalibur II – L’Anneau Des Celtes (2007), Anne de Bretagne (2009), plus selections from the live Excalibur, Le Concert Mythique (1999). The words and music are all composed by Alan Simon and Fairport are joined throughout the collection by a string of special guests from the project’s vast cast, but Fame and Glory is, overwhelmingly, a Fairport album and Alan Simon would, I’m sure, be generous in his recognition that Fairport have taken his compositions and put their own unique stamp upon each and every one of them.
The band sound great, and the production is excellent. There’s a lot of “big” songs in this collection and the album’s production does them full justice with an arena sound that conjures images of the project’s stage presentation.
Fame and Glory opens with the excellent instrumental, Castle Rock. DM’s thunderous drums and Ric’s signature fiddle song herald a bombastic Celtic showpiece which compares easily with the best of Fairport’s many instrumental extravaganzas. Martin Barre adds some splendid guitar to the anthemic Pilgrims before Peggy and Gerry take the lead on the live instrumental Celtic Dream, a tune that serves up its Latin and Celtic influences in equal measure. A couple of the album’s strongest tracks come next – The Gest of Gauvain recalls Jethro Tull in their pomp and Morgane features a delightful, intimate vocal from Jacqui McShee and some sublime fiddle from Didier Lockwood.
Anglo-Irish band Flook and John Helliwell guest on the short but highly enjoyable Dragon’s Breath, whilst the late, great John Wetton puts in a stunning vocal performance on Lugh, a song that grows from a soft ballad into a full-on anthem, enhanced by some brilliant guitar runs from Martin Barre. For the live Behind The Darkness, we get two tunes in one as a lively bit of Ric’s fiddling morphs into a soft acoustic ballad, before turning tail and morphing back, and then Pat O’May and James Wood join the party for the Irish-flavoured La Guerre Folle.
The album’s title track is featured twice on this reissue; the live version that was included on the 2009 release is supplemented this time around by the studio cut. The live version is wonderfully enhanced by a haunting violin solo from Didier Lockwood, whilst the studio version is smooth and lush and both versions are excellent. Sacrifice is probably my pick of this outstanding bunch and guests Andreas Vollenweider, Jacqui McShee and Martin Barre all make exquisite contributions. A beautiful harp intro from Andreas is followed by a brilliant Jacqui vocal, before the song builds into a stunningly orchestral piece onto which Martin lays a tasteful guitar solo.
Danza del Crepusculo is an interesting duet between Ric and Laurent Tixier and has a strong medieval feel and Marie La Cordeliere is a jaunty, folky number. Duchesse Anne captures the Fairport sound perfectly and The Soldier, the track that closed the 2009 issue of the album, is a solo piece from Chris Leslie, particularly notable for his impassioned vocal performance.
Beltane, the first of the tracks added for this reissue is rocky, fast and furious, with guitar, fiddle, flute and horns all vying for attention. It’s a breathless instrumental that sounds like Moving Hearts at their best and its inclusion in this collection is most welcome. The previously unreleased Goodbye My Friends brings things to a close. Simon and Chris share the vocal duties and a pleasant song is topped off by a wonderful clarinet solo; it’s a song that is perfectly suited to Fairport and which could have easily become their traditional set-closer if Meet on the Ledge hadn’t got there first!
It’s a long time since I last heard this album – in fact I probably hadn’t played it since late 2010, after hearing much of the original tracklisting included in Fairport’s Cropredy set. And that’s been my loss – this is an excellent album, packed with great songs and great tunes. I’ll be playing it a lot more in future, and so should you!
Listen to Fame and Glory – the album’s title track – here:
Read more from John’s archive here.