Reasons to be Cheerful! – The Boys are Back in Town, and the Brasenose!
Fairport Convention returned to the live arena at The Brasenose Arms in Cropredy. Our man John was there to provide a review and pictures. The show was broadcast on YouTube on Saturday 14th August at 8pm; you can watch the show here.
We’d waited a long time for this! I had to keep pinching myself to reassure myself it was really happening – and it was! Live music is finally back. And even better, Fairport Convention are Back. They made their long and eagerly awaited return to live performance at – where else – The Brasenose Arms, Cropredy, Oxfordshire, on the evening of 5th August 2021, and it was wet, welcome and wonderful!
Of course, Fairport have long been associated with The Brasenose. It was the scene for their photoshoot for the back cover of their 1973 album, Nine, and also the location at which the promo video of Polly on the Shore – a track from the Nine album – was shot. But, curiously, the band had never played a gig there. Until 5th August 2021, that is…
Sadly, the band’s annual bash, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, has had to be cancelled once again this year, as a result of the COVID pandemic and its ongoing fallout (but make a note in your diaries, everyone – they’re determined that the 2022 festival WILL take place on Thursday 11th – Saturday 13th August) so to get the chance to see Fairport perform on their home patch was a huge compensation to those able to attend, and to those able to catch the podcast of the event on Saturday 14th August – the date when the festival would have been reaching its climax.
The day started quietly in Cropredy. There were no pop-up stalls around the village, the churchyard was deserted, the Red Lion wasn’t even open, and there were no queues outside the village shop. In fact it was just like a normal day – or was it? Cropredy regulars will no doubt have noticed that a number of familiarly-named narrowboats had gathered in the moorings above the lock on the Oxford Canal, an unusually high number of camper vans were making their way down School Lane, quite a few strangely-clad people were wandering around the village streets and The Brasenose was doing quite a good trade for a Thursday afternoon. Something was definitely afoot! There may not be a full-blown festival in Cropredy this year, but it appears that a substantial number of festival regulars have decided that they won’t be forfeiting their summer break in this delightful village for a second year running – Fairport’s show at the Brasenose has provided the ideal reason to pop along.
Things started to get particularly interesting when the sound of a few fiddle tones, guitar chords, bass plonks and drum flourishes were heard from behind The Brasenose and then, lo and behold, the Fairport boys emerged outside the pub the recreate those iconic 1973 photographs with the band’s current line-up – Simon Nicol (guitars), Dave Pegg (bass), Ric Sanders (violin), Chris Leslie (allsorts) and Gerry Conway (drums and percussion). The excitement was becoming palpable. Peggy had even dug out the boots that he wore in 1973!
Now – it’s been a lovely summer so far, hasn’t it? We’ve enjoyed soaring temperatures, lawns are parched and many of us have developed healthy tans, despite restrictions that have prevented travel to sunny overseas climes… Well, unfortunately, that didn’t last until the evening of Thursday 5th August. During the afternoon, the forecast showers started to occur and we were left to contemplate an evening in a rainy pub garden and to fervently hope that the wet weather would blow through before Fairport took the stage. Cropredy festival regulars will understand the thought process.
The weather didn’t blow through in time for the start of the show – it poured throughout Fairport’s first set and the assembled throng got drenched. But – do you know what? – we didn’t care. Not much, anyway, because Fairport were back, and they were right on-song. But we’ll come to that shortly.
A mini-arena had been set up in The Brasenose garden, attendees were invited to bring along chairs and the usual festival regalia, a burger van and an ice cream van had been arranged and the queues started to form about half an hour before the gates were to open at 17:00. Inside the mini-arena, wristbands were issued and merch, including a special-edition tee-shirt to commemorate this very special event was available. It was just like a festival in miniature! The showers were getting harder as the band appeared on stage, Festival Director Gareth Williams gave a brief intro, and we were off!
I have to confess to feeling a pleasant shiver down my spine as the band bust into Walk Awhile – a reminder that this was really happening after a long 16-month wait, the longest I’ve gone without a live music fix since I was 16 years old. And Fairport were spot-on form – yes, there a few false-starts, made to ensure the absolute quality of the podcast recording – but everything was present and correct – the peerless musicianship, the flawless vocals and harmonies, the stage banter and even Ric’s comedy interlude. It was all there, and we lapped it up.
With several notable exceptions, Fairport’s set was drawn from their latest studio album, Shuffle and Go and from 1970’s Full House (in essence, the set that they were planning to perform at each of the two cancelled Cropredy Festivals – a twin celebration of their excellent recent album and their 1970 masterpiece). Exceptions to that plan were the appropriate inclusion of Festival Bell, Chris Leslie’s song to commemorate the naming of the new bell in the village’s St. Mary’s church after the long-running festival, a wonderful version of John Condon – perhaps the outstanding track on 2007’s superb Myths and Heroes album, long-time favourite Close to the Wind, post-interval enlivener The Journeyman’s Grace, Peggy’s bass showcase Bankruptured, a fresh take on Honour and Praise from the Gladys’ Leap album and the regular concert-closing trio of Who Knows Where the Time Goes? Matty Groves and Meet on the Ledge. I was interested and amused to note that the name of the purveyor of liquid refreshment to the Cropredy Festival had been changed from Wadworth’s to Hooky in the lyric to Festival Bell – Is a nascent sponsorship arrangement in place, I wonder…?
The Shuffle and Go album was particularly well-represented, with Cider Rain (revealed as Dave Pegg’s favourite), Don’t Reveal My Name, Steampunkery, the sublime Moondust and Solitude, new crowd pleaser Good Time For a Fiddle and Bow, space-fi ditty The Year of ’59 and Rob Beattie’s wonderful Moses Waits all getting an airing. From Full House, Dirty Linen was specially dedicated to the late, great, Dave Swarbick (and my jaw still drops when I watch Peggy’s mastery of the bass on this one), an awesome, condensed, version of Sloth and, probably the best of the lot, Doctor of Physick – a great version of an often overlooked song which Fairport delivered with some fantastic three-part harmony singing.
As the first set approached its ending with Moondust and Solitude, the rain seemed to be relentless but, miracle of miracles, it stopped during the short interval. The clouds disappeared and the bedraggled crowd were able to enjoy the second half of the show in relatively dry comfort and, pleasingly, most of those who attended did stick it out and were admirably rewarded for doing so.
A few concert highlights that I haven’t mentioned include: the reappearance of Simon’s “Cornflakes” guitar (I haven’t seen him play that for many years), looking around the audience during the band’s rendition of the long-ignored Honour and Praise and seeing a majority of those assembled mouthing the words, the audience request for Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep which, left to his own devices, Peggy would probably have obliged, Peggy’s mind-blowing bass solo in Sloth and, of course, the sheer beauty of Sandy’s signature Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
And who knows, indeed?
Despite the weather, the concert seemed to be over in a flash and, before we knew it, we were swaying along to Meet on the Ledge, and it was time to say our farewells at the Brasenose.
And let’s hope that this time those farewells are for only a short time! Welcome back Fairport – life hasn’t been the same without you. As several members of the audience were heard to call: “Fairport – we love you.”
And – by the way – if you couldn’t get to Cropredy on 5/8, or if you haven’t managed to to catch the excellent podcast of the show, have a listen to Fairport’s Off the Desk 2020 live album to taste the goodies on offer!
Fairport Convention have announced a 12-date Autumn Tour, kicking off in Maidenhead on 14th October and concluding in Nuneaton on 30th October. Full tour details are available here. At The Barrier will, of course, be out and about to bring you news and reviews as the tour progresses.