At The Barrier is delighted to report that the 2022 Fairport Convention Wintour is about to get underway. Does this mean that we’re finally about to leave the COVID nightmare behind?
Question: What starts each year in the depths of winter, brings joy and elation to all it reaches and ends just as the first signs of Spring are breaking out?
Answer: The Annual Fairport Convention Wintour.
At least, that was true until 2021, when, sadly, the raging COVID pandemic caused this annual celebration, the clarion call of a new year and the best possible taster to tide us over until Cropredy Festival, to be cancelled. We had no idea, as Fairport left the Winchester Royal Theatre stage at the end of their 23rd February 2020 show with their usual “See you at Cropredy” parting call that the next 24 months would be fallow ones indeed for us Fairport fanatics. But now, happily, the good ship Fairport has been relaunched and their 2022 Wintour kicks off in Dublin on 29th January. The marathon 29-date tour runs until 5th March, when the band play Buxton Arts Centre – full tour details are available here.
Thankfully, 2021 wasn’t an altogether barren year for Fairport – their excellent Off the Desk 2020 album – a splendid memento of the band’s last Winter outing was released in April, and then there was that never-to-be-forgotten show in the garden of The Brasenose in Cropredy on that rainy evening in August – a small but hugely welcome compensation for the cancelled Cropredy Festival. And let’s not forget the short Autumn tour that the band were able to undertake – At The Barrier thoroughly enjoyed their show at Chipping Norton Theatre on 23rd October.
Welcome as those events were – and they WERE welcome indeed – 2021 still didn’t feel quite right on Planet Fairport, but a full-blooded 2022 Winter Tour is just the medicine we need to restore normality and to allow us all to believe that, perhaps, the COVID nightmare is coming to an end and hope, as fervently as is humanly possible, that this August we’ll all be congregating in THAT field at Home Farm, Cropredy, for another dose of Britain’s best and friendliest festival.
Fairport have been playing a schedule of winter dates since the early 1980s. Originally, these were limited to a few Christmas/New Year dates in the vicinity of Banbury (the band were, after all, officially disbanded…), but the idea took root and, by the time Maartin Allcock and Ric Sanders had joined the band’s ranks in 1986, the Winter Tour was well on its way to becoming the institution we know and love today. Nowadays, the trek usually kicks off in late January/early February at The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury and visits all corners of the country (except Scotland, as members of Fairport’s tight, loyal band of Scottish fans have occasionally been known to observe) and takes in such tried and tested venues as Exeter’s Corn Exchange, The Bath Forum, City Varieties in Leeds, The Alban Arena in St. Albans and London’s iconic Union Chapel. The 2022 Winter Tour takes in all of these venues and many more.
I’ve been a regular attendee at Winter Tour shows up and down the country since their very early days – my debut at any such event was at the Moat House Hotel in Banbury on New Year’s Eve, 1984, and I’ve since been to shows in towns and cities as far apart as Whitby, Bath, Bolton, Coventry, Leamington Spa, St. Albans, Derby, Southport and Chesterfield. The shows are often ground-breaking in that very special Fairport way. They’ve been used to introduce new members to the band’s lineup – indeed – Maart, Ric, Gerry Conway and Chris Leslie all made their debut appearances as full-time Fairporters at Wintour concerts. The shows are regularly used to introduce and road-test new or revived setlist material and I recall, with great affection, my first exposure to songs from Red And Gold, Jewel in the Crown, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, The Five Seasons, Over the Next Hill and Shuffle and Go when they were performed during winter concerts. And it’s always great when a golden oldie is unearthed from the vaults to surprise a Winter Tour audience – Lord Marlborough, Peggy’s Pub and even setlist regular Crazy Man Michael are all examples of favourites that were revived during Winter Tours.
Fairport know their audience well enough to be confident that their setlist adventures will be well-received, and the same goes for their choice of support act for each tour. Fairport’s many tour guests have introduced me to oodles of excellent music and my record collection is stuffed with albums from the likes of Kieran Halpin, Julian Dawson, Huw and Tony Williams, Anthony John Clarke, The Four of Us, Steve Tilston, Winter Wilson and, most recently, Smith and Brewer – all of whom have supported Fairport over the years on their Winter Tours. And 2022 features another great support act – Luke Jackson – an At The Barrier favourite, who we can’t wait to see again. We called his 2021 EP Of The Time “An inspired offering,” and, if you do manage to catch his set during the tour, we have no doubt that you’ll agree with us.
We’ve already packed our bags and the At The Barrier team will be popping along to as many of the Fairport Convention Wintour shows as our diaries and our wallets will allow – watch these pages for our forthcoming reviews – or, better still, get yourself along to a show near you. Perhaps we’ll see you there!
And watch Fairport perform Walk Awhile at London’s Union Chapel in 2012 here: