Fairport Convention – The Atkinson, Southport; RNCM, Manchester – 23rd & 26th February 2023
And so the Fairport Wintour hits the North West for a couple of dates. While attempting to avoid any contentious boundary marking with references to Merseyside, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, the fabulous Fairport five, plus Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage (another concentrated attempt to avoid renaming them Ben Sanders & Hannah Savage – “don’t you dare,” warns Hannah as we have a quick catch up across the merch desk) nip across the Pennines to Halifax and the Penistone Paramount.
Almost two weeks ago, we reported back from the Solihull gig, so for a more detailed appraisal of what makes up the Wintour set, head back there. We take the opportunity to offer some alternative views on the gigs before any thoughts of Cropredy ’23.
Now, The Atkinson is a regular stop off on the Fairport touring route and while avoiding the temptation to roll out any ‘full house’ quips, was very well sold. Along with the RNCM it’s a beautiful room, built for playing music. We’re very lucky in the area to have such spaces for music and the arts and the latter venue may well have been the best sounding and best lit of the tour. We also witness a fair sprinkling of celebrities in attendance. Cropredy compere A.J.Clarke is at The Atkinson and Paul from 10cc (on the Cropredy ’23 bill), Damian Liptrott (Merry Hell maestro – MH are also at Crop ’23) and Richard Houghton (author of Fairport – A People’s History) are all in attendance at the RNCM.
This tour’s support choice was inspired. Ben and Hannah have of course been on the ATB pages with their marvellous Ink Of The Rosy Morning album and their opening set is a delight. I’d go so far as to say – opinions most welcome – that they’re possibly the best opening act that Fairport has had on their Wintours.
“Folk songs are like salads,” they explain. “Nobody wants it but it’s good for you.” Although with the latest tomato/cucumber/green stuff crisis, perhaps we should be thankful for what we have – you never know you’ll miss it till it’s gone sort of thing. But while we’re on the fruit theme, it’s lovely to watch Ben simply stand back to watch in awe when Hannah sings a beautiful I Gave My Love A Cherry. The fact that he’s probably seen and heard this a hundred times or more and find it still resonates, reinforces the sheer magnetism. Way Over Yonder’s “Ain’t nobody who can sing like me,” line is spot on.
A Thousand New Moons in particular is a delight and a performance that you can watch on loop. A simple chorus for participation and even throw in some harmonies. And we get to hear it again, with the prospect of catching them again in a few days in Manchester – “we might change a few things round and do some different songs,” Ben mentions in a little chat at the Atkinson merch table in the break. Might hold them to that…and indeed they delivered at the Royal Northern College of Music with Come All Ye Fair from the Before The Sun album which also yields Deep Blue Sea where dare we say, Ben channels a little bit of the inner Dylan. Dylan now (well, Dylan circa the early 90’s in his brief return to folk song phase) rather than Dylan then.
What always strikes home about the duo is the intimacy they achieve as they work a magic that’s captured by the condenser mic fashioned like a four-point star positioned in an optimum sound-gathering sweet spot. They stand on a sixpence (a small space for those post-decimal younger readers) and give us some lovely opportunities for grabbing a few close up images.
Their set might be the gateway to their Spring Tour for new fans whose tastebuds were whetted by a snapshot from their treasury of work. More gems – Ribbons & Bows, Awake… – lie in wait.
The choice of Reynardine as the ‘duet’/switchover song – one that Kevan Furbank in the Fairport tome of the On Track series called “the least effective of all the tracks on the album,” (Liege & Lief), is an obvious one when you think about it. One that Fairport could play in their sleep likely as not. “We sent them loads to choose from,” says Ben when we ask about the choice (a personal wishlist that they might go for the lovely Sweet Nightingale which the duo covers beautifully on their latest album is scuppered). It sees new bezzie mates Ben and Ric Sanders getting into a guitar/fiddle face-off as the duo makes the most of a not-too-shabby backing band.
Talking of songs that Fairport might be able to play with their hands tied behind their backs, Walk Awhile is one and it’s a rouser having already warmed up with Hannah & Ben, and we’re out of the traps and running. While once again admiring Simon’s twelve-string DanElectro, it’s nice to see how the set has been tweaked and with My Love Is In America, Chris Leslie gets in an early claim for man of the match. It’s in the same ballpark as his easy and gentle Moondust And Solitude, although he certainly has some rivals for the crown as we shall see..
Ric Sanders appears to be revelling with a new foil – not just Ben Savage – as the return of Dave Mattacks offers him a rival in the stand-up stakes and a fellow who shares the same sartorial elegance. There’s a clear musical connection as after Steampunkery, Ric informs us: “that’s how to play the drums!” As well as being on form with his usual routines, Ric’s pedal board and fiddle effects come into their own on a couple of songs. Polly On The Shore sees his sound wailing in a freak out driven by some Mattacks power while in Manchester Sloth is even more potent. He coaxes out a series of series sounds like a magus and even indulges in some sonic experimentation with some vocal effects as he lifts the pickups toward his mouth. It’s like the psychedelic Summer Of Love – the fiddle Hendrix lives
The balance of light hearted is restored with Simon Nicol playing his part with a carefully rehearsed humourous ad-lib up his sleeve at the start of the second half, when he follows up 1970’s Sloth by informing us: “we’re not slaves to our past, here’s one from 1971...” This second set is particularly strong, kicking off with (the more modern) Journeyman’s Grace that’s a folk rocking belter that sets the tone and that chorus has become a personal earworm. If there were such a thing as a banger in Folk Rock terms, Journeyman’s Grace would be it.
Another highlight comes with the romp and reel that is John Gaudie. Another from Chris Leslie that sees him on mandolin so we’re denied the terrific fiddle duet (one last experienced in the ‘sit down’ shows in the Autumn – our coverage) that often ramps up the energy even more. More evidence for those who rate young Leslie as the mainman – his My Love Is In America; his Shuffle & Go songs (Moondust… Year of ’59) and his all singing all playing (not quite all dancing…) contribution. Much the same as the old-style midfield footballers like Johnny Giles and Colin Bell who used to cover every blade of grass.
Hiring Fair too has become even more statuesque; the latest incarnation with DM rolling back the years to his first instrument with a subtle keyboard part that he also plays on Portmeirion
And as pointed out in our Solihull review, Matty Groves is back and rocking! Not quite in the same measure as the famed ‘Metal Matty’ led by the late great Maart Allcock at Cropredy in 2018 of which they still talk to this day, but certainly a shot of Folk Rock (“Peggy: “Frock!“) adrenalin after the recent ‘sit down’/acoustic versions. It’s perhaps an indication of the, for want of a better word, ‘oomph’ that Dave Mattacks brings to the table. He’s been called the man who invented Folk Rock drumming and he seems to even be channelling a bit of Bonham with his hi-hat work on Matty. We’re even treated to the playful”how do you like my curtains that I bought from IKEA last week” line at The Atkinson- perhaps saved for venues where the backdrop drapes are suitably plush. Southport yes, Manchester, sorry….
At the risk of committing a sacrilegious atrocity, the thought that given the sprightly performance at the start of the second set on this tour, Journeyman’s Grace might be a suitably rousing encore does crop up. The idea is parked as there can really only be one possible encore farewell, where the band are joined again by Hannah ‘no relation’ Sanders and Ben ‘not at all’ Savage. Having lent on Liege & Lief on their latest album, even Scott and the Bar Steward Sons Of Val Doonican have resisted any temptation to do a comedy folk song about butchery called Meat On The Ledge. The seed is planted though… Meanwhile, we note Hannah’s strong cameo on one verse of Meet On The Ledge as we again anticipate the festival season with a souvenir bookmark reminder of what’s in store.
As the tour reaches the last few steps, and so the countdown to Cropredy ’23 begins. There will be many repeat offenders who attended the tour who’ll also be in the field and while the Fairporters work out their setlist for the Saturday night, most would agree that the first name on the teamsheet should be John Gaudie. If not, there could be a revolt…
Categories: Live Reviews