It’s been a couple of months since we last saw Fairport Convention onstage at Cropredy, but you’re never too far from a Fairport tour. We head across the Pennines to catch the latest tour…
Settle Victoria Hall – 14th October 2023…
…which finds us in countryside on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, where the heights are wuthering and the moors wild and windy (and also slightly soggy after a rainy spell) in the market town of Settle. Their Victoria Theatre proudly claims its place as the world’s oldest music hall, going strong since 1853 and a testament to the events here and the dedication of the staff who continue to support live events.
Inside the Grade II listed quaintness, the subdued lighting feels almost like gaslight and adds a key ambience alongside the colorful bunting, the hanging lights and seat row numbers stacked on the dado rail of the wooden panelled walls. It’s a perfect setting for the four musicians seated along the front of the stage as the band takes their places; Simon Nicol, perhaps overwhelmed at the welcome has to “calm down” the sell-out audience (not that they’ve rushed the stage or worse…) while Dave Pegg has a brief guitar strap malfunction and has to adjust and secure his fastenings to get comfortable.
The fabulous Fairport four are missing recently returned prodigal drummer Dave Mattacks on the current jaunt. His contribution over the past twelve months gave a powerful drive during our encounter on the 2023 Wintour. “Now that’s how you play drums!” Ric Sanders was heard to say. Fairport is an adaptable beast though and the four-piece, sit down, setup allows for a more convivial and mellow feel to the arrangements. Some might even say mellow, with the occasional shaft of sobriety of the musical variety.
The result is the occasional doo-wapping from the Year Of Fifty Nine which Chris Leslie dedicates to his old Geography teacher who’s in the building and the Jambo-bwana-ing that comes with Moses Waits. It even has the sprightly and very regular opening gambit of Walk Awhile sitting comfortably at the genteel end of the spectrum along with the lovely harmonies of Simon and Chris on The Banks Of The Sweet Primroses. Chris Leslie continues to be singled out for his songwriting contributions and the current set sees him (and Ric on some gorgeous flowing fiddle lines) delivering what Simon calls “a lovely bit of work there” on My Love Is In America – an alternative to his similarly lovely Moondust & Solitude.
There’s a jolly intensity as the set reaches its close and a nice surprise for those not at Cropredy this year as The Happy Man is retained from their acoustic set. The Morris piece has a jovial and medieval seasonality that would make it a perfect selection for the (as yet) unreleased Fairport Christmas album. Combine it with John Gaudie (always a thrill with the two fiddles doing the more refined equivalent of a Heavy Metal twin guitar assault) and it’s a well-placed highpoint of the set.
Fairport 2023 is a far cry from the Folk and Folk Rocking days as their only real concession to the roots is the Matty Groves that ends the set. Like the band, Matty himself can take many forms. Tonight it’s the banjo-led version with the ‘IKEA curtains’ variation as opposed to the powerful ‘DM version’ or even the legendary ‘Maart’s Metal Matty’ of Cropredy 2018 fame.
…Talking of which, as Chris tells the tale behind The Festival Bell, it has Peggy declaring how Fairport has more Metal than Sabbath plus a worthy plug for Cropredy. He also makes us aware of some of the history of the venue, with a dedication to “someone who’s not here,” referring. to the magician who played the theater over a hundred and fifty years ago, doing close up card magic having lost all his props in a fire. Who knows where the time goes indeed, and it is the very song of the same name that has Simon ruminating on the days of 1968, a time of optimism and change, the formation of the band and how Sandy Denny managed to tell a truth with the wisdom and foresight you wouldn’t anticipate in such a young and complex character. Much like Richard Thompson’s Meet On The Ledge, it’s the welcome return with the Who Knows/Matty/Ledge finale that defines Fairport.