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Saturday, July 02, 2016

Fairport Convention

I've always been curious about Fairport Convention. I've only heard bits and snatches of them over the years--they don't get airplay on rock stations--and the notion of a group that combines rock with British folk is very appealing. Upon hearing of the death of their violinist, Dave Swarbrick, about a month ago, I finally picked up a comprehensive album of their music.

So what is British folk, compared to American folk? Not too much different, as American folk comes out of the Appalachian tradition, which in turn comes from the Scotch-Irish. There are lots of fiddles, and references to old things. There aren't  many folk songs about computers. And since the members of Fairport Convention were all English, there is certainly that part of themselves in there, that which makes them English and not American. The songs here aren't overtly political, and don't have the influence of the blues or gospel that American folk does.

Fairport Convention has had many members. Most prominent was Richard Thompson, who joined as a teenager and wrote many of their best songs, such as "Walk Awhile," with Swarbrick, which sounds like it could have been done by the Weavers, and "Sloth," a melancholy anti-war song. Thompson has gone on to have a very fruitful solo career.

The other famous member was Sandy Denny, who had one of the purest, most ethereal voices in popular music. She's best shown off on a song she wrote, "Who Knows Where the Tine Goes," and "Fotheringay," which was the name of the band she started. Sadly, she died in 1978.

The membership of the band at its various offshoots is so complex that on the inside foldout of the CD is a family tree that looks more complicated than the one for British royalty.

I enjoyed listening to this album, though at times it seemed cliche, with the references to bonnie lasses and what might be called "shamrock" music. During their heyday, the hippie era, I'm sure Fairport Convention fit right in, playing to girls in long skirts and men in unkempt beards. There is also a touch of the psychedelic to their music, particularly an eleven-minute track called "A Sailor's Life," which features a jam at the end. Fairport Convention is for the person who loves Renaissance Fairs and mead.


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