Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention

Infobox musical artist
Name = Fairport Convention

Img_capt =
Background = group_or_band
Years_active = 1967–1979
Genre = Folk, electric folk, folk rock
Origin = England
Label = Island
Current_members = Simon Nicol
Dave Pegg
Ric Sanders
Chris Leslie
Gerry Conway
Past_members = See: Band members section
Fairport Convention are often credited with being the first English electric folk band.fact|date=May 2008 Formed in April 1967, Fairport rapidly developed from playing cover versions of American 'west coast' style music to an individual style which melded rock music with traditional English tunes and songs. The lineup of their most celebrated album, "Liege & Lief", comprised Sandy Denny, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, Dave Swarbrick, and Richard Thompson.

Affected by numerous personnel changes throughout its first decade, Fairport Convention was temporarily disbanded in 1979 but played annual reunion concerts until they reformed in 1985. Since then, they have enjoyed stability and continue to tour and record regularly.

In part, the continuing success of Fairport Convention is due to the annual music festival the band organises. Cropredy Festival has been held every year since 1977 near Cropredy, a village five miles north of Banbury, Oxfordshire and attracts 20,000 fans. Now renamed Fairport's Cropredy Convention, it remains one of the key events in the UK folk festival calendar.
BBC Radio 2's "Sold On Song" TOP 100 songs as voted for by Radio 2 listeners put their early song "Meet On The Ledge" at Number 17. They had performed "Meet on the Ledge" on the 1969 launch of "From the Roundhouse" (a short-lived BBC-TV youth and arts programme about the London "underground scene"). In 2002 the band was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and in 2006, "Liege & Lief" was voted the most influential folk album of all time in a public ballot, also run by the BBC.


Fairport Convention played their first concert at St Michael's Church Hall in Golders Green, North West London on 27 May 1967. Based in suburban north London, the group had coalesced around a bass guitar player and bandleader named Ashley 'Tyger' Hutchings.

The musicians convened for rehearsals at a house named "Fairport", in Muswell Hill, North London the family home of rhythm guitarist Simon Nicol. Thus was born the name of a band that has endured for over four decades. As well as Hutchings and Nicol, there was lead guitarist Richard Thompson and Shaun Frater on drums. However, that initial line-up only played the one gig. A young drummer, Martin Lamble, was in the church hall audience and he convinced the band that he could do a better job than the incumbent. It was the first of a flurry of line-up changes that characterised Fairport's first fifteen years.

The group soon augmented its line-up with a female singer, Judy Dyble (born Judy Aileen Dyble, 13 February 1949, in Wood Green, North London), which set it apart from the dozens of other bands springing up from the fast-moving youth culture of that summer. Fairport found no shortage of work and was soon a regular act at underground venues such as The Electric Garden, Middle Earth and UFO. The band had only been playing a few months when they caught the ear of Joe Boyd who secured them a contract with Polydor Records. Boyd suggested they augment the line-up with another male vocalist and so Iain Matthews (who had changed his surname from MacDonald and was spelling his forename 'Ian' at the time) joined the band and the first album, "Fairport Convention" was recorded in late 1967 and released in June 1968. Later the band would play with Folk guitarist Nick Drake, who also had connections with Joe Boyd.

At this early stage, Fairport looked to America (Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan) for material and inspiration. "The two lead vocalist approach appealed to us," Matthews recalls, "and because of our name and onstage presence, lots of people thought we were American, and we were not about to attempt to dispel that presumption." This led to the band being dubbed 'the British Jefferson Airplane'. The album did not sell many copies, and Boyd got them signed to Island Records.

By the time the second LP, "What We Did On Our Holidays", was released Judy Dyble had been replaced by Sandy Denny, a folk singer who had previously recorded as a soloist and with Strawbs. The third album, "Unhalfbricking", featured a guest appearance by Birmingham folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick. This album, like its predecessor, mixed original material with contemporary songs by artists such as Mitchell and Dylan.

Radio DJ John Peel was a staunch champion of Fairport's music. He played the band's albums on his influential BBC shows. Peel also recorded a number of BBC sessions which were later released as the album "Heyday".

Folk rock

Rock journalist Richie Unterberger writes in his book "Eight Miles High": : "Prior to 1968, rather incredibly, there was not a single British rock group that played electric folk-rock consistently and well. It is thus not too surprising that the band to become roundly acclaimed as the best British folk-rock group, Fairport Convention, took its initial inspiration from American folk-rock, particularly the guitar-oriented California sort." [Unterberger, Richie (2003). "Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock", p. 157. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0879307439.]

Although folk-rock was well-established in the USA by 1968, Fairport Convention was the first English band to concentrate on bringing rock instruments and rock arrangements to traditional songs. Initially, the British press (and Fairport Convention's members) titled this mixture electric folk but the term 'folk-rock' soon became the norm, although it is a broader category than electric folk. Therefore, although other bands in the UK were experimenting with the folk-rock genre (including Strawbs and Pentangle), Fairport Convention are widely credited with 'inventing' English folk-rock.

However, Fairport Convention was also developing in other ways. As as well as revivals of traditional material with modern instrumentation and rhythms, bandmembers were increasingly composing original material and Richard Thompson had developed into a talented and inventive guitarist. Fairport Convention even entered the singles charts with "Si Tu Dois Partir", a French-language version of Bob Dylan's "If You Gotta Go". The record just missed the top twenty but got the band (with guest triangulist, John Peel) a slot on "Top Of The Pops", Britain's most popular television pop music programme at the time.


On 12 May 1969, Fairport's van crashed on the M1 motorway on the way home from a gig in Birmingham. Martin Lamble - just 19 years old - and Jeannie Franklyn, Richard Thompson's girlfriend, were killed. The rest of the band suffered injuries of varying severity. [Sweers, Britta (2005). "Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music," p. 89. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195158784.] The young musicians nearly decided to disband. But they didn't, and once recovered they went back into the studio. Matthews had left the band by then and Dave Mattacks took over the vacant drum stool. The resulting LP, "Liege & Lief", was a classic. This was arguably Fairport Convention's finest album and it established British folk-rock as a distinct and influential genre, reaching number 17 in the UK album chart, where it spent fifteen weeks. [UKChartHits|2106]

"Liege & Lief" was launched with a sell-out concert in London's Royal Festival Hall late in 1969. Dave Swarbrick had made a big contribution to the project and he now joined the band full-time. "Liege & Lief" was given an award at Cropredy 2006, with most of the former members picking up the award. Frank Skinner presented the award. In 2007, at the Cropredy Festival, the album was reprised with the original line-up except, obviously, Sandy Denny whose place was ably taken by Chris While. Dave Swarbrick proved there is life after transplant.

1970s - major changes

Despite the triumph of "Liege & Lief", founding member Ashley Hutchings, who was to become the reigning intellectual of the folk-rock movement, quit to form Steeleye Span. To compound Fairport's problems, Sandy Denny also left the band. Dave Pegg took over on bass guitar and has been in the band ever since, an unbroken stint of 34 years. Sandy Denny was essentially irreplaceable, so the band decided to continue without a female singer.

All the band members and their families moved in to The Angel, a former pub in Hertfordshire. There was nearly another tragedy when a runaway lorry crashed into the building. Dave Swarbrick was rudely awakened as the truck demolished his bedroom, leaving him unhurt but covered in rubble.

The next Fairport album was "Full House"; soon after its release Richard Thompson left the band. Simon Nicol was now the only original member. Dave Swarbrick developed a folk-rock opera called "Babbacombe Lee" and life in the ex-pub inspired the LP "Angel Delight". The two albums were the first time the same Fairport line-up had recorded consecutively: every other release had seen changes in personnel from its predecessor. "Angel Delight" became the band's first album to chart in the US, peaking at #200 on the Billboard 200 album chart. "Babbacombe Lee" was a success, and received good air play in the United States where it reached #195.

Simon Nicol left Fairport early in 1972, followed by Dave Mattacks, although both would rejoin later. That left the two Daves, Pegg and Swarbrick, holding the band together. The following few years were dubbed 'Fairport Confusion' as a bewildering sequence of band members came and went, but by 1973 Mattacks had returned and two former members of Sandy Denny's Fotheringay had joined the band, Denny's Australian husband Trevor Lucas (vocals/guitar) and American Jerry Donahue (lead guitar). The next two studio albums were "Rosie" (1973) and "Fairport Nine" (1974).

Denny rejoined Fairport Convention in 1974 and there were considerable expectations, including commercial expectations, on this lineup. Denny was featured on the album "Rising For The Moon," an album that became the band's highest US chart album when it reached #143 on theBillboard 200 but left again in 1976, as did Lucas and Donahue. During the "Rising" sessions, Mattacks was replaced by Bruce Rowland. Rowland, Pegg and Swarbrick fulfilled their remaining contractual obligation to Island Records by recording the album "Gottle O'Geer" as Fairport (as opposed to Fairport Convention) with various session players and production by Simon Nicol, who subsequently rejoined the band. Having come to the end of the contract with Island Records, Fairport signed up with Vertigo. By now, the line-up had stabilised with Nicol, Swarbrick, Pegg and Rowland, but after two of four contracted albums, Vertigo wanted out: in fact, the label ended up paying Fairport Convention not to make albums.

Sandy Denny died aged 31, in 1978, of a cerebral haemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs.


In 1979 the band had no record deal and Dave Swarbrick's hearing was deteriorating rapidly. Fairport decided to call it a day. The band did a farewell tour and played a final outdoor concert on 4 August in Cropredy, the Oxfordshire village where Dave and Christine Pegg lived. No record company wanted to release the live recordings of the tour and concert so the Peggs started Woodworm Records and released it themselves.

After a year, Fairport Convention staged a reunion concert in Cropredy and the annual Cropredy Festival was born. Over the next few years, it grew rapidly. Soon Fairport was staging New Year gigs and playing in Scandinavia. The Peggs continued to record and release the Cropredy concerts as 'official bootlegs'. Meanwhile, Dave Pegg had joined Jethro Tull which gave him a well-paying steady gig, and was the first of several Fairport players who played in both folk rock preceptors.

Simon Nicol had teamed up with Dave Swarbrick in an acoustic duo. In 1985 both Pegg and Nicol had some spare time. Dave Mattacks was free too. They decided to record an album of new material in the Peggs' studio.

In 1983 the magazine "Fairport Fanatics" was founded. In 1987 it changed its name to Dirty Linen, which is still running. The magazine is named after an instrumental set by the band.


Dave Swarbrick declined to join the new band, so violin virtuoso Ric Sanders, formerly of Soft Machine and The Albion Country Band, was invited to participate. Multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock was also recruited and the five-piece recorded Fairport's only all-instrumental album "Expletive Delighted".

With their mix of old stagers and new blood, this proved to be Fairport Convention's longest-lasting line-up - eleven years.

In the early nineties, a four-piece acoustic line-up emerged, the two versions of Fairport running in parallel. Woodworm continued to record and release the band's studio albums and live 'boots'. Martin Allcock left in the mid-1990s and was replaced by Chris Leslie on mandolin and fiddle. Chris proved to be a talented songwriter and has made a significant contribution to the band's repertoire.

In 1998, Dave Mattacks moved to the USA and Gerry Conway, who had travelled a parallel musical road to Fairport for 30 years, took over on drums and percussion.

Into the 21st century

The new century found Fairport in fine form. Concert halls were full and records were selling surprisingly well. The year 2000 was marked by the very successful 'Y2K' tour and a new studio album, "The Wood And The Wire". In 2002, Fairport Convention celebrated 35 years as a band and released a new album, titled "XXXV". They also commissioned Fairport-branded 'Anniversary Ale', a bottled beer from Wadworth Brewery (the band was always known for a willingness to hoist a few). The band undertook a gruelling schedule, touring the UK, Europe, Australasia, Europe, the USA and Canada.

Fairport Convention won the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2002 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Their seminal album "Liege & Lief" was voted 'Best Folk Album Ever' by Radio 2 listeners. Free Reed Records, an independent label, released "Fairport Unconventional", a four-CD boxed set of rare and unreleased recordings from the band's 35-year career in 2002. The band had achieved legendary status, "outliving" scores of similar musical aggregations.

Fairport Convention are still one of the busiest bands on the folk-rock scene in the UK. The current line-up of Simon Nicol (lead vocal, rhythm and electric guitars), Dave Pegg (backing vocals, bass guitar, mandolin), Ric Sanders (violin), Chris Leslie (lead vocal, fiddle, bouzouki, mandolin) and Gerry Conway (percussion and drums) still packs venues on its frequent tours.

In 2004, the band staged a major fundraiser at Birmingham Symphony Hall for Dave Swarbrick — who received a lung transplant — and played summer dates at home and abroad.

In August 2004, the band's new own-brand label, Matty Grooves Records (the name is a pun on an old murder ballad sung memorably by Sandy Denny on "Liege & Lief", "Matty Groves"), released the album "Over The Next Hill" and Free Reed Records released a four-CD boxed set, "Cropredy Capers". In October, Fairport toured the USA and Canada and the year would end with tours by the four-piece acoustic line-up and spin-off band The Dylan Project.

In February 2007, Matty Grooves Records released the band's new album "Sense of Occasion" to celebrate their 40 years of music.

On 10 August 2007, to great acclaim, the band performed the whole of the "Liege & Lief" album live at Fairport's Cropredy Convention featuring the 1969 line-up of Dave Swarbrick, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson, with Chris While taking the place of Sandy Denny.

The 2007 Fairport's Cropredy Convention was filmed for release as a DVD. The footage included crowd scenes, interviews with festival-goers and much of Fairport's closing set on the Saturday night. The "Liege & Lief" set was not filmed, however. The DVD was released on Fairport's Matty Grooves label in early 2008.

Although many amateur videos of Fairport's performances have been uploaded to YouTube during the past three years, the band's first 'official' YouTube video appeared in April 2008. Edited from footage shot for the DVD, the nine-minute mini-documentary includes interviews with Lulu, Jools Holland, Seth Lakeman, Mike Harding, Geoff Hughes and Frank Skinner.

Band members

The 2008 line up of Fairport Convention is:
*Simon Nicol (guitar, lead vocal): 1967 - 1971, 1976 - present
*Dave Pegg (bass guitar, mandolin, backing vocal): 1970 - present
*Ric Sanders (fiddles, occasional keyboards): 1985 - present
*Chris Leslie (fiddle, mandolin, bouzouki, lead vocal): 1997 - present
*Gerry Conway (drums and percussion): 1998 - present

The following musicians have been members of Fairport Convention:
*Ashley Hutchings (bass guitar) 1967 - 1969
*Bob Brady (piano) 1976
*Bruce Rowland (drums) 1975 - 1984
*Dan Ar Braz (guitar) 1976
*Dave Mattacks (drums, keyboards, bass guitar) 1969 - 1972, 1973 - 1975, 1985 - 1997
*David Rea (guitar) 1972
*David Swarbrick (fiddle, mandolin, vocals) 1969 - 1984
*Iain Matthews (vocal) 1967 - 1968
*Jerry Donahue (guitar) 1972 - 1975
*Judy Dyble (vocal, autoharp, piano, recorder) 1967 - 1968
*Maartin Allcock (guitar, mandolin, keyboard, vocal) 1985 - 1996
*Martin Lamble (drums) 1967 - 1969
*Paul Warren (drums) 1972
*Richard Thompson (guitar, vocal) 1967 - 1971
*Roger Burridge (fiddle) 1976
*Roger Hill (guitar) 1972
*Sandy Denny (vocal, piano) 1968 - 1969, 1974 - 1975
*Tom Farnell (drums) 1972
*Trevor Lucas (guitar, vocal) 1972 - 1975


:"See Fairport Convention discography"

ee also

*Music of the United Kingdom



This article shares its genesis with material in the public-domain source on Fairport Convention's website (see 'External links' above).
*cite book | last=Humphries | first=Patrick| title=Meet on the Ledge: A History of Fairport Convention | location=London | publisher=Eel Pie Publishing Ltd. | date=1982 | id=ISBN 0-906008-46-8
*cite book | last=Humphries | first=Patrick| title=Meet on the Ledge | location=London | publisher=Virgin Publishing Ltd. | date=1997 | id=ISBN 0-7535-0153-8

External links

* [http://www.fairportconvention.com/ Fairport Convention's website]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/r2music/folk/folkawards2006/ BBC Radio Two Folk Awards 2006]
* [http://www.talkingelephant.co.uk/artists/artist.php?Artist_Ref=225&Genre_id=all Talking Elephant - The UK Record Label]
* [http://www.musicomh.com/interviews/fairport-convention_0805.htm 2005 interview with Simon Nicol]
* [http://www.innerviews.org/inner/fairport.html Five-Part 35th Anniversary Interview in Innerviews by Anil Prasad]
* [http://www.guitarplayer.com/story.asp?storycode=10289 Guitar Player Magazine Interview]
* [http://www.talkawhile.co.uk TalkAwhile - a Bulletin board discussing Fairport and related subjects with participation from Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and others]

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