fri 24/10/2014

Fairport Convention, St George's Church, Brighton | New music reviews, news & interviews

Fairport Convention, St George's Church, Brighton

Well-loved folk-rockers play to devotees on consecrated ground

Fairport in jovial mood

Fairport Convention bassist and longest-serving member Dave Pegg is a genial raconteur. He is relating how he presented the band with the song “The Eynsham Poacher”, pretending it was his when really he had purloined it by taping it off someone, thus cheating them “out of £13.50 in royalties”. A light ripple of laughter rolls across this early 19th century church deep in Brighton’s Kemp Town district.

There are a good few hundred people here, including many distributed around the church’s wooden gallery. The atmosphere is seriously partisan. Fairport’s fans are clannish. There’s even a jokey, band-led show of hands at one point to see who prefers which pub in the village of Cropredy where the Fairports’ annual festival is held.

I saw one chap asleep in his pew but he woke occasionally, smiling brightly

My 16-year-old self would not have been impressed. That vim-filled adolescent punk wannabe might have sneered, but there’s much to enjoy. Certainly, it’s all a bit gentle. I am 45 but felt throughout that my parents and their friends would have embraced this concert more wholeheartedly than me. Folk has become fashionable again but this crowd are mostly the greying, ale-supping original Sixties/Seventies vintage, the occasional rustic hippy coat or hat visible here and there. It’s almost a family affair and that’s how Fairport operate, a band under siege during the post-punk era who have since successfully built a holistic and impressively large cottage operation.

They address multiple audience members from the stage by name as if they were old pals – they probably are - and mingle with their people in the half hour (too long!) interval. At the heart of it all, however, as folk music always has, the night draws everyone together in tales of mutual heritage.

Most exciting, to my folk-neophyte ears, is the song “Mercy Bay”, which the band explain is about HMS Investigator’s 1848 expedition to locate Sir John Franklin’s lost mission to navigate the North-West Passage, and how they became trapped in the Arctic ice. With its doomy chorus of “Go down, go down” and looping psychedelic fiddle from Ric Sanders, it veers more towards the group’s rock aspects. It's one of a trio of tasty nautical songs, the others being “Sir Patrick Spens” and  “Around the Wild Cape Horn”. In the latter, guitarist and Fairport founder Simon Nicol amusingly mocked himself as he struggled to recall the name of a key historical character (“Irving Johnston”, as he then repeatedly reminded us).

The humorous, educational anecdotes and chat are very appealing, even when the music leaves me cold, but the band also swing through more personal songs, such as “Festival Bell”, about Cropredy’s Fairport-stamped church bell, as well as perhaps the most famous song of the whole late-Sixties folk revival, their own and the late Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” Musically, they wander around with relaxed ease, as happy running through older numbers such as “Matty Groves” and Denny’s “Fotheringay” as a song by multi-generational local folklorists the Copper Family. They are consummately professional one minute, then endearingly muck up an intro the next. As the evening wore on I saw one chap asleep in his pew but he woke occasionally, smiling brightly. It was that kind of evening, undemanding yet hearty enough.

Overleaf: watch a fan video of Fairport playing "Matty Groves" at Cropredy 2012 (with surprisingly decent sound)

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