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Angel Delight/Babbacombe Lee/Rosie

The remastered versions of the first 5 Fairport Convention albums plus Heyday and the live record House Full appeared before I started blogging, and I'm not gonna try to catch up with them right now. I'll skip straight to the latest batch of Fairport records to be reissued, albums 6, 7 and 8, which I bought a few weeks ago. These records show Fairport in its slow but spirited decline.

Angel Delight is still a very strong album. Richard Thompson had just left the band, leaving Simon Nicol as lead guitarist and only remaining original member, but he had left behind two new songs written with Dave Swarbrick, and the rest of the material, partly original and partly traditional, is outstanding. Thompson's lead guitar playing is sorely missed on the album, though, and the album as a whole lacks the energy of the previous ones, each of which was groundbreaking. The new edition has a live recording of the song "The Journeyman's Grace" with Thompson still on guitar; unfortunately, it's very poorly recorded and lacks the middle verse.
What is noticeable on this remastered edition is the improved clarity on the vocals. For the first time, I can hear how often bassist Dave Pegg took the lead vocals.

Babbacombe Lee was a bold move for the band: a concept album about a man sentenced to death for murder but reprieved because the gallows refused to work three times in a row. Folk-rock concept albums were rare then, as now. They pulled it off too, except for one thing that spoils the record for me: the interminable and completely irrelevant traditional "The Sailor's Alphabet". If they'd come up with one more original song to describe the character's life at sea before coming back to the country and his doom, they'd have been able to drop that clunker and they'd have made a perfect rock opera. The remastered edition has two bonus tracks, one of which features Sandy Denny on vocals, but they came from very poor quality tape sources and are unlistenable. The rest of the record has great sound!

The poor response to Babbacombe Lee at the time, and friction over Simon Nicol's production work for the record, lead to a disastrous rift within the band. Nicol and drummer Dave Mattacks both left, leaving the band incomplete and with no original members. Swarbrick and Pegg soldiered on for a while, but eventually decided to pack it in and work on a duo album instead. That didn't work either: the sessions were scrapped and re-done with former Fotheringay singer/guitarist Trevor Lucas as producer. During these sessions, Lucas and another ex-Fotheringay player, guitarist Jerry Donahue became members of a new version of Fairport Convention, with Dave Mattacks who had decided to come back. To showcase Lucas, two leftover Fotheringay tracks were included with Dave Pegg re-recording the bass part over the original. With a history like that, the Rosie album was never going to be the most cohesive. The quality is very mixed, with the title track and the recycled Fotheringay tracks being the highlights and Pegg's "Hungarian Rhapsody" being an embarrassing low point. The obligatory instrumental medley, "The Hens March Through the Midden/The Four-Poster Bed" is just that: obligatory. Swarbrick had recorded much better versions of both tunes on his solo record Rags, Reels and Airs. Donahue is a great musician though. This time around, the bonus tracks are pretty good. All five of them are from a concert and have decent sound.

If Island records goes on re-releasing Fairport's albums in batches of three, then they have one more batch to go: Fairport Nine, Rising for the Moon and Fairport Live Convention. Or was the execrable Gottle O'Geer done for Island as well? I do hope the rest of Fairport's vast catalogue gets released when the Island years are all covered...

(Note: I have used Amazon UK links whenever I couldn't find the correct link on Amazon US. Amazon US lists the reissues as Imports anyway, but do pay attention if you click on one of the links with the intention of buying the record)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 30, 2004 9:16 PM.

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