Fairportiana Archives

July 16, 2004

Swarbrick plays Swarbrick

I was surprised to find the other day that folk violinist Dave Swarbrick, who has been very ill with emphysema, had somehow managed to record a new album. The fact that despite being practically bedridden, he has been able to play at all is miraculous enough, but what makes it even better is that English Fiddler: Swarbrick Plays Swarbrick is such a strong album. Being a collection of classic tunes written throughout the man's long career, it's not groundbreaking by Swarb's standards, but it has fine playing from everyone involved and the arrangements are as daring as ever.
Musicians on the record include Swarb's old friend and partner Martin Carthy, old Fairport Convention stalwarts Simon Nicol and Dave Pegg, more recent Fairport Convention stalwarts Martin Alcock, Chris Leslie and Gerry Conway, Whippersnapper guitarist Kevin Dempsey and Swarb's old mentor Beryl Mariott. They revisit the tunes they were originally involved in, sounding occasionally under-rehearsed but performing with skill and feeling. Sadly, Swarb doesn't sing on the album because his illness has cost him his singing voice, but the violin work is still a joy to listen to. There's even a return to the electric violin sound from his Fairport days. The other musicians get plenty of space to make themselves heard as well. The best example of this is in the final tune, "Miss Stevenson/Turnabout", where they get to jam for almost 2 minutes in the middle of the song before Swarb cuts in with the electric violin.

English Fiddler is out on the Naxos label, so you may have difficulty finding a store that carries it. Naxos is mostly known for commissioning inexpensive recordings of classical music and reissuing jazz and pop from the period before World War II, but they also have a great selection of folk music from across the world (the bluegrass album Little Grasscals has become a favorite in the studio), and it's all red-book compliant and cheap!

(Note: Oddly, Amazon lists this item both under Popular Music and under Books. This may have something to do with Naxos' distribution arrangements. When listed under books, it's a special-order item, but the music listing says it should ship within 24 hours.)

August 30, 2004

Henry the Human Fly

Fledg'ling records have reissued Henry the Human Fly, which is great news. Richard Thompson's debut solo album from 1972 had been kinda-sorta available since 1991, but I for one had never seen it in the shops before. I had a copy burned for me from vinyl by an acquaintance, but it's just not the same. The remastered edition is a huge improvement on that copy, with Thompson's acoustic guitar and the other instruments coming through with great detail and presence.
It's one of the best Thompson has made in a long and illustrious career. In every decade since the 1960s, Thompson has come out with at least one album that ranks among the best made that decade, and occasionally with more. Henry the Human Fly is a bit difficult to get into but once you get past the sound of Thompson's voice on this first attempt, you will hear great songwriting with the deceptively simple tunes and gut-wrenching lyrics that have been his trademark ever since.
The guitar playing is also beautiful, effective and mature. Mojo listed the record as one of the 20 greatest guitar albums ever, but don't expect a record driven by guitar pyrotechnics. Thompson's guitar playing, even then, served the songs, and not the other way around.

Continue reading "Henry the Human Fly" »

September 30, 2004

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.

Continue reading "Angel Delight/Babbacombe Lee/Rosie" »

Swarbrick roundup

Speaking of Dave Swarbrick, I have got meself some more of his solo records in the past few months! After writing about Swarbrick Plays Swarbrick, I realised that I didn't know nearly as much about his career as I did about other Fairporters like Sandy Denny or Richard Thompson, so I set out to remedy that. I'll keep it brief:

Continue reading "Swarbrick roundup" »

October 2, 2004


I'll bet you thought I was done reviewing CDs after Thursday's barrage? Think again. This one has been in the queue since August, even before my review of Henry the Human Fly. In the comments, I mentioned another important reissue by Fledgling records.

Fotheringay is the band Sandy Denny formed after she left Fairport Convention for the first time. Within months, they had this self-titled debut album out. It sounds remarkably like Fairport Convention, except it is more singer-songwriter oriented (while still being a true band record) and has no fiddle on it. What it does have is mostly great songs sung by Denny and Australian-born singer-songwriter Trevor Lucas who would soon marry Denny. Only one of the songs, "Banks of the Nile", is traditional.

Continue reading "Fotheringay" »

October 6, 2004

Bones of All Men

Last one in the big catchup that began last week:

Combining renaissance music and rock has been tried by quite a few artists over the years, from Gentle Giant and Renaissance in the 1970s to Blackmore's Night and In Extremo in the nineties and aughties. It's... hard work. Underuse the rock instruments and you end up with kitchy renaissance-muzak-with-a-drumbeat, over-use them and you get bombast tarted up with crumhorns. The Bones Of All Men (and of several remarkable curiosities therein occurring being a compendium of Davnces, Pavannes, Steps and such, played this time), by Mr. Phillip Pickett with Mr. Richard Thompson & the Fairport Rhythm Section, gets it right nearly all of the time. I suppose it helps that Mr. Pickett is one of the leading early music woodwind players, Mr. Thompson is a genius on the guitar, and Messrs. Nicol, Pegg and Mattacks form one of the most seasoned rhythm sections in the Western world. Together, aided by keyboardist Sharona Joshua and medieval violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk (on one track only), they create stomping, dynamic versions of mostly 16th century keyboard compositions.

Continue reading "Bones of All Men" »

March 21, 2005

Swarb walks!

Following up on my post on Swarbrick Plays Swarbrick, I just found out that Swarb has finally had his lung transplant and has appeared on stage with Fairport Convention on March 12. He was able to walk and even sing along on the choruses of one song!
I couldn't look at those pictures with dry eyes. He may not look too great to people who don't know about him, but for a man who was bedridden before the transplant, it's a huge difference. Long may he continue, and may he return to active performance soon!

July 26, 2005

Next litter of Fairport remasters

Speaking of Amazon UK, they're listing reissues of Fairport Convention Nine, Live Convention and Rising for the Moon for August 1. I've been waiting for these records to arrive, going to the record store more often in the past few weeks. Nine in particular comes highly recommended, featuring some of Dave Pegg's finest bass work including some of the fast unison playing that was 1970s Fairport trademark style for instrumentals. Jerry Donahue plays guitar on all three records, and he's a fantastic musician as well. The latter two records feature Sandy Denny on vocals. I'm not all that familiar with Rising, but I'll review the remastered editions as soon as I can get my grubby little mitts on them.

August 28, 2005

Fairport Convention - Nine, Live Convention, Rising For the Moon

In my last review of the then-newest batch of Fairport Convention reissues, I mentioned that by the time of Rosie, the band were stuck without any original members and putting together an album consisting in part of left-over Fotheringay tracks. The result was a directionless album, and one wonders why any band would bother to go on after that experience. But go on they did, and being hard workers, it took them less than a year to come up with a much stronger follow-up, Nine. By then the five-piece line-up of Donahue, Lucas, Mattacks, Pegg and Swarbrick had settled in quite nicely, with Donahue in particular contributing some great musical ideas. The record starts off with Swarbrick singing over a hand-held drum in "The Hexhamshire Lass" which gradually goes crazy in its 2 1/2 minutes. Contrasting very strongly with that at first is Trevor Lucas's croak in "Polly on the Shore", a traditional lyric set to new music by Dave Pegg, which is in turn followed by a fast Donahue instrumental and the gentle ballad "To Althea From Prison". But although the album is rich in contrasts, it's at all times recognisably the work of one band, recording mostly live in the studio. The strongest aspect of the album throughout is the unison playing between the guitar, fiddle and occasionally the bass guitar. In the album's other instrumental "Tokyo" Pegg's bass keeps up with the fast, long melody introduced by the lead guitar, picked up by an overdubbed guitar recorded at half speed, and taken over by the fiddle which is joined by Pegg's perfectly articulated rumble.
After that track, the album begins to flounder a little. "Bring'Em Down" by Lucas is a decent Dylanish protesty kind of thing, but with "Big William" and "Pleasure and Pain" the songwriting begins to lose me. The original album at least closes with a good, country-esque song, "Possibly Parson's Green" but by then it has forfeited its claim to being anywhere near as good as the earlier Fairport albums. It's still in my personal Fairport top ten though.
The new edition has four bonus tracks, one of which is actually interesting: a frenzied version of the instrumental "Fiddlestix" recorded live with an orchestra. The orchestral arrangement is a good one, adding to the dynamics of this fast, furious piece.

Continue reading "Fairport Convention - Nine, Live Convention, Rising For the Moon" »

October 4, 2005

Richard Thompson - Front Parlour Ballads

Speaking of banging on about my favourite performers, I've still got several albums in the review pool. Sometimes, a bit of a delay in reviewing a record is a good thing: when I first heard Richard Thompson's Front Parlour Ballads, I didn't like it that much, at least compared to other Richard Thompson albums. I initially felt that the changes on the surface – Thompson's continuing stripping down of his sound since 1996's You? Me? Us? were beginning to mask a lack of real development in Thompson's songwriting. There's a lot on Front Parlour Ballads that I'd already heard on previous records. Also, unlike his last studio album, The Old Kit Bag, which highlighted the growth in Thompson's vocal abilities, the new one, with its rough and ready production approach, revealed his limitations.

Since then, though, I'm glad to say that the album has grown on me a lot. The faults are still there, but the songwriting and the guitar playing, on repeated listening, are great as always. In fact, the album reminds me a lot of Thompson's very first solo album Henry the Human Fly, one of my favourite Thompson albums, reissued last year. Ballads has the same kind of lyrical storytelling, the same kind of character vignettes painted in broad strokes. Ballads is more sophisticated and less alcohol-fueled than Henry and has a greater musical range despite being recorded with little in the way of acccompaniment apart from Thompson's guitar.

"Miss Patsy" with its jaunty 3/4 rhythm, could easily have been a track from Henry, as could the youth gang fun of "Mutton Street" and the wonderfully sinister closing song "When We Were Boys At School" – about a boy who was bullied and ridiculed at school and is now a sinister, unseen presence in the corridors of power. I didn't know Thompson went to school with Tom Riddle!

Since Henry, Thompson has developed a much greater insight into human relationships, and that reveals itself in "Should I Betray" in which the viewpoint character agonises over breaking his female friend's already very brittle illusions concerning her husband. Another favorite of mine is the opening track, "Let it Blow", a gleeful tale of a cad (and possibly also a bounder) who has made one last catch. That one has some percussion and some lovely melodic electric guitar overdubbed on the basic track, making it almost a band performance. A few more tracks like that and the record would have been more balanced and accessible. As it is, it's really very good; it just takes a few listens to get into.

February 17, 2007

New Free Richard Thompson song, plus Earth Day Footprint questionnaire

I missed this at Making Light's Sidelights, but managed to catch it at Avedon Carol's Sideshow: Richard Thompson has a new song up on his website, called Dad's Gonna Kill Me. First impression: pretty energetic delivery with his usual strong guitar work. Dunno if it's the best writing he's ever done, yet, but I'll know when I've listened to it more.

Another quick catch: the Earth Day Footprint Quiz tells me that if everyone lived like me, we'd need 2.1 planets. This in spite of me not owning a car and living in a very modest apartment. My footprint is well below the average for a person living in the Netherlands, but, like my cellphone, it's not small enough.

May 16, 2007

Now that I am Dead

Because Adam heard this song while he was in Groningen and asked about it:

Richard Thompson - Now That I Am Dead. The sound is a bit low, but once you've turned up the volume it turns out to be decent quality.

And because you can always have some more Richard Thompson:

The Ghost Of You Walks, with Danny Thompson, performed on Jools Holland's show fairly recently, judging from how D.T. looks.

1952 Vincent Black Lightning, unsourced solo performance, probably 2004-2006.

Finally, some Fairport:

Now Be Thankful, performed by the Full House line-up in 1970, with Dave Swarbrick on vocals. Richard was a funny-looking young man, wasn't he?

About Fairportiana

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Waffle in the Fairportiana category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

All that is Deep and Purple is the previous category.

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