Wind the calendar back to 3rd June 2016 and Fairport play St.Edith Hall, in the Kent village of Kemsing. A poignant evening given the fact that the passing of Dave Swarbrick had been announced earlier that day.
Fast forward a year and the band return to a sell-out, enthusiastic audience at the same venue, the home of St.Edith Folk, where, understandably, a palpably different atmosphere permeated the evening.
The Spring 2017 Tour, the band's 50th Anniversary, was supported by the 50:50@50 CD and LP, containing 7 new studio tracks and 7 live recordings, half a dozen of which featured tonight.
The first set opened with Our Bus Rolls On, from the aforementioned new release, before we were transported back to 1968 for a rendition of Richard Thompson's Genesis Hall, lead vocals delivered with consumate feeling by Simon Nicol. Chris Leslie's mandolin virtuosity came to the fore in another new song, Devil's Work, his paen to DIY. Of course no Fairport gig would be complete without banter and we were regaled with the tale of one-upmanship of Dave Pegg's newly constructed outdoor bar, complete with bottle collecting facility, trumping Chris's mere arbour.
Further background detail was given as to record compsny pressure on the early Fairport to come up with a hit single, a task nobably left to Richard Thompdon and Swarb, as Peggy and Simon decided to go to the pub! The resultant Now Be Thankful, from 1970, sounded paricularly evocative in this setting.
As a group, Fairport have never been shy of reinterpreting the songs of others, it was however, a pleasant surprise to hear Steve Tilson's The Slips Jigs and Reels "for the first time in our set for a decade or so".
Following Ric Sanders's first joke (?) telling session, the Tardis-like evening continued with his Danny Jack's Reward (cheap version) which had the audience fully engaged as he battled, duelling-banjos style with Chris's mandolin. Another new track, Summer By The Chrwell, (written by PJ Wright), evoked rural English backwaters before the first of tonight's Sandy Denny songs, and the second from 1969's Unhalfbricking, Who Knows Where The Time Goes both captivated and moved those present. annA rydeR's Angelina Baker was somewhat unexpected, despite the group's involvement in her recorded output, and the first half concluded with this tune interspersed with her banjo-heavy Bring Me Back My Feathers.
Interval merch duties completed, the band returned to their on-stage chairs, truly a seated event, with Gerry Conway, in the absence of a traditional drum kit, perched atop a cajon, with invisible bass drum pedal, electronic percussion pad and other items of a percussive nature.
With Simon announcing "We're a folk band, we'd better play a folk song", they launched into Sir Patrick Spens, quickly followed by the second Sandy Denny song of the evening, Fotheringay. Whilst opinions vary on the efficacy of continuing to perform songs so firmly linked with earlier incarnations of FC, I have always believed that the group, (and indeed other long-standing units), really have little option but to play at least some of their more illustrious back catalogue live, and whilst no-one would pretend that these attempts match the quality of Sandy's voice, they certainly stand up on their own merits.
The gruesome Tale of John Gaudie completed what was noted as an unintentional opening trilogy of three biographical songs, before Ric Sanders literally took "side-stage" for a version of Port Meirion. Following a warm description of the close affinity between the group and Ralph McTell, two of his songs were performed, firstly Around The Wild Cape Horn and then a splendid interpretation of Girl From The Hirling Fair, with Richard Thompson's Farewell Farewell sandwiched between the two.for good measure.
A return to the present, with the opening track of the Anniversary release, Eleanor's Dream, being well-received, although this was overshadowed by Gerry Conway's long "drum solo" introduction, mainly utilising the cojon, to Matty Groves, the final song of the set. The exuberant audience demanded more as the band, rather than leave their seats and the stage, merely hid their heads behind their instruments as the applause continued. Peggy's reasoning for this was at their age having to leave the stage and then return was maybe getting a bit much, and doing it this way might be able to give them another ten years. Mutterings about planning for the 60th were caught from a mike.
The inevitable Meet On The Ledge ended the evening, with Simon espousing the view that "Where better to sing it than in this wonderful hall... Other than at 11 o'clock at the closing of our Festival at Cropredy on Saturday, 12th August..."
Whilst some may bemoan the lack of electrfic guitar and make comparisons with the past, as an evening's entertainment taken in isolation this was a first-class gig with high quality musicianship, surely there can't be many better bass players than Mr.Pegg?
A word too for St.Edith Folk, a wonderful, friendly club promoting regular, high quality music. Check them out at www.stedithfolk.co.uk
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