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Fairport Convention Fairport Convention
Album: What We Did On Our Saturday
Label: Matty Grooves
Tracks: 12+13

The fulsome celebration of the iconic band's 50th anniversary was engaged "conventionally" enough with the release last year of the new Fairport studio album 50:50@50, and this landmark is succeeded with what else but the release of a new live album. Sure, you're probably asking, but do we really need another Fairport live album to further weigh down shelves that are already stacked full of Fairport live albums? Answer: emphatically yes, and here there can be no debate - and not just because of the golden celebration tag.

It's a double-disc set, recorded at last year's anniversary show at the band's Cropredy Convention festival. Some might well say that the brilliant cover artwork - a clever homage to that of the band's second album What We Did On Our Holidays - is almost worth the price of admission alone. But just wait till you hear the music… You see, what happened on just that very special Saturday evening during 2017's Cropredy was that virtually all of the surviving former members of Fairport Convention came onstage to celebrate the longevity, playing alongside the current lineup of Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Chris Leslie, Ric Sanders and Gerry Conway (which of course is the longest-running of the band's lineups to date!). There were also guest appearances by Ralph McTell, Sally Barker, Chris While and P.J. Wright.

Although the set-list ostensibly starts off as pretty much a chronology of Fairport, with representative songs from successive eras (give or take), the band's earliest "covers period" takes us from rocking opener Time Will Show The Wiser (with Iain Matthews and Judy Dyble sharing lead vocals), through a typically stretched-out Reno, Nevada (check out that killer solo - Thompson at his finest!), to a classy Suzanne (Chris While taking on the Sandy Denny mantle), before (perhaps not entirely inevitably) skipping forward two albums straight to the seminal Liege And Lief. Farewell, Farewell comes in its modern-day current lineup arrangement, and (as on Crazy Man Michael) Simon provides the contoured vocal lead. Come All Ye also really rocks as The Deserter pounds (that ace Hutchings/Mattacks rhythm section!), after which the signature glorious guitar-ringing medley and a majestically measured Tam Lin prove irresistible. The good Mr Thompson figures large for the remainder of the first disc, culminating in a mere-nine-minute (but still broodingly electrifying) Sloth.

Half a disc later, though, the chronology kinda grinds to a halt (at Gladys' Leap) with The Hiring Fair. Prior to which, that song's writer joins the current band for White Dress, one of two numbers from Rising For The Moon (that album's title song follows Ned Kelly in bringing in Sally and P.J.). Simon Nicol and Chris While trade verses before duetting on an affectionate, reflective course through Who Knows Where The Time Goes? before Chris Leslie's chummy anthem Our Bus Rolls On functions as a kind of interlude heralding the final-stages "encore, encore" section comprising Dirty Linen, the welcomely ubiquitous Matty Groves (in its newly-upholstered banjo-led garb) and the hardiest of perennials Meet On The Ledge (inevitable it may be, but as always it's highly emotionally charged - it never fails!).

This two-hour, two-disc set is self-evidently an edited concert experience, but it's brilliantly mastered and in the end an eminently satisfying one. For, as the liner note neatly proclaims, "…this was no mere nostalgia fest. rather it was a celebration of the heritage of a band that's still going strong."

David Kidman