The Second Fairport Comeback
Another edited outtake from Fairport By Fairport, in which author Nigel Schofield recalls events from Cropreddy in 1985, and shares stories from that night with Simon, Peggy, DM, Ric, Chris and Gerry:
Friday night, August 9th, 1985 at Cropredy Festival, and Fairport are about to take to the stage. The programme tells us this is the Full House line-up reconvened for a special one-off event. Saturday would bring more surprises as both Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue rejoined the band for the occasion. Those present enjoyed the rare treat of watching Richard and Jerry, Fairport’s two legendary guitarists, playing together. They swapped lines on a lengthy instrumental known as ‘The Big Duet’ which was designed entirely to showcase their talents.
SIMON Full House was the first album that we could return to and play with the original line-up. Anything before that would, at least need someone to “stand-in” for Sandy and, of course, Martin Lamble.
Fairport also played material from their three 1969 albums, together with a few tracks from Richard’s solo albums. Guest vocalist Cathy Lesurf sang one of her own songs, ‘My Feet Are Set For Dancing’ which had been included on Fairport’s first new studio album in seven years Gladys’ Leap (1985). This sixth annual reunion came in the wake of the band’s first Winter Tour, which began with two local gigs on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and ran through to January 27th, and was part of the promotion for the new, reborn Fairport Convention. The new studio album was the seventh for Peggy’s, Woodworm Records, and followed releases of recordings made at previous years Cropredy reunion gigs.
What’s surprising is that Fairport didn’t use Cropredy 1985 to promote Gladys, though.
SIMON That was down to Dave Swarbrick. He had, by this point, moved up to Scotland, and while he was prepared to join Fairport for one day a year, he had no interest in reviving the band on a more permanent basis. When we played him the album, as a work in progress, he was very disparaging of what he heard and had no interest in contributing to it. As a result, we invited Ric Sanders to play on the album. Chris Leslie, who was local and already very much associated with Cropredy Festival and Fairport, might have seemed a more natural choice, but at the time he was a member of Swarb’s new group Whippersnapper, who appeared at the Festival that year.
PEGGY We decided to release an album because it was time to stop being a band that got together once a year and become a proper functioning unit once more. Releasing a new studio album is obviously a significant part of that process. I was pleased it could be recorded at my studio and released on Woodworm Records.
DM At that point, there were only three members of Fairport – myself, Simon and Peggy. There were guest musicians, however.
Also appearing on the album were Cropredy resident Harold Wells providing the spoken intro to Ralph McTell’s ‘Bird From The Mountain’, Cathy LeSurf, Richard Thompson providing lead guitar on the final track, and Ric Sanders adding electric fiddle to three of the tracks.
RIC SANDERS That album causes some confusion. To clear things up, I was not a member of Fairport at the time, I was simply brought in as a session player. Although I had worked with both Simon and DM in The Albion Band, it was Peggy who invited me to play.We went back a long way, through the association of our dads both working at the same school.
A gathering of over 10,000 hardcore fans had travelled from across the British Isles and overseas primarily to see Fairport, whose two sets over two days dominated the weekend/ It is clearly a natural place to plug any new venture, let alone the full time reformation of the band and the release of the first studio album in years. Bizarrely though, the Festival seemed resolutely to ignore these new developments. The cover of the program depicted the four-piece Fairport, including Swarb, in individual headshots. The programme said nothing about the new album, though it did have a discreet plug for the forthcoming Winter Tour. Despite the two lengthy stints on stage, Fairport included only one song from the album – the Cathy le Surf song that had been played the previous year.
SIMON Swarb simply was not interested in playing songs from Gladys. He stamped his little foot and insisted we stuck to the old material. It wasn’t worth having a stand up fight about it, because if he pulled out, we were left with only the new material and a three-piece band to play it, in effect. So the album was out and the opportunity to promote it was not available to us.
At the time, I felt his attitude to the whole thing, particularly the recording, was unnecessarily negative. He seemed to me to be being a fool to himself by being so absolutely unprepared to have any association with it. Swarb is one of those people with whom you have to accept the fact that if he sets his mind against something, you are not going to change it. Fairport were not in a position where they could have given Swarb a break to allow Ric to join them for some songs from the new album.
RIC Before I finally joined Fairport in ’85, I went to Cropredy each year. The problem was though, that Cropredy clashed with Edinburgh Festival, where I was usually working. If I had a gig there over the weekend, I would only be able to make Friday at Cropredy. Usually I’d be playing with Andy Cronshaw or Phil Neville. On Cropredy Saturday in 1985, I was in Edinburgh with Phil and (believe it or not) Julian Clary or as he was known at the time, The Joan Collins Fan Club featuring Fanny The Wonderdog.
Fairport’s only previous two-night stint at Cropredy had been three years earlier when they had devoted their Friday night set to playing Babbacombe Lee all the way through (as they would again when they returned to it 29 years later). The decision to feature their classic 1969 material meant that a number of songs ended up getting two outings. So, while Cropredy ’85 did not promote Fairport’s new direction, it did establish the precedent of creating “Cropredy versions” of classic material.
CHRIS I don’t think of that as turning us into some kind of Fairport tribute band. The people playing were either in the band at the time it originally played those songs, or fans of the band who had learned the songs through them. To me it’s closer to an oral tradition than a pop music cover.
RIC The original version is in your mind and sometimes it’s tempting to recreate what Swarb originally recorded, for example. It’s much more exciting to say to yourself, ‘That’s how that Fairport did it then, how would this Fairport do it now’.
GERRY With a song like ‘Who Knows Where Time Goes’, you might start quite close to the original, treating it with respect, handling it with kid gloves. But then you start to work on it, shape it, take possession of it. The fiddle duet that Chris and Ric have created for that song is not on the original version which is all rolling guitars, and is also nothing like what Swarb did with it when Sandy rejoined the band.
So, several songs we had heard in something close to their original form on Friday were reinvented on Saturday. These included two instrumentals (Dirty Linen and Sir B McKenzie’s), Walk Awhile,’ Matty Groves and, most surprisingly, Sloth. Most of these appeared right at the end of set as a kind of massive segue. Fairport have created many surprising intros to Matty Groves, but that night’s version, which sprung off the back of an extended version of Sloth, which had come straight out of Dirty Linen was exceptional.
PEGGY From the point of view of someone on stage, it’s hard to remember what happened in the set or why it happened. At Cropredy, we have a very definite finishing time. Everything on stage has to end by midnight. There have been lots of years when we have had to drop songs because we were over-running.
SIMON I think in all the years Cropredy has been happening, there was only one year when we ran short of material and had to add a song to the setlist.
PEGGY What probably happened in ’85 was that we were running a little behind schedule and decided to drop announcements to get back on track.
SIMON I always keep an eye on the clock as the set nears its end. We have to play Matty, go off stage and get back on in time to perform Meet On The Ledge by twelve. This is pure conjecture, but I suspect with both Richard and Jerry playing, Sloth could have stretched out a bit and I realised we had to start Matty sharpish.
Since both Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue joined Fairport that night (it would be Trevor’s last appearance), the band took the opportunity to feature songs from Nine and Rising For The Moon. As the old Fairport was being forced by Swarb to a final stand (next year would be the first without him), plans were afoot to create a new working band…