Listening to the radio earlier this week we heard producer Joe Boyd—a presence in so many of our books—talking about the recent release of a special, boxed vinyl edition of Nick Drake’s wonderful Bryter Layter album. Fairport Convention member Dave Pegg appears on pretty much every track, while co-member Dave Mattacks plays drums on both the “Hazy Jane” tracks and “Sunday”. The broadcast prompted the playing of the (vinyl) album in the office and gave us the opportunity to publish this extract from Gorm Henrik Rasmussen’s excellent Pink Moon, in which he imagines the creative process of Drake as he begins to form the sounds and words of the album:
London is grey and overcast, fog and drizzle from morning to night. Rain, day and night, on the city windows. Down the glass facades. Down the walls. Down onto greedy asphalt roads. And into gutters, down to sewers.
Taxis are passing, neon signs flashing, river barges tooting. And the hours are flowing. Day slips into night and night slips into day, and the distinction between the two is slowly erased. Only the clocks tell time. And the clocks are ticking, the windscreen wipers clicking, and the city bells chiming in the damp air. Late November.
Nick is sitting in his flat on Haverstock Hill in Hampstead, his guitar on his lap, tuning the strings, half listening to the crackle of a transistor radio in the background. The storm warnings. The shipping news. Far away a voice declaring that the weather will be brighter later. Later he leaves his room. He goes out into the traffic, among the pigeons and the crowds of pedestrians teeming through the city, escaping down escalators, into tube stations, department stores, and office buildings. On stairs, in lifts in tall, slim buildings, and long underground corridors: businessmen, messengers, civil servants, and tourists going up and down and back and forth. Crioss-crossing, in all directions, on separate floors in the big city cubes.
Later, he turns his back on the crowds and disappears into Regent’s Park. With long, loping strides, his elbows held close to his body, he moves through the deserted gardens, making his way to Primrose Hill where the trees stand on the slope, leaning into winter, naked, crippled with age. When he gets to the top he turns around to gaze at the flickering cones of light down on Prince Albert Road. On the horizon, the endless city looms like a giant electrical relay. And everywhere between Primrose Hill and the southern night sky lies London, shrouded in fog and neon. London on a November night~: a pin cushion of lights, shimmering and flickering in the dusk. He lights a joint, bends down to tie his shoelaces, without quite being able to tell whether he is awake or in the middle of a dream, whether what he sees is a real city or a scenario from a science fiction film without a title, without a director.
Hours later Nick is standing on the side of one of the innumerable approach roads circling the city. Leaning back, dressed in black, with his elbows resting on a rail protruding from an underground stairway. Behind the road the moon comes up, round and yellow like an old brass coin, and between Nick and the moon hovers a car, bathed in the bluish lights of a row of neon lamps from above. A car in the city space, on its way, as in a flash it separates Nick from eternity behind the guard rail.
He is waiting for dawn, waiting for the rising sun to clear the sky of clouds, the city sky as well as his own inner northern sky. And all day long he is working his way around the streets and the squares, waiting for the night, just to stand there on the outskirts of an abandoned neighbourhood, looking for the moon. He is waiting for a diffuse, never realised “later.” A bright spell in the evening, the “brighter later” the meteorologist had promised. Nick steals those two words for a song about his own meteorology and that of the city in November, for a song that will,provide the title for his new album. He spells “brighter later” differently, in a more mysterious, more poetic way, much as one would imagine Shakespeare might have done, or a stoned person with a sense of humour. “Brighter Later” becomes the cryptic Bryter Layter, but it still refers to a form of weather report. Look up at the sky, get a fix on the clouds, and off you go. Out into the city squares and back home again.
And what will happen in the morning when the world it gets
So crowded that you can’t look out the window in the morning.
Nick opens the curtains and looks out in a daze at the world racing by outside his window. The world is waiting, the world demands that you take part in the ever-growing race back and forth, up and down the stairs, in and out the door. Ask no questions, lift your feet off the ground, weigh up your anchor, and for God’s sake never look back.
And what will happen when you come home? Turn around and come back again.
That is the opening of “Hazey Jane II”. Trumpets and electric guitar, up front. In the middle of the big city bustle. Nick is a stranger in the streets. He is watching the faces, in the mirrors, behind car windows, on the double-decker buses shuttling across the city; he is listening to the clanking of typewriters, hurried conversations across tables, on telephones and at ticket hatches, small talk streaming out from open doors and windows:
For the sound of a busy place
Is fine for a pretty face
Who knows what a face is for?
“Bryter Layter” is a song of the city, urban jazz, urban dance. An instrumental soundtrack for an unmade film, enraptured blue ballads reflecting the mental vacuum of the tobacconist after closing time. The band is augmented with a saxophone while drums and percussion feature prominently in the mix. On a couple of songs John Cale, the Welsh wizard who long ago left the avant-garde Velvet Underground, plays along. Cale bows his electric viola and coaxes a double timbre from the instrument. He also plays the celeste and the organ to deepen the dark side of Bryter Layter. It does have a dark side, for the album reflects shadow and light, the rhythm of day and night is mirrored in the changes between inner and outer worlds; between dark visions and open poetry, as clear as day. Big city poetry, the melody of the day, the quickstep of feet across a city square. A track that captures the pulse of London, “At the Chime of a City Clock” is inspired by the numerous bells of London’s many churches. Listen to the rhythm of the melody, fast syncopated pulses, underscored by Ray Warleigh’s fluttering trills on the sax, and listen to the lyrics, a little masterpiece of musical language:
Stay indoors beneath the floors
Talk with neighbours only
The games you play make people say
You’re either weird or lonely.
The opening of a ‘Punk’ exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum has had a less than sparkling review from the New Yorker magazine, in which we spotted a quote from a book that we created with The Clash. The New Yorker review quotes the Met’s catalogue, who in turn quote Joe Strummer on the matter of why The Clash painted their clothes, and it having nothing to do with Jackson Pollock.
In The Clash by The Clash, (and in the accompanying film, From The Westway To The World), Joe says, ‘Bernie had made us paint the rehearsal rooms before a gig and we didn’t really have and clothes except the ones we were wearing, or what we got from thrift stores. So there was paint everywhere, which is what I think gave Paul the idea of flicking it on our shoes and trousers, to jazz them up. It gave us an identity, too. So we came out resplendent, covered in paint. Just up the road from Rehearsals Rehearsals were the people who Bernie used to spray his cars, so we went to them and they sprayed the guitars and amps, jackets, ties, shirts and shoes using spray guns.We must have looked fairly striking when we came on stage, if somewhat ridiculous’.
Mick Jones’ take on the matter was that, ‘Paul had made the connection between Jackson Pollock and our spritzing paint on ourselves’.
The above quote from Joe comes after Paul had revealed that, ‘I was aware of the look the Pistols had. Steve used to wear Malcolm and Vivienne’s stuff, though John seemed not to be into that, he had his own look, which was interesting. We didn’t have a shop to rely on though so we had to be self-sufficient, which helped us in the long run. `we had to be more involved in what we were going to wear. Whereas the Pistols had it sewn up for them. Literally. Joe pretty much fell in straight away and while I was Jackson Pollocking shirts, Joe was painting his trousers.’
As Paul goes on to say, he got the idea of splashing paint on his clothes after seeing another Rocket 88 author, Glen Matlock, walking down Denmark Street in London (the British Tin Pan Alley) wearing, ‘what I first thought were Laura Ashley print trousers, but when I looked closer they were more Jackson Pollock. I realised he’d splashed paint all over them. So thinking like Picasso, who’d pick up an idea and take it further, I went back to Rehearsals Rehearsals, got some gloss paint and splashed it on my shoes. It looked pretty good so I got a black shirt and did a bit on that with different paint and it was all about being aware of textures (laughs). Because ideas were always discussed openly I only needed to do a few things for Mick and Joe to see what was going on and do their own stuff. It led to getting our guitars sprayed and then I got some stencils, probably from Bernie, which would clip together and so I sprayed words on jackets and shirts.’
Glen’s memory is that he’d accidentally splashed paint on himself while painting the two rooms in Denmark Street that he shared for a while with Steve Jones and where the Sex Pistols rehearsed, and met Paul in the street, who was fairly taken with his ‘new look’.While various books and exhibitions like the one at the Met attempt to draw lines of connection between premeditated artistic statements, political ideologies and deliberate anti-establishment stances, the truth about seemingly important historical ‘events’ and ‘movements’ is always much more entertaining, accidental and faintly ridiculous in the telling.
In I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol Glen recalls one such faintly absurd meeting, not just of his introducing Mick Jones and Joe Strummer for the first time, but the bizarre moment that the introduction led them to. It’s not the same memory of their first meeting that either Mick or Joe would later recall, but there’s no doubting Glen’s belief in how the event unfolded. Here’s how it appears in his book:
It was while we were at Denmark Street that the punk scene—as it would later be called—began to develop. All of us would hang around together. Not just the Pistols but others, like Mick Jones—who formed The Clash—and Tony James, who started Generation X. On Fridays we’d often go to the Royal College of Art where they used to have these great shows which went on till three or four o’clock in the morning. I knew about them from being at art college and I took Steve and Paul down with me and introduced them to a scene they knew nothing about.
It was after one of those shows that I introduced Mick Jones to Joe Strummer for the first time. A whole crowd of us were walking back to Denmark Street—me and Rat Scabies and Brian James—two founders of The Damned and Mick Jones and some others. We bumped into Strummer on the corner of Old Compton Street and Frith Street, just down the road from Ronnie Scott’s. Which was where Joe was going. “What you doing?” he asked. “I went to see this bloke platy at Ronnie Scotts last night. he was fucking great. You should go. In fact, he said if I wanted to bring along some mates, he’d get us all in free.”
So we checked it out. This being the early days of punk, we looked like complete urchins. So everyone working on the doort at Ronnie’s had a good laugh at us while Strummer was hustling to get us in. “Tom said if I brought some mates, he’d get us in”.
“Tom who?” said the bloke on the door.
“Oh,” he said, but he did go of and fetch him.
And there was Tom Waits at the door, in this big Crombie coat. “Hey, Joe! What can I do for you?”
“Well, you said if I brought a couple of mates down, you’d get us in.”
“yeah, that should be OK, how many of you are there?”
We had a quick count-up. There were about ten of us. “Hey!” said Tom, “Hang on there a minute.” He leant back against the door, opened this big overcoat and there, in the inside pocket, was a pint of Guinness with a perfect head on it. H can’t have put it there for effect because he didn’t now who was going to be there. He just happened to have a pnt of Guinness with a perfect head on it in his pocket. Though how he managed it I don’t know. I’ve tried to do it endless times since but the drink just goes everywhere.
He stood there, reached into the coat, pulled out the pint, drank it all down in one go, and nodded to the doorman. “Hey! let the boys in!”
And he was great.
While working on a project with Dinosaur Jr we came across a fantastic live performance by J Mascis of the Neil Young song Cortez The Killer, which prompted this exclusive extract from our Essential Neil Young ebook, by Steve Grant:
Zuma appeared within four months of Tonight’s The Night and Johnny Rogan makes the point that the critical reaction, which was highly enthusiastic, may have been linked to the album’s combination of hard-edged rock with a more palatable, commercial, toned-down feel, producing perhaps almost a sense of relief. It was also a great display of the relationship between Young and Crazy Horse, notably with the arrival of Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro to replace the deceased Whitten on rhythm guitar. Billy Talbot had met him in Mexico and at the time, Sampedro told director Jim Jarmusch, he was ‘doing heroin and dope’ but was also a keen Young fan who had listened to Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere so many times that he could play both Whitten and Young’s guitar parts. ‘I guess that having a job helped me… in a way we lost one guy and saved another guy.’ Sampedro, says Young, brings enormous energy and strength to the band. Certainly, he’s an awesomely-built, formidable dude who over time learned to follow Young’s own energy source and float upon it: ‘It’s always best when I just open up my mind and follow him.’
Zuma wasn’t a commercial success, reaching no higher than 44 in the UK album charts, but its reputation has grown, not just because Lou Reed thought the guitar playing on Danger Bird the best he’d ever heard, but because of Cortez The Killer, which remains one of Young’s finest accomplishments, not only as a performer but as a more formal, verse-bound lyricist.
The song, which comes in at seven and a half minutes, begins slowly and broodingly, a four minute guitar solo which mounts steadily in anticipation and has Young caressing the strings in a thoughtful, patient manner, weaving in and out of Sampedro’s accompaniment. It’s a good example of why Young prefers the immediacy of live recording to the gadgetry and coldness of overdub. Sampedro’s guitar is as a musical equivalent to the second opinion.
When the song starts it is with the deceptively playful and softly sung image of the explorer Cortez ‘dancing… with galleons and guns’. Only finally does Young echo the sentiments of the title, that this is Cortez The Killer, invader and plunderer of the ancient Aztec civilisation, which is described in tones that are so obviously idealized that the intentions of the song are clear. This is where memory becomes history and finally transmutes itself into myth. The lost civilization of the Aztecs, with its golden temples (gold yet again is Young’s imagistic obsession), is a utopia, an empty blackboard on which we can scrawl our own ideas of what life should be like, a life where the individual and the collective become harmonized, a world of angry gods placated by ‘clothes of many colours’ and where what was in reality a brutal system of mass human sacrifice which involved cutting out the hearts of living creatures is a formula for regeneration.
One is reminded of John Ford’s classic Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where a newspaper man advises that where truth and legend diverge it is always wiser to ‘print the legend’. Ford’s film has one villain and two heroes, the desperado Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin, and John Wayne’s old-style lawman, the man who finally kills Valance but allows James Stewart’s new-style politician and civilizer to take the credit. Wayne is a glorious frontier anachronism, Stewart’s peaceful, quiet-spoken Easterner as much of the future as the railroad which clatters through the whole movie. Young is not interested in history or its ‘truth’ but in legend, in how we love to view the past from the perspective of our own disquiet with the present. And he makes a final, triumphant point of this when the song shifts finally from ancient Mexico to present day romantic frustration.
It’s a woman, of course, any woman, his, yours or mine, always there like Botticelli’s Venus rising from her shell, always lost inside that splendid harmonized world that never existed except in our unfulfilled dreams.
Students so often confuse Cortez and the Aztecs of Mexico with Pizarro and the more pacific Incas of Peru (Neil would also record the linked if less effective Like An Inca for Trans in 1982) that it’s worth recalling Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt Of The Sun, a play with all the light and colours described in this song. It was first seen at the National Theatre in 1964, went to New York in 1965 and covers many of the same themes admittedly only hinted at in the text of Cortez The Killer and Like An Inca: the hypocrisy of martial religion, the nature of power and worship and the necessity to create a society in which a sense of otherworldliness is part of everyday life.
Shaffer also sees the dangers of idealizing ancient civilizations for their own sake: at one point, De Nizza, a subtle Franciscan friar, explains why love is dependent on freedom of choice to the Incas’ benevolent despot, Atahualpa: ‘Love is the only door from the prison of ourselves.’ The final stage direction, after Atahualpa is finally sacrificed to the pragmatism of Spanish conquest and gold worship, and the Western ‘god’ Pizarro sings over the corpse of the slain Atahualpa, is: ‘The sun glares at the audience.’ Fanciful or not, there is something despondent and defeated about Young’s final guitar flourish; and the surprisingly quick fade-out can seem almost like a hurried apology.
As Spring finally makes a kind of appearance in the UK, people are looking forward to attending a Festival or two with a hint of optimism. The thousands who have pre-booked their glamping spot at outdoor festivals in the forthcoming summer months will pack Wellington boots, rain ponchos and torches because experience has taught them to be ready for what might occur during June, July or August in Britain. However, back in 1970 when the idea of a Festival was relatively novel, they were far less glamorous, very loosely arranged and had few, if any, toilet facilities let alone ‘food franchise’ tents pitched in what turned out to be barely accessible spots. In this extract from Fairport By Fairport the band recall making an appearance at what has become one of the most infamous of the early rock festivals, Krumlin, which was held near Halifax in North Yorkshire and coincided with an almost perfect storm that hit the area that same weekend.
Date: 15th August, 1970
Location: The moors above Halifax, West Yorkshire
Krumlin Festival in the Yorkshire Pennines has passed into legend because the event was so badly planned, the site so remote and the resources so restricted that when bad weather arrived, the place became something of a disaster area. Fairport were one of the few bands to play before the gales and torrential rain stopped play. The event was one of the first professional ventures of the late Jeremy Beadle, who would come to be renowned for the TV programme Game For A Laugh (1981-85), on which he played practical jokes on the unsuspecting public. Among the people Fairport hooked up with at Krumlin was local songwriter Bob Pegg of the band Mr Fox who was inspired by the bizarre events of the Krumlin Festival to write a song titled ‘The Last Dance’.
Over fifty acts were booked to appear, but very few did. Friday evening was intended to provide entertainment for those arriving and setting up camp for the weekend. Backstage squabbles resulted in the event starting three hours late, by which time rain had set in, causing regular interruptions to performances and forcing what audience there was to find cover. Acts scheduled to appear included Elton John, The Humblebums, Groundhogs and The Pretty Things. A planned “all night folk and blues jam” failed to materialise.
Next day, those who emerged from their tents or arrived on foot (roads were at a standstill for miles around as no one had considered the logistics of so much traffic hitting the narrow lanes of the upper Pennines) faced a sea of mud. The covering of the stage, meanwhile, a large flat plastic sheet was already sagging under the weight of water. Fairport shared the bill with Pentangle, Fotheringay, Ralph McTell, bluesman Champion Jack Dupree, who was living locally at the time, Graham Bond with Alexis Korner, Alan Price, Manfred Mann Chapter III, and The Who. Sunday was totally written off, though one dreads to think how the small stage and limited access would have coped with The Mike Westbrook Orchestra, Quintessence, Steamhammer, Yes and Ginger Baker’s Airforce, not to mention Mungo Jerry and Taste.
SIMON: There was a lot of confusion and what can only be described as the spirit of the First World War trenches. You know, “we’re all in this together and somehow we’ll get through it, chaps.” A lot of friendships were forged—we got to know Ralph and Danny Thompson better.
The confusion was such that even today no one is certain which bands actually appeared. Photographic evidence suggests that Ralph, Pentangle, Fairport and some local acts made it to the stage. The weather broke part way through Saturday. Tents and marquees were flattened. The police declared it a disaster area and proceeded to start evacuation. Speculation abounded about the organisers and later wild rumours spread—supposedly, one organiser had run off with carrier bagfuls of money, another was found wandering on the moors days later, a victim of exposure, while one was helping police with their enquiries. One supposed organiser was found in the pub denying all involvement. It was whispered that the site was haunted. None of it was true.
RICHARD: They were carting the audience away suffering from exposure, everyone was dressed in those bin liner things. It was great fun. For some reason or other everyone was totally legless backstage. We all got very silly. We were playing ‘Bonny Bunch Of Roses’ but Simon was playing an Indian Raga in a different key. He was in his own world, sitting cross-legged in front of his amp. So we had to sort of kick him, and unplug him. But he carried on playing those ragas.
Simon opened Fairport’s set at 5.00 pm by telling the assembled crowds that they had been in the beer tent since two. The band cut short his rambling words of welcome by launching straight into ‘Walk Awhile’ at around 50% faster than normal speed, and running straight into a medley named at the time as ‘Tunes My Mother Taught Me’, but today better known as ‘Sir B McKenzie’. At the end, Swarb and Richard jointly addressing the jigging crowd: “You looked like you could do with a big of warming up”; “Bit of internal heat should help dry you out. Our next song, with no irony intended, is called ‘Now Be Thankful’.”
PEGGY It has gone down as one of the worst gigs of all time: badly organised, battered by some of the worst weather ever, illegal ticket sales, no one got paid. If Little Hadham was what we wanted Cropredy to be done small scale, Krumlin was what we wanted to avoid writ large.
For more on the festival, visit the excellent
There are only a few remaining copies of the limited edition of Fairport By Fairport available, and this outtake from the original manuscript should whet your appetite for more. It’s a partial singles history of the most unlikely looking band ever to have performed on Top of the Pops.
On the day Fairport Convention formally came into being (May 27, 1967), The Tremeloes were number one in the chart with ‘Silence is Golden’ – a backing band who had split from their lead singer (and who incidentally had been signed by Decca instead of The Beatles, because they were London-based and therefore local to the label) – with a cover version of an old Four Seasons song. Procol Harum had released ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ the previous week. Other new releases included ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, ’59th St Bridge Song’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Paper Sun’, ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’, ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘The Happening’, ‘Carrie Ann’, ‘Pictures of Lily’ and Jefferson Airplane’s debut single ‘Somebody To Love’.
The 7” single – the 45 – was still king and while we naturally think of Fairport as an album band, they were ahead of their time. Sgt Pepper – so commonly seen as the watershed moment when the LP took over from the single – was still four days from release: its original concept had been sabotaged when the first tracks recorded for it were co-opted by EMI for single release. Pink Floyd were playing the same venues and often on the same bill as Fairport. Their debut album was three months from release; their first single ‘Arnold Layne’ had come out in March. Like The Floyd, Fairport were naturally steered by their record company towards releasing 45rpm singles.
Their first release was ‘If I had a Ribbon Bow’ [Track 604 020] coupled with the Thompson/ McDonald original ‘If (STOMP)’ on February 23, 1968. While the b-side, featuring co-composer Iain McDonald / Matthews on vocals, was included on the group’s debut album in June, the A side became a sought-after Fairport obscurity as the band’s fame grew. [It has subsequently appeared on a number of CDs including the extended reissue of the debut album.] The song was first recorded in 1936 by Maxine Sullivan and became popular with female singers of the US folk revival after Odetta revived it twenty years later: by the time Fairport recorded it, they could have referred to recordings by Karen Dalton, Caroline Hester or Mimi Farina. The NME praised its “fine gossamer-like texture” and with notable perspicacity remarked on its “very noticeable folksy quality.” In a month that saw the release of ‘Lady Madonna’, ‘Fire Brigade’, ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ and ‘The Mighty Quinn’, Fairport’s debut sank without trace.
In June, Melody Maker announced that the band had recorded ‘Some Sweet Day’, featuring newly joined Sandy Denny as their next single. It was never released. Both critics and fans agreed that their actual follow up had a much stronger chance. Released in October 1968, ‘Meet On The Ledge’ [Island WIP 6047], was to become Fairport’s anthem. Clearly aware of its sing-a-long potential, the band recruited friends and fans to swell the backing vocals – aside from the group’s six members the chorus was enhanced by the voices of Marc Ellington, Paul Ghosh and Andy Horvitch (co-authors of several early RT songs) and early band chronicler Kingsley Abbott. NME called it, “a folk flavoured track…brimful of youthful awareness and expression.” Reviews in both NME and Melody Maker speculated that the single could be “a surprise Christmas hit”, although it faced strong competition: that Christmas from, among other singles, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’, ‘Harper Valley PTA’, ‘Private Number’, ‘Those Were The Days’, ‘All Along The Watchtower’, ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ by Joe Cocker, Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ and Simon & Garfunkel’s songs from The Graduate.
The b-side of ‘Ledge’ was a Richard Thompson song, ‘Throwaway Street Puzzle’. The original vinyl version is another collectible rarity. The song has, naturally, resurfaced as a CD bonus track and (with his parts re-recorded) Richard Thompson included it on guitar/vocal, his first career-retrospective compilation. An early RT walk on the wild side, it’s presented as a monologue by the barker at a cheap peep show, in many ways anticipating the fairground imagery of his early solo work.
Despite airplay and live performances on the newly launched Radio 1, ‘Ledge’ was simply lost in the Christmas rush. It was, however, still in the record boxes of club DJs in May 1968 when tragedy struck Fairport. ‘Meet On The Ledge’ was the track that everybody played. It was there by default, awaiting replacement by the next Fairport single, but in every sense it was perfect. Richard Thompson’s visionary lyrics (though today he admits to finding them immature) took on a new resonance: “when my time is up, I’m going to see all my friends”. Though the band had been playing the song at gigs and on the radio, like everything else in their pre-May ’68 repertoire, it vanished from the setlist when the band returned to playing live. Today it is strange to think that such a classic song – for many the Fairport song – remained unplayed by the band for a decade: it was revived for the Farewell Tour. Even then, on tour and at early Cropredy Festivals, it had not yet achieved its iconic final song status. Various other singers, most notably Noel Murphey, kept the song alive in the meantime. Today, those who know about such things will tell you it was the first example of the current psych-folk explosion. As Chris Welch wrote at the time, “this single is definitely one for the discerning.”
Fairport’s American record company, however, did not see the potential of ‘Ledge’ and instead released an edited version of ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ as the radio promo tool. A single of ‘Fotheringay’, coupled with ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’, was scheduled for release as the UK follow up to ‘Ledge’ but was understandably withheld from release because of the circumstances. In any case, Fairport had a new album recorded. Island, their record company, naturally had to pick a single from it. Both NME and Melody Maker reviewed ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ [Island WIP 6064] in the light of Martin’s death: “I hope everyone will rush out and buy this single even though it wouldn’t normally be considered commercial.”
For many years, Fairport’s visits to UK radio stations (whose playlists were almost exclusively singles-based) would prompt the record librarian to pull out a copy of their only hit, often taken from one of the many compilation albums on which it had been included. Yet ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ was a musical joke that could hardly have been less representative of the band in any of its many incarnations. It didn’t even sound like Fairport: in addition to their usual instruments, Simon played electric dulcimer, Richard played piano accordion, and Martin Lamble, lacking a washboard, ran his sticks over the back of a stack of plastic chairs, which proceeded to fall over mid-solo, though astoundingly perfectly on the beat. They also recruited a couple of guest players for the recording. Trevor Lucas, in hot pursuit of Sandy, was invited to play triangle – though he would play a more significant role on later Fairport 45s. Deciding that the song needed some “Cajun fiddle” (perhaps so it became a companion piece to Richard’s ‘Cajun Woman’) the band asked Joe Boyd to recruit superstar folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick for the session: he ended up playing on four tracks and returned to tell his musical partner Martin Carthy that he had just finished recording with a “guitarist that I could play alongside for the rest of my life”.
‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ began life as a playful translation of Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’, reputedly the result of on stage banter between Sandy Denny and the audience. The song was already well-known, having been made into a hit by Manfred Mann (Dylan’s own recording had not yet seen the light of day beyond a very limited-release single in Holland). Richard Thompson recalls the occasion as a gig at Middle Earth, after which three or four fans offered their services to create the translation: “So, between them and the band, it was very much a case of writing by committee: it ended up not being very Cajun, French or Dylan.” Given that a French version had already been released (by Johnny Halliday) and this had itself been covered (by The Beefeaters) for release in Belgium, Fairport’s cod-French version was less than original. It was, however, a useful novelty item for inclusion on an album whose title derived from a mutating-word game.
By the time Unhalfbricking and its companion single came out in July, Fairport Convention’s existence was a matter of uncertainty and then they had a hit single. The novelty of its sound, the fact that it was a very unusual version of a familiar Dylan song and the fact that newspaper headlines had given Fairport’s name a sudden unexpected familiarity brought airplay and even minor chart success – so much so that on August 14, they appeared on Top of the Pops. Defying all odds, Fairport achieved the almost unique feat of having a record drop down the charts the week after they appeared on the show to plug it. Despite not making the top twenty, it remains their biggest single hit.
The next Fairport LP, Liege & Lief yielded no singles and Fairport’s next 7” release was another non-album track. Released in September 1970, ‘Now Be Thankful’ [Island WIP 6089] sounded like a folk hymn. It was of its time: other quasi-religious songs to make the early 70s charts included ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Morning Has Broken’ and The Strawbs’ rewrite of the 23rd Psalm, ’Lay Down’. Zigzag magazine used a line from ‘Thankful’ as the title of an article about the genre they were calling God Rock. The song was not included on Full House, however it was included on the first Fairport compilation, A History of Fairport Convention. Co-opting lines from traditional songs, RT & Swarb had written the song on June 7 in Boston while on tour in America. Melody Maker mistakewnly reviewed the b side (Burbling about the title, they pointed out that Lancers in Scotland in 1727 was an anachronism.) However, that b-side, ‘Sir B. McKenzie’ (etc), remained unavailable anywhere else until Full House was issued on CD.
It is important to remember that Island Records, for all its reputation for signing underground acts, still had an eye on the charts and was generally successful at turning its major acts into hit-makers – see Cat Stevens, Free, Jethro Tull, Spencer Davis, Traffic et al. The label continued to schedule possible singles from Fairport but then not release them, including ‘Walk Awhile’ and ‘Journeyman’s Grace’ (backed with a version of ‘Breakfast in Mayfair’ that would have predated Babbacombe Lee by months). Generally these mimicked a US single release policy which was well beyond the control of either Island Records or the band. Fairport then decided to approach their next album (Angel Delight) as a search for a potential single.
SWARB: Island were looking for a single. We gave them an album with ten of them.
Unfortunately the record company did not deem any of its tracks appropriate for single release in the UK. Perversely, while their next album, Babbacombe Lee, was seen as a contiguous whole (even to the point of being un-banded on vinyl), a single from it, ‘John Lee’ [Island WIP 6128] was released worldwide in March, 1972. It was the first time anyone had any indication of the titles or composers of individual tracks on the LP.
The title track from Rosie was an obvious choice as a single release [Island WIP 6155] in May 1973. Melodic and romantic, it had the makings of a chart record – though what the average single buyer made of “rosin up the bow” we can only speculate. In the UK, its b-side was ‘Knights of The Road’, a track originally recorded for Fotheringay’s aborted second LP. In Australia, Island changed the B side for an instrumental called ‘Fiddlestix’ which included a banjo part played by a session player: they then made that into the a-side, but not before an orchestral string section and a new banjo overdub had been added. Again, it was a departure from the band’s actual sound; one reviewer’s description (“lush and manic”) summed it up. One began to wonder how much input the band had into its single releases.
In July 1975, Dave Swarbrick’s ‘White Dress’ [Island WIP 6241], featuring Sandy Denny on vocals, was selected as the single from Rising For The Moon. Its b-side, a Trevor Lucas song called ‘Tears’ was otherwise unavailable. These seven-inch discs might not have sold at the time, but they racked up pixie points for future collectability. Lack of singles success wasn’t the only reason for the parting of the ways between Island and Fairport, but it certainly contributed. Their next label wasn’t to have much more success with releasing 7-inch singles by Fairport either, though.
In this extract from our latest reissued biography of great British comedians, Michael Palin talks success and public perceptions of who he is with author Jeremy Novick. Taken from Life of Michael, the authorised biography, a Rocket 88 book.
Since coming down from Oxford in 1965, everything Michael Palin has touched has turned to gold. From working as a journeyman writer for David Frost to watching the bulls charge around Pamplona, he’s been blessed with the gift of success. As a consequence, he’s been one of the most successful British entertainers of his age, though Palin clearly has reservations about the ‘s’ word.
‘I wouldn’t know how you would quantify that. How you would use the word ‘success’? I mean, I always try to avoid that word like the plague. We met a guy on holiday once called Martyn Lewis who was writing a book about success and he asked if he could talk to me. I said he could talk to me about anything but success, because it’s such a dangerous word. So he came and he talked to me and some while later a great big fat book came out called Success . . . and I don’t think it was one. I can see what he was trying to do, but it’s asking for trouble – you’ll never get a satisfactory answer. He was looking for the secret, and the secret that makes me successful is, I think, that I’ve never ever believed in success, never believed I’ve made it. I’m always finding out and learning something new and approaching something in a different way. I don’t think there’s a pinnacle you suddenly find yourself standing on and that’s that. Of course, there are certain moments when you suddenly feel, “My God, that’s worked.” But not that many.’
But on almost any terms, Palin is successful. He could just turn up and do almost anything on television and ten million people would watch.
‘Well, that’s not true. With Palin’s Hemingway Adventure, for example, we only had five million, which was quite a drop on the previous programmes. That’s what I mean, you have to be terribly careful about assuming these things and I never would assume that. What I think you mean is that people come to me expecting that I’ll only do something that has a certain quality to it. And that’s great. I’m pleased about that because I’ve tried to avoid doing ‘crap’ as much as possible. I think that when I’m approached, the sort of things that I get sent now are of a reasonably high standard. Things that interest me a lot. When I look back, I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked with Alan Bennett on one of his only screenplays, A Private Function, on one of Alan Bleasdale’s series and on what was probably John Cleese’s most successful film, A Fish Called Wanda. All of these are things of such a high standard. I suppose if you can measure success, the fact that I was asked by people I admire to work with them means I must have got somewhere.’
‘On the other hand, I look at people – successful actors, writers – and think those are the sort of people I can never quite be. Any of them. What is true is that I will not identify with any one particular aspect of what I’ve done, so that feeling of ‘Michael Palin – he can talk about anything’ has never gone away. Usually that’s something you lose as you become more famous, but perhaps it’s because I didn’t want to lose it that it’s still there. I avoid programmes where I have to make judgements, and if a director says, ‘Now, in the next three minutes I want you to talk about exactly what you think about the situation in this country’, I’ll say, ‘Well, actually, this is not the way I want to do it.’ When we first started Around the World in Eighty Days, we had a lot of set-up interviews. Interviews with the local man, the captain of a ship . . . I wasn’t very good at that, it didn’t work out terribly well. The people were unrelaxed in an interview situation, I was unrelaxed. So instead of sitting down in a room, I talked to people on the job, as they were doing their job. Which is much, much better.’
That’s much more interesting, isn’t it, because that’s how it happens in real life?
‘It’s probably the key to what I do in a way, the way I approach things. As soon as something becomes artificial, I become artificial. Maybe even acting on film. I love watching movies and I’d like to do more, but there is something artificial about them. The large number of people involved. The fact that it’s almost more important how you’re standing than the line you’re saying. So you have to play a role. You’re driven up in a long, large car. I like comfort. I just don’t like all that clutter.’
All that clutter. All the trappings. The ‘long large car’. The premières. The red velvet rope. Palin is famously sorted in his attitude to stardom and fame. ‘I’m not anti-stardom, I’m just not doing that myself. I can’t do it very well, it’s not me. A lot of relationships I have are like that too. Everyone I’m close to resists that too. They’re very much feet-on-the-ground people.’
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Palin’s become such a popular character, such a fixture in our lives. He’s seen as someone who’s always stayed true to himself. He’s tasted the fruits of celebrity – and he’s resisted. He lives where he lives, goes where he goes, does what he does. It’s all very ordinary. For someone who has such a high profile, Michael Palin has maintained an enviably low profile.
‘We were lucky in that the media is much more greedy now than when we started doing Python. If you’re good on television, you’ve got to be good outside. You’ve got to go on book signings, be out and be visible. We were able, during Python, to keep a low profile. People didn’t know much about us and really weren’t very interested.’
The trick that Palin’s pulled off is that he’s maintained it. The world has changed and the demands on celebrities have changed, but he hasn’t – or appears not to have – changed. To stay at the forefront of the entertainment world for forty five years and still remain quite anonymous is a rare achievement. To have done so in the face of such sustained frontline success . . . Maybe this appeals to a very British sense of decency. We could say that it’s because he’s got the financial freedom to do whatever he wants that he has the freedom to resist celebrity. There’s a certain logic to that – people tend to crave fame more on the way up – but it’s a rare thing.
‘I suppose the truth is that I’m just not very interested in all that. I feel personally that all I want to do is my work and for my work to be as good as possible, and to be as popular as possible, so I’m prepared to work as hard as I can at what I do. Not grumble about it. I haven’t done any advertising. I don’t do anything else. I’m just asking to be judged on the work that I do. Other than that, I just want to be me and to carry on living the way I’ve always lived. I could do press conferences, go on game shows, be a guest on Have I Got News For You, that kind of thing. But I don’t want that.’
Is it a control deal, is that why he wouldn’t do a programme like Have I Got News for You?
‘Yes, it’s partly that, but it’s more that I just don’t want to be everywhere. I actually love Have I Got News for You, I really enjoy watching it. The standard of humour is pretty good, really sharp. But I like it as a spectator, it’s my time off. I just want to do what I do and do it well. The fame side of it is a bit of a liability, which can twist and distort what you are and what you do. If you’re not very careful, you can put yourself into a corner and be trapped. I’m quite aware you can’t get away from being a celebrity, but I just try to structure my life the best I can and do varied kinds of work.’
Occasionally you’ll find Palin going out of character, doing things that would seem to encroach on his personal privacy. Going through the newspaper cuttings as part of the research for this book, I found a few articles on being a father, a few on coping with Helen’s illness and one rather sweet article of the ‘Me and My Shoes: How We Met’ variety. Inevitably headlined ‘Have I Got News for You?’, it was about Michael and his newsagent in Gospel Oak. There’s a picture of Michael behind the counter with Mash Patel: ‘People talk about going abroad and finding these lovely little shops where the owner takes you round the back and gives you a cup of coffee as if that sort of thing never happens in England – but it does. I can spend hours chatting away in a place like the delicatessen and I always have a good laugh whenever I pop into the dry-cleaners.’…
Michael Palin met his wife Helen on Southwold Beach in Suffolk during the school holidays when he was sixteen. ‘It began as a holiday thing. We didn’t see each other for a year after that first holiday, then it was two years before we saw each other again. Then I went to Oxford and during my university years I stayed faithful . . . mentally. We were not betrothed then. We each had free time but the relationship with Helen was the one that stayed.’
In 1966, when he was twenty-two, they got married. They bought their first house in 1968 in a small four-house cul-de-sac in Gospel Oak, near Hampstead Heath, in north London, for £12,000 – and they’ve lived there ever since. Like most mega-rich celebrities, Palin has used his wealth to buy other houses. However, unlike most mega-rich celebrities, the houses that he’s bought have all been in the same road … Michael and Helen live their own lives together, and give each other a lot of freedom. ‘I have observed it often. The more independence there is in a marriage, the longer it survives.’
The great sadness in his life concerns the suicide of his sister, Angela, in 1987. Although she had tendencies to depression, her death at the age of fifty-two was a great shock. ‘On the surface she was very happy – a good marriage, three children, a nice house – sociable, popular, talented. Yet underneath was a terrible feeling of inadequacy. I cannot begin to understand the depths of it.’ It was even more perplexing for Michael because they’d been out together the night before she died. ‘She had been on great form. Earlier she had said she was unhappy. The next minute she was saying “Let’s go out”. The inexplicable nature of what happened still preoccupies me.’
He has no reticence talking about it.
‘I have very fond memories of my sister. Not talking about her somehow makes her a non-person. For me, she is still there. The first thing I did after her death was to read up about suicide. I wanted to try and discover some kind of clue, some chemical reason why someone who had always seemed so happy would want to take their life. She was not miserable, wretched or awkward. I’ve read a lot now about people who have suffered from depression. People with great skills and talent have taken their own lives. Ernest Hemingway was one. It’s ironic that my sister, who killed herself, looked sane and I appeared mad because I was one of the Python team.’
The latest in our series of biographies of great British comedic talents tells the story of how John Cleese developed from trainee lawyer to international comedy superstar via Cambridge University, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and A Fish Named Wanda. In the following extract author Robert Gore-Langton describes Cleese’s student days and first steps into becoming a professional comedian. It begins at Cambridge in the early 1960s:
At Cambridge a young David Frost was well on his way to becoming God. He would soon be employing ex-Cambridge writers in pioneering material on the new commercial station, ITV, where he made his name fronting That Was The Week That Was. When Cleese went up, Peter Cook was the big comedy cheese in Cambridge. Miles funnier than anyone else then on the comedy scene, he was already being imitated by younger undergraduates. If you wanted to be funny at Cambridge, the competition was serious. You turned up in your cavalry twills, tweed jacket and woolly tie at the Societies Fair and there was young Frostie, in charge of the Footlights stall. Not yet with clipboard in hand, but looking pretty much like the benign, hood-eyed reptile he now resembles. A fresh-faced Graham Chapman — then a medical student — duly rolled up. It turned out that you couldn’t just join The Footlights, you had to be invited. ‘So what’s the point of the stall?’ asked Chapman. ‘Er, there isn’t one,’ replied Frost. You had to be invited to join, and to be invited you had to audition. John had the same problem as Graham. Asked what he could do, John hazarded a guess: ‘I suppose I try to make people laugh.’ In time, the two got together in a coffee house and wrote sketches for various ‘Smokers’ (heats for the big annual revue). It was all very complicated and rule-bound.
Cleese and Chapman unwittingly formed a writing partnership that was to last for years. Chapman, the pipe-smoking son of a Leicestershire policeman, was in training for serious alcoholism. He was also homosexual, though that was only just beginning to dawn on him. John was working hard, playing cricket and football for his college, and hanging around with Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Chris Stuart-Clarke. Cleese and Graham promptly got down to the difficult business of sketch-writing. A revue show — Double Take (1962) — to which John contributed several items, and in which he also performed alongside Chapman, would prove a winner. John’s slightly embarrassing blurb in the programme read: ‘Bluff, slate-faced, 22-year-old Registrar, he reads Law and plays soccer for Downing. He grew his beard to avoid being mistaken for Pete Murray: an enthusiast for verbal humour, he is nevertheless prepared to stoop to slapstick, where he rates the custard pie above the banana skin. He has a laugh which is coarse and ingenious to boot: he says he cannot sing and keeps a locked piano in his room to prove it.’
In the event Double Take became, after a spot of recasting (Chapman left to become a doctor in London), A Clump Of Plinths — a lovely title which was decided upon after the original You Can’t Call A Show ‘Cornflakes’ was rejected. Tim Brooke-Taylor and Cleese remained in the cast, joined by Bill Oddie and Humphrey Barclay. The show’s title was then changed to Cambridge Circus, which must have left bewildered punters wondering where the animals were. It was a hit, full of nonsense as usual, and John’s antics were developing nicely. He was on his way…
The Footlights was basically a dry run for a showbiz career. Eric Idle wasn’t far off the mark when he said, ‘Certainly, in your last year you were nobody if you didn’t have at least three agents coming to look at you in a Smoker.’ John had his doubts about giving up Law, but he pressed on with performing. By the time he finished and opted for a career in comedy, the three years of training at the taxpayers’ expense had ultimately produced one ten-minute courtroom sketch. However, the pay-off for persisting with comedy was immediate. The BBC were looking for new talent. In The Life of Python by George Perry, John remembers an early visit from their scouts: ‘There were these two guys in grey suits. I suddenly realised that they were offering me a job at the BBC. I was supposed to be joining a firm of solicitors in the City called Freshfields at £12 a week and here they were offering £30. So I went with them.’ Cambridge Circus, meanwhile, had been signed for a West End transfer: ‘Suddenly we were young people who were successful and were having newspaper articles written about us,’ John observed. Reg and Muriel’s worries about his future career as a solicitor were thus allayed — the BBC money was good and, joy of joys, the job came with a pension plan.
Radio and TV were no more liberated than the army, but they were less hassle. Anyway, the comedy boom was well and truly on and John was now on the road to showbiz success. He was still very public school — cliquey and aloof — but his deadpan, barrister-like style already had a cult following in varsity circles. However, the comedy that he was writing was almost totally derivative: ‘My early humour I just pinched from everyone else,’ he admits. Chief mentor was Peter Cook, who had created his E. L. Wisty character while still at school. ‘Cook’s influence was so thick you could cut it with a knife… he can make a perfectly blunt and banal statement sound so funny, just by the choice of words,’ John told Melvyn Bragg. ‘When I started to write for BBC Radio I did a series of conversations at a bus stop for Derek Guyler and Dick Emery. They were all based on Peter Cook’s “interesting facts” sketches — “Did you know the whale is an insect that feeds on bananas?”, that sort of thing.’
In Cambridge Circus, John didn’t go down that well with the critics; they preferred Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor. But he did get a mention for his gimlet eyes and his sketch-writing ability. ‘Judge Not’ — a skit about a midget in a witness box (that lawyer thing again) — was regarded as an instant classic, and the 1965 album of the show is now a collector’s item …
Cambridge Circus ended up in New York. The show ran smoothly and when it closed there was no reason to rush back home. Besides, while he was out there John found himself being asked to audition for a part in the Broadway production of Half A Sixpence. The show was based on H G Wells’ novel Mr Kipps and Tommy Steele (who had liked Cleese in Cambridge Circus) was to play Arthur Kipps. After a disastrous audition in which he couldn’t sing a note but was very funny, John secured the part of the English cad, Young Walsingham, who steals all Arthur’s money. It all went swimmingly until it went wrong, as musicals have a habit of doing. The director was fired and his replacement was Gene Saks, a kick-ass Broadway hardnut. Broadway directors all have terrible trouble in understanding the British sense of humour. The American public never let that worry them: vast numbers of Americans would come to enjoy Monty Python while completely missing a great deal of its peculiarly English humour. Anyway, Half A Sixpence opened in 1965 in Toronto and ended up being a hit on Broadway.
It was the old story: sweetness and light on stage, World War III backstage. John seemed to have enjoyed the whole experience, though. The idea of Tommy Steele and John performing in a musical is in itself rather glorious. Surely musical theatre and the lanky comic could never mix? The humorous song had been a fall-back in Footlights revues since time immemorial; John, however, went out of his way to stop people singing in sketches. Besides, in musicals you need to be able to smile a lot, and John was always incapable of looking convincing when happy.
Tommy Steele, on the other hand, can do nothing but look happy, his mouth permanently set in a grin of joy. He remembers John well: ‘He didn’t have a great part, though he seemed to enjoy the show. He was brilliant in it.’ It would come as no surprise to old St Peter’s pupils that backstage John was still up to his old crossword tricks. Tommy remains unaware of Cleese’s literary duplicity to this day, judging from the following: ‘He was a lovely fella. He used to come into rehearsals in the morning, make himself a cup of coffee and sit there doing The Times crossword. He must have got the paper from London, a week late maybe. Anyway he just sat there doing the clues. John to me was a complete mystery.’ Why? ‘I couldn’t understand how he was so quick with those crosswords.’
On January 27 Fiddlestix: the Fanzine of the Australian Friends of Fairport published the following interview with Nigel Schofield (pictured) about the book. They have been kind enough to also let us publish it here.
By Michael Hunter (editor)
When venerable and influential English folk-rock band Fairport Convention reached the milestone of their 45th anniversary in 2012, there was naturally a great deal of activity to celebrate the occasion. There were 2 new CDs – ‘By Popular Request’ and ‘Babbacombe Lee Live Again’ – along with TV and radio specials, and a brand new 424 page book / DVD package. “Fairport By Fairport” was written by Nigel Schofield of Free Reed Records fame, and purports to tell “the full, unexpurgated story of Fairport Convention in the words of the people who were there”.
The book tells the story in mainly chronological order, using recent and somewhat older interviews, mainly by Schofield himself, to illustrate points from a personal perspective, as well as serving as a useful narrative tool.
Various questions came to mind when taking the time to read this lengthy work, so who better to ask than the author himself? One of the first things that struck me was the potential to feel daunted by such a large project – how did he feel when approached, and indeed who did the approaching?
NS: The publishers Rocket 88 suggested the idea of an up-to-date in-depth biography to Fairport. They felt Fairport fit in perfectly with the kind of act they like to publish works about and with the profile of their target audience. Fairport agreed on condition that I was approached and would accept the commission. There was then a series of messages and explanations ahead of the formal approach from Rocket 88 who asked me to come up with a concept.
I don’t know whether I would use the word daunting. It is certainly a big responsibility and, of course, a massive task, especially as part of the concept was to use, where possible, unpublished archive interview material so that throughout contemporary commentary would balance modern retrospection. It was interesting to see how things were thought of and/or explained at the time, compared with how they are viewed today.
It was also, incidentally, quite fascinating to reflect on my own relationship with the band over the years.
MH: Was anything deemed “off limits” by either you or the band? In other words, did you have pretty much free rein?
NS: I stipulated before I began that I was not interested in writing any kind of kiss-and-tell or muck-raking tome. That kind of gossip has its place and clearly also has its devotees, but in a serious overview of the band’s first 45 years it tends to be of little import. I know there is another book planned which will draw together those kind of stories. Additionally, I have over the years had many “off the record” conversations with members and ex-members of the band and I naturally respected that, though, of course, that kind of knowledge can prevent unfortunate blunders or misguided assumptions. There was certainly nothing declared off limits in terms of what I could or couldn’t write about.
MH: Most of the interviews are from your own archives – how many were newly done? It seems to be an effective technique to quote from them when the narrative requires, without necessarily worrying about the provenance of the quote – this would be intentional, I assume?
NS: That’s a very shrewd observation, if I may say so. Actually, I spoke to all current members of the band specifically with the project in mind. I had interviewed several members and ex-members fairly recently so I knew I had a good store of up-to-date material. I began with citing the source of each quote, but realised this was not only cumbersome but also of little value as it merely referenced an unavailable source. Where provenance was significant, relevant or, indeed, not from interviews I had conducted personally, I made sure it was clearly identified within the text.
MH: There were quite a few things I didn’t realise – apart from the larger story which is the main thing – but extra details like the infamous 1970 LA Troubadour bar bill being erased due to the management seeing Simon Nicol play trouserless [buy the book for that one!] – or just things like Judy Dyble having left before the first LP came out, or Arthur Brown singing Meet On The Ledge at a benefit after the band’s 1969 van crash – among several others. Did you find out a lot of new stuff yourself when putting the book together?
NS: That’s an interesting question. Rediscovered things I had forgotten would be more accurate than calling it finding out new stuff. Ashley [Hutchings] called me after reading the book and said it brought back a lot of memories he had forgotten. That sums it up really. There were things which emerged, often through collating dates and seeing connections.There were other things which were corrected – received wisdoms, things we had taken for granted, oft-repeated but somewhat garbled memories of band members. One example: the brief period between Judy’s departure and Sandy’s joining is often forgotten: people regularly have written about Sandy replacing Judy – it’s even been suggested that she was ousted to make way for her. Very wrong. The band tried to continue – and even recorded – without a female singer, but in the end bowed to outside pressure and started looking for a new female vocalist.
Drawing the whole thing together made me aware of some surprising things: for example, both Sandy [Denny] and Chris [Leslie] joined the band as established figures on the folkscene having worked with an already respected band; both were respected vocalists; both made their first contribution to the band a song that they had had for some time; in each case it was based on an incident in the life of an almost legendary figure from Scottish history; in each case it became the opening track on their first album as a member of Fairport. In terms of the book, this doesn’t mean anything so far as Fairport’s history is concerned – but it is a remarkable set of coincidences – and there were many others.
Another story that was new to me was Simon’s account of the Moon Landing during the Farley Chamberlayne rehearsal sessions. I loved the way he recalled it and his expression verged on the poetic, making the mundane immensely moving.
MH: Then of course there’s the matter of the book probably being bought by hardcore fans, who would pretty much know the story already. How could / did one work around that, to make it readable to those long term fans and newcomers without alienating either?
NS: I thought long and hard about this. How much can one assume a Fairport fan knows. Indeed, one has to ask what a Fairport fan is. I have a friend who I always assumed had been a fan from the start only to discover, when talking about the book, that he actually got into them around the time of Rosie. There are long-term fans who know the entire history. There are fans of the early days who have paid little attention to what happened since, certainly in any detailed way: the kind of people who think “they should never have reformed”, “it’s not Fairport without Swarb” (which incidentally rules out the first three albums) or even “they haven’t made a decent record since 1969”. These quotes are not made up, but were said to me when I told people I was working on a Fairport book. One fan has assured me he will buy it but only read the first few chapters because the rest doesn’t interest him.
There are the Cropredy era fans – people who got to know the band through the Festival or related events. They often don’t know anything about Fairport’s early history. If one listens to conversations at Cropredy when an old song is revived or an ex-member joins them on stage, this is immediately very obvious.
There are kids far too young to have any real awareness of Fairport’s “glory days” and who happily sing along to Chris Leslie’s songs, but look stumped by something from Angel Delight. The Summer of Punk is ancient history to them, never mind the Summer of Love. There are those who’ve discovered Fairport via Winter Tours and know them essentially as a current band.
It would be impossible to hone what one didn’t deal with in depth so that it satisfied all those different groups. Actually, I kept one thing in mind as I worked: a serious Fairport fan who approached them in the States around 2005 and asked why Sandy wasn’t with them. So, I decided to tell the full story, but wherever possible to provide new insights, comments from the band, corrections to received wisdom and therefore make sure I told the whole story.”
MH: One thing I think the book achieves is to personalise the story, helped in no small part by the interview snippets. In other words, giving an insight into the various members’ thoughts, for example Jerry Donahue’s negative frame of mind in his final months with the band. Perhaps that’s one way to straddle the old/new camps of readers – providing information that’s pertinent to both.
NS: It’s good that Fairport has benefited so well from reissues (certainly of the Island era material – the Woodworm Era is another matter and one which they address in the book), There have also been the box sets and BBC collections. So even that old stuff has its own currency. Fairport’s deliberate policy of re-recording songs from its back catalogye has helped here too. It’s very different from playing a song live or even including it on a live album: it takes a song from the band’s repertoire and essentially says “How would THIS Fairport tackle this song?” – just as they would with songs from other sources. By Popular Request was a bold, and very successful, attempt to take this to the actual extreme.
So I think that there is a general awareness of the history that may not be “your” bit of the Fairport story. Everyone has an aspect of their career – or maybe a period of their career – that they don’t really know about – so I tried to cover that. I also tried to provide new insights when you are reading about a part of their career you may know well. The fact that the information is ‘from the horses’ mouths’ gives it validity and I know some remarks have surprised other band members because they had realised that their fellow band members had seen things in a certain way.
The other aspect of personalisation, which is something Fairport very much wanted, was that it included my view of the band’s history, particularly because of my changing relationship with them. So I tend to wander in and out at certain key moments, using memories, diary entries, quotes from contemporary articles or reviews etc. to try to act as eyes and ears for the reader.
MH: Were you conscious of the balance of writing a book called “Fairport by Fairport” but still having to inject your own personality / history / experiences into it? Do you think you struck the right balance?
NS: I began to answer this in the last question. It wasn’t an easy balance to strike, especially with all the Fairport voices ringing down the years as well. I tried various formats, including one which began each section with an eye-witness account and then leapt Doctor Who-like to connected bits of their career. For example, seeing the Nine line up at Cropredy prompts recollections of that particular “Phoenix Phairport” moment and then led on to Sandy’s return and their experiment with AOR. In the end the approach became too complex and anything but a straight narrative, with occasional cross-referencing tended to disturb the balance.
I wanted to make my own appearances (as opposed to simply providing the neutral narrative timeline) happen where I felt experience or memory provided a useful insight. Luckily, I was working with skilled editors who helped keep everything on track: it was a very fruitful collaboration in every respect.
MH: When you look back on it – assuming you do – is there anything you’d change? Apart from the odd typo, perhaps!
NS: With any book, one wishes one had more time (and yes that includes a final run at the proofing!). As it turned out, the time I set aside for the initial in depth writing didn’t quite work out and so I ended up fitting in a lot of the writing with other commitments, which I would have preferred not to do. It would also have been good to have had the book ready for Cropredy.
Most of all, though, the real regret is those people I could not longer interview: Geoff Hughes who died as the book was being completed; Jonah Jones who I only interviewed once, briefly, at Cropredy; and of course Sandy, Trevor and Martin.
MH: What’s so good about Fairport anyway?
NS: 45 years for a start. The fact the band can have support change and still be Fairport. Three classic albums in one year. Inventing a hugely significant music genre. The great musicians that have been and are still in the band. The band’s reputation, despite its lack of commercial success in the accepted sense. Its cottage industry approach. Cropredy at the same time a hugely respected and influential festival and the world’s biggest village fete. And, something I return to several times in the book, Fairport’s strange ability to anticipate important trends. That moment during Meet On The Ledge when the lights come up on the audience and every one of that 20,000 strong crowd is briefly a member of Fairport Convention. The ascending fiddle line that improves perfection at the end of Farewell, Farewell.
MH: Anything else you’d like to mention about the book that no-one has asked you yet? I assume it’s still available – or are reprints likely?
NS: There was an initial run of autographed copies, followed by the immediate second reprint which has not sold out. It is intended to keep the book in print. Whether it will be available in other forms is something yet to be decided.
I have been asked how long it took me to write the book. I’ll give you the real answer – six months and 44 years.
I was pleased to be able to include a chapter which dealt specifically with folk-rock i.e. all the Fairport versions of traditional songs. There are fewer than one might imagine for a band regularly described as a folk group – and usually found in the folk sections of record shops (remember them?)
It’s a good point to say thanks to everyone who has been part of Fairport for all the music which kept on coming round again when I really needed it, for the great times I’ve spent with you, for the hours of interviews over the years and for your incredibly warm and positive response to the book – particularly Ashley who called out of the blue having borrowed a copy from Simon.
Finally, an abiding Fairport memory. There was a tape of an interview with Sandy, recorded shortly before her death. It was recorded for radio and never broadcast. Events overtook its relevance, particularly as she was looking ahead to what she hoped would happen. It had sat unplayed for years and was so badly deteriorated that it was beyond rescue. Oxide was being visibly shed as it played. It was a strange feeling to know the tape was being heard for the first and only time, and to hear our two voices and Sandy’s boisterous infectious giggle. I made notes as well as transcribing and ended up with the cliche “larger than life” – then realised how little of Fairport’s 45 years she (or Richard or Ashley or Swarb) spent in the band, but what towering influences they have remained. At the time the nation was full of Olympic fervour and I added to my notes “Liege, Lief and Legacy”. Some things, of course, are destined from the outset not to make the final cut, but they help things along the way.
More details on the ‘Fairport By Fairport’ webpage: http://fairportconventionbook.com/
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…
On Wednesday January 23 at 7pm, Fairport Convention will perform live on The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe’s on Radio 2 and chat with the presenter. They’ll discuss their long and varied career, with the odd mention of the book Fairport by Fairport, we hope. As vast as the book is, there was some material that couldn’t be fitted in, but we are very happy to be able to publish some of it on our blog. The selection below has band members discussing their first album for the Vertigo label, Bonny Bunch of Roses:
In 1977, as Fairport Convention celebrated its first decade, Island Records were no longer interested in a band it found difficult to promote.
PEGGY Our album sales were dropping and we’d proved pretty conclusively that unlike most rock acts on the label we weren’t capable of having hits.
Record labels have regular purges of their roster, and as Island reviewed their catalogue in the post-punk era, there was no room for a group playing folk rock alongside acts like Roxy Music and Bob Marley. Despite Peggy thinking that, ‘when you’re as closely associated with one label as Fairport were, sometimes it’s hard to find someone else who will take you on,’ in fact they found a new home pretty quickly.
SIMON Our manager at the time, Philippa Clare, got us a deal with Phonogram to record six albums for Vertigo. It’s a matter of record that we only made two of them: the label paid us not to make the rest. That’s a pretty good clue in which direction your career is heading!
Phonogram’s prog rock label, Vertigo’s roster included Gentle Giant, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Status Quo, but there was room for music with a more rootsy approach. Like Fairport, Dr Strangely Strange had, years earlier, moved from Island to Vertigo; Magna Carta had released a string of critically acclaimed folk-based albums on the label. Iain Matthews released his early albums on Vertigo.
SWARB We’d tried going mainstream with Sandy and Trevor. It hadn’t worked out. Now we were out on a limb. Vertigo wanted us to go back to being a more traditionally-based group, which suited me fine.
In many ways, The Bonny Bunch Of Roses picks up where Full House left off, its title track being one of the final recordings by that line up.
SWARB I was always sorry that ‘Bonny Bunch’ had spent so little time in Fairport’s set. I was happy to go back to it. It also provided the album’s cover.
SIMON After a couple of frankly embarrassing record sleeves, it looked classy.
The front showed Napoleon in silhouette, clutching a bunch of red white and blue roses: behind him, also in silhouette, staggers a single file line of wounded soldiers.
SWARB All those figures on the sleeve, including Boney, are actually me. I had great fun dressing up and striking poses.
The figures are set on a stark white background recalling the Russian snows that ultimately defeated Napoleon’s French Revolutionary army. Inside, the sleeve featured individual band members against a background of the French revolutionary standard.
SIMON I wonder if John Tams minds that we pre-empted him with a sleeve that would have been great for the soundtrack for ‘Sharpe’
Opposite them, the tracklist showed that Fairport had gone back to the music they were playing when Swarb and Peggy first joined.
SIMON Aside from ‘Bonny Bunch’, the album had Richard’s ‘Poor Ditching Boy’, which really sounds like it should be a traditional song. Swarb and I had played it as a duo and it made sense to record it with the band.
PEGGY Of course, we were looking towards the future – just look at our optimistic smiling faces on the sleeve. There’re lots of things about that album that looked further ahead than any of us could have foreseen. We did one of Ralph’s songs: he was important to us in the eighties, writing songs for us, using Fairport as his studio band and recording at Woodworm. There was a song called ‘Eynsham Poacher’ which was quite local, with all of us living in and around Cropredy. That came from John Leslie, Chris’s brother: they were a duo and appeared at one of the early Cropredy Festivals and of course Chris plays a really crucial part in Fairport’s future.
SIMON We were also laying the foundations of Fairport’s new repertoire – the things we’d play over the next few years and at those first Cropredy Festivals, though I think the next Vertigo album had more songs with real staying power.
The album began and ended with instrumentals, a set of musical quote marks that became more apparent when the album was released on CD. The first tune was composed by Peggy and it enjoyed a new lease of life when he joined Jethro Tull and it was added to their repertoire.
PEGGY ‘Jams O’Donnells’ got its name from a favourite book of the time by Flan O’Brien. It was something I really liked and also still a new composition when Fairport broke up and I had the chance to join Tull. Ian asked if there was anything I’d like them to play of mine, and it was the obvious choice.
The other tune in the set, ‘Royal Seleccion No.13’, was a medley of some very well known Scottish dance tunes. The title came from Bruce Rowland’s favourite brand of cigar. The tunes included ‘Haste To The Wedding’ and ‘Dashing White Sergeant’, which many Fairport fans would recognise from Ashley Hutchings’ album The Complete Dancing Master, plus ‘Toytown Parade’, familiar to an entire generation as the ‘Larry The Lamb Theme’. Aside from ‘Poor Ditching Boy’ and Ralph’s ‘Run Johnny Run’, the album included one other non-traditional song, Swarb’s ‘Last Waltz’ (“That’s one from my Engelburt Humperdinck period!”)
Everything else on the album was traditional. ‘General Taylor ‘is a sea shanty: like the title track it had been a contender for Full House or its successor. ‘Adieu, Adieu’ had also been in Fairport’s repertoire shortly after that and was considered for Rosie: it was now revisited with the eighteenth century broadside given a new twist courtesy of a nicely lifted lick from The Who’s ‘Happy Jack’.
PEGGY Today, they’d no doubt just sample the original. To make it work Bruce and I had to figure out what Entwistle and Moon were doing and duplicate it precisely.
SIMON Bonny Bunch was, in a real sense, a fresh start. It does lean back to the point where Fairport’s first period of real success started to wind down. Not that the two are connected, but it also continues very naturally from the point where I left the band.
PEGGY You could almost imagine Bonny Bunch as the follow up to Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee. It skips that period between Rosieand Gottle O’Geer when Sandy was in the band and Simon wasn’t.
SWARB It doesn’t signify anything sinister because mostly the songs are traditional, but there isn’t much on that album that we couldn’t have recorded in ’72 or ’73. We had already played, and in some cases recorded, several of those songs then.
Knowing what Island had in its archives, it is quite possible that Fairport were in fact pre-empting the release of a rag-bag compilation of out-takes.
PEGGY We’d seen CBS delve into their archives when Dylan left them and went briefly to Asylum. The album called Dylan that came out then was a compilation of out-takes.
Bonny Bunch was well received by critics who described Fairport as “back on form” and “back on track”: It didn’t sell as well as hoped however, which was an indication that Fairport’s hardcore fan base was diminishing…