To be honest, my first impressions weren’t that favourable. The first incarnation of Fairport Convention was something like an English version of the Jefferson Airplane - a folk-rock band with male and female lead vocalists and a repertoire drawn from the works of the first wave of singer-songwriters (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley, Richard Farina on the reissued and expanded Fairport Convention) as well as original material written by the members of the band.

Their second album, What We Did On Our Holidays, increased the original material quotient without altering the style, and the third, 1969’s Unhalfbricking, continued the trend though by then they’d lost the male vocal (Ian Matthews) while recording the album and the writing had been reduced to four sources, Dylan, singer Sandy Denny, guitarist Richard Thompson and Trad. arr Fairport.

At this point, having refined a style, developed two quality writers and acquired an outstanding lead vocalist in Sandy Denny you’d imagine that things were looking very promising indeed. Three albums had been recorded in about twelve months and the setlist included songs of the quality of FotheringayMeet On The LedgeGenesis Hall and Who Knows Where The Time Goes

However, around the corner Fate was slipping the lead into the boxing glove. A month before the album was due to be released the band were returning from a gig in Birmingham when the roadie driving the van fell asleep at the wheel, the van left the M1.

The crash killed drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklin. Thompson and rhythm guitarist Simon Nicol were hospitalised and the surviving members decided that they would never play their old material again. 

Unhalfbricking had contained, among other tracks, an eleven-minute workout on A Sailor’s Life, a traditional ballad that Sandy Denny had brought to the band, featuring guest fiddler Dave Swarbrick (a ten-year veteran of the English folk music scene). That track, along with the influence of The Band’s Music From Big Pink gave them an avenue to develop a complete new repertoire.


B© Ian Hughes 2012