Fairport Convention, All Saints, Leamington
There are plenty of jokes about age in the air as Fairport Convention’s latest venture gets under way. The band have been going, as anyone with a knowledge of British music should know, since the late sixties. There have been inevitable changes in personnel, but also lifetimes spent playing a fine back catalogue of classic and keeping the equally aging faithful happy.
Leamington’s All Saints provided the perfect setting for this opening show of the band’s 2019 spring tour. And there was a full congregation of Fairport worshippers there to enjoy a set which delved deep into the history of this musical institution as well as providing proof that the creative urges still bloom in the form of new material. It’s a nicely chosen set which seems to keep the band on their toes and interested while satisfying the audience’s appetite for classics. It’s not the pomp and celebration of Cropredy, but it is a terrific listen throughout.
Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie share the vocal duties, the former contributing fine guitar work and the latter just about any other instrument you could wish to hear. Mandolin, bazouki, fiddle, whistle, mouth organ all added with subtle skill. Ric Sanders’s fiddle is in as good fettle as it’s ever been, sounding markedly younger than some to its player’s jokes. At the back, the legendary Gerry Conway coaxes a vast panorama of percussion sounds from a partly electric kit, saving his bravura moment for a final assault of the cajon which would eave many a less-experienced player gasping.
But it’s Dave Pegg who, amongst all these other musical stars, still contrives to shine brightest. If there’s a better bass player on the circuit I’d be amazed. Of course there’ll be some teenage wizard in a metal band able to shred notes out five times faster, but for melodic and harmonic sense combined with an utterly lovely touch, Mr Pegg still stands above anyone you could name. Let’s hope he never tires or retires.
Creative and new as they’d like to be, Fairport are still a band defined by the towering shadow of their own history. And so it’s back into the classic early albums that we’re taken for some of the evening’s highlights. Crazy Man Michael, Sir Patrick Spens and (of course) a rollicking, full-paced Matty Groves all serving as steps up to a fabulous Meet on the Ledge ending. This excellent tour will only get better as it moves around. Don’t miss it if you like traditional music, joyous music-making and some simply brilliant musicianship.