This is a celebratory Fairport Convention dream album, capturing most alumni (the five surviving members of the début album line-up all appear) performing at their own Cropredy Festival last August, marking the band’s 50th anniversary. “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” indeed.
Label: Matty Grooves
Time: 25 Tracks / 67 + 58 minutes
So it follows that this release majors on earlier material, beginning with “Time Will Show the Wiser,” which began their début album, followed by two (“Reno, Nevada” and Leonard Cohen’s classic “Suzanne,” played to a fine staccato guitar riff) that appeared on the 2003 version as bonus tracks.
They cover all but one track from their fourth (1969) album Liege and Leaf, voted “most influential folk album of all time” by BBC Radio 2 listeners (2006) and “best of all time” by New Musical Express (2016).
The riches of material available mean that you have to look very hard for poor tracks. It is telling that probably the only weak three come from guests, such as Ralph McTell, which sound pleasant, but quite unexceptional beside Fairport’s more creative offerings. Fairport’s own self-referring “Our Bus Rolls On” is hardly a classic, but it is a little tongue-in-cheek and quite poppy with it.
The only real downsides are occasional weaker performances. Richard Thomson may be a legend in his genre, but it is not necessarily for his vocals. His extended guitar work here tends to be a bit rambling, too (although many love him for it).
Some tracks are just wonderful, but they are at their best as part of this whole. The greatest appeal of this is the variety of strong material, whether traditional story-telling songs, pioneering folk-rock adventures, instrumental forays or covers that they make their own.
The opener – about the dilemma of fancying your best friend’s girlfriend – easily stands the test of time. “Fotheringay” and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” have been great songs since they appeared on the legendary early Island Records samplers. “The Hiring Fair” is beautifully atmospheric.
“Toss the Feathers” is such a great tune that I’ve yet to find any version of it that is long enough, and the “Lark in the Morning Medley,” which includes it, is no exception. There are two further, quite different instrumentals: “A Surfeit of Lampreys,” a fiddle-featuring piece with its feet in traditional English dance, and the rockier “Dirty Linen,” a four-tune medley, where mandolin, guitar and even bass play highly intricate lines in unison.
There are the lovely touches that come from players who know each other well. As Chris Leslie shares fiddle duties with Ric Sanders and mandolin work with Dave Pegg, it is hard to know who to credit, but the mandolin playing in particular is a real delight throughout.
This is a peach of a folk offering, particularly for those with few Fairport albums in their homes. The quality feels studio-like and you never get the feeling that they are sick of the old fan-favourites.
“We’re gonna meet on the ledge / When my time is up, I'm gonna see all my friends,” they sing on the traditional everyone-on-stage-together closer. There’s a fair chance that not all of them will make the 60th anniversary, which makes this superb selection all the more special.