Artist: Fairport Convention
Album: Come All Ye – The First Ten Years (7 CD set)
Release Date: 7.28.2017
Even the most ardent Fairport Convention fans have plenty of reasons to acquire this excellent set as—with mostly stunningly clear sound quality—more than 50 of the 121 tracks are unreleased. Casual acquaintances to the group, like this writer, will revel in the brilliantly clear, soaring vocals of Sandy Denny, who, beyond all doubts, was the best singer in this genre. You’ll also marvel at Richard Thompson’s guitar playing, easily recognizing his patented style that he still has going strong today. The other elements that struck me were the virtuosity and passion in Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle, the much-too- short-lived brilliance of his and Thompson’s collaborative songwriting, and the many American covers from writers like Dylan, Cohen, Prine, Mitchell, Buddy Holly, and even Jimi Hendrix.
At times, the pace and continuity of the tunes across the seven CDs is a bit awkward, as the band went through numerous personnel changes in its 50 years. Remarkably the band still plays, albeit much less frequently. The set is not a collection of full albums. Instead, the set mixes key songs from their classic albums with single B-sides, demos, outtakes, BBC Radio sessions, live recordings from their many television appearances and their contribution to the BBC documentary, The Man They Couldn’t Hang. CDs Six and Seven are live albums, one the unreleased concert recorded at London’s Fairfield Halls in 1973 and theh other the American debut at L.A.’s Troubadour in 1974 when Denny had rejoined the group. The extensive liner notes from acclaimed English writer Patrick Humphries provide plenty of history. Coincidentally its landmark album Liege & Lief is being reissued in 180-gram vinyl to commemorate this 50 Year Anniversary.
Let me briefly summarize the other 5 CDs. Disc One features the band’s original singer, Judy Dybie on the first six tracks with the remainder featuring Denny. Her classic tune, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” is a brilliant previously unreleased version. Disc Two features the band with and without Denny, focusing on the Liege & Lief sessions in the middle, including the sizzling Thompson/Swarbrick interplay on “Matty Groves”—an alternate take from the Sandy Denny box set. Disc Three is mostly live recordings from the band’s Full House lineup and selections from the aforementioned BBC documentary. That lineup included Thompson, Swarbrick, Dave Pegg on bass, Dave Mattacks on drums, and Simon Nicoll on rhythm guitar. Much of the material features the songwriting of Thompson and Swarbrick. Disc Four features an array of players without Thompson, Denny, or Nicoll as Swarbrick and Pegg essentially recruited other players until Trevor Lucas joined. Lucas was Denny’s husband and she returned in 1974 to highlight many of the selections on Disc 5 – most notably, “White Dress,” “One More Chance,” and “After Halloween.”
Fairport Convention had a unique way of rendering century-old traditional ballads and reels with their own originals. The musicianship is often astounding and to call them the preeminent folk-rock band of all time is no stretch. Dig in and enjoy.