Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK folk-rock band formed '66 in London, by Ashley Hutchings (b January 1945), Simon Nicol (b 13 October 1950) and Richard Thompson, guitars, vocals; Martin Lamble (b August 1949; d in road crash 12 May 1969), drums; Judy Dyble (b 1948), vocals; Ian Matthews (b 16 June 1946, Scunthorpe) (rest all from London). Named after Nicol's home, the band was a mainstay of the London 'underground' circuit late '60s alongside Pink Floyd and Soft Machine; their debut LP Fairport Convention '67 was a motley collection of original songs and covers of Joni Mitchell material (producer Joe Boyd being a friend of hers). What We Did On Our Holidays '68 introduced Sandy Denny following Dyble's departure, emphasized Thompson's development as a writer (e.g. 'Meet On A Ledge').

Matthews left to pursue a solo career, though playing on some tracks on the third album: Unhalfbricking '69 was transitional, with substantial original work, imaginative Bob Dylan covers, eleven-minute workout on traditional 'A Sailor's Life' included fiddler Dave Swarbrick (b April 1941, London; d 3 June 2016 of emphysema), who then became a full-time member. Dave Mattacks (b March 1948, London) joined for seminal Liege And Lief 1969, the first full flowering of English folk-rock, traditional material performed at full throttle by a rock band, but the landmark caused a schism in group; Hutchings, keen to pursue folk-rock, left to form Steeleye Span; Denny formed short-lived Fotheringay; bassist Dave Pegg (b November 1947, Birmingham), a colleague of Swarbrick's, ex-Ian Campbell band, joined for Full House '70, which boasted impressive Thompson/Swarbrick compositions such as 'Walk Awhile' and 'Sloth' (which became a mainstay of the live act).

Thompson left '71; the quartet persevered with patchy Angel Delight and impressive concept John Babbacombe Lee '71-2. Return to form on Rosie '73 included guest appearances from Denny, Thompson, Ralph McTell; guitarists Trevor Lucas (b December 1943, Melbourne, Australia; ex-Eclection, Fotheringay; Denny's husband) and Jerry Donahue (b 24 September 1946, NYC) joined for Fairport 9, the most cohesive post-Thompson LP, featuring Swarbrick's growing skills; joined by Denny for Fairport Live Convention '74. Rising For The Moon '75 was fragmented, with impressive moments; Mattacks left halfway through recording, replaced by Bruce Rowland (ex-Joe Cocker, Ronnie Lane); Denny, Lucas and Donahue quit, leaving Pegg and Swarbrick to make limp Gottle O'Geer '76 with Nicol helping. Live At The L.A. Troubador was made '70 with the Full House lineup (tapes of Led Zeppelin jamming with the band at club were rumoured to exist). Bonny Bunch Of Roses '77 was a return to form, with a four-man lineup convincingly tackling their own and lengthy traditional material; by Tipplers' Tales '78 the punch had gone for a while.

Fairport seemed to split '77, with desultory live souvenir Farewell, Farewell '79. Pegg joined Jethro Tull; Nicol and Swarbrick formed duo for folk-club work; Mattacks was a busy session drummer, working with Elton John, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Nick Heyward; came back with other ex-Fairports at annual reunions, the high spot of the UK folk calendar: Moat On The Ledge '82 was a brilliant live record of the '81 meeting. Fifth Swarbrick solo LP Smiddy Burn '81 reunited the Full House lineup for the first time in ten years; Gladys' Leap '84 was the first Fairport studio LP in years, refreshing and experimental, with Nicol's vocals to the fore, and the first Fairport record not to feature Swarbrick in 16 years, his place taken by Ric Sanders (ex-Soft Machine). Swarbrick formed acoustic quartet Whippersnapper with second fiddler Chris Leslie, Kevin Dempsey on guitar and Martin Jenkins, mandolin. Expletive Delighted '86 was the first all-instrumental Fairport LP, with Sanders, Martin Allcock (b 5 January 1957, Manchester; guitar, electric bouzouki), rhythm section of Mattacks, Nicol and Pegg, help from Thompson and Donahue; House Full '86 was a reissue of Live At The Troubador, remixed with three more tracks. Heyday '87 on Hannibal was a commercial release of a previously 'bootleg' cassette-only compilation of BBC broadcasts from '68-9, and helped start the fashion for raiding the BBC's archives.

Their infl. was profound, inventing folk-rock almost single-handed, paving the way for Steeleye Span, Lindisfarne, influencing countless others by showing a way to avoid domination of USA music at end of '60s. Two-disc History Of Fairport Convention '72 was a good selection; rare tracks appear on Thompson LP Guitar, Vocal '77, Denny anthology Who Knows Where The Time Goes? '86; book Meet On The Ledge '82 by Patrick Humphries was useful. Donahue released solo debut Telecasting '86. Jewel In The Crown '95 was a new studio set with Nicol, Pegg, Allcock and Mattacks; Old, New, Borrowed, Blue by Fairport Acoustic Convention '96 was live unplugged from the previous December plus some studio tracks; Who Knows Where The Time Goes? '97 yet another set of treatments old and new; all on Woodworm. The Woodworm Years on Silver Mist '97 was a compilation. The Cropredy Box '97 on Woodworm was a 3-CD live 30th-anniversary meeting.