Fairport Convention: Come All Ye: The First Ten Years (UMC)
Formed 50 years ago, Fairport Convention soldiers on into the 21st century after numerous lineup changes with no original members (bassist Dave Pegg, dates back to 1969). The curators of Come All Ye assembled its seven discs, as the subtitle promises, from the band’s first 10 years. During that time, Fairport was at the forefront of British folk-rock, an unstable highbred that produced some beautifully realized ideas amidst the fiddle sticks.
Come All Ye is a well-selected collection of familiar studio tracks, outtakes and illuminating live performances in a variety of settings. The opening track, “Time Will Show the Wiser,” is grounded in the psychedelic twang of Buffalo Springfield; similarly, their reverberant cover of Bob Dylan’s “Jack O’Diamonds” echoes Quicksilver Messenger Service. Contemporary American rock was a primary influence at the onset, and yet, already, an English undercurrent can be heard in the pristine vocals of Sandy Denny, the first in a series of women who fronted the band with haunting Charlotte Brontë tones. Before long, the British dimension of their folk-rock grew more prominent. The grave cadences of Child Ballads seeped into their version of “One Sure Thing,” a song by an American, Harvey Brooks. Traditional British folk songs entered their repertoire.
All the while guitarist Richard Thompson came into his own as a songwriter, fashioning lyrics of startling immediacy set to a powerful refrain on “Meet on the Ledge,” and as a uniquely imaginative guitarist who blended Eastern modalities with folk and blues in solos of low-key intensity. Among Fairport’s strengths was its wealth of voices and writers as well its ability to reimagine songs by contemporaries (Dylan was a favorite) alongside the anonymous hand-me-downs of folk tradition. Some of the best instrumental collaborations occurred after David Swarbrick joined Fairport in 1969. His old country Celtic fiddling converged with Thompson’s caustic electricity to great effect on the dolefully minor-key “Doctor of Physick.”
With Thompson’s departure in 1971, Fairport began to recede into talented competence and as the ’70s continued, British folk-rock faded from the charts while hanging onto the niche audience that latter-day versions of the band continue to work. The early years represented on Come All Ye were glorious.