Listen: Sir B. McKenzie’s Daughter’s Lament For The 77th Mounted Lancers Retreat From The Straights Of Loch Knombe, In The Year Of The Lord 1727, On The Occasion Of The Announcement Of Her Marriage To The Laird Of Kinleanie / Fairport Convention FairportSirB.mp3
Although the song title earned the Guinness Book award for ‘longest ever’, Fairport Convention were guaranteed not to have a hit single because of it. Besides, this was oddly relegated to the B side. A last remnant of Richard Thompson’s days with the band, by the time of it’s release, he was gone.
I was desperate to own this single, not having been included on FULL HOUSE, their current album at the time. Far from being amongst the majority vote, I considered the new four piece lineup, sans Thompson, their best yet. And although the prior release, LEIGE AND LIEF got, and still gets, all the praise, it’s FULL HOUSE hands down that’s my favorite. Possibly due to it coinciding with my first ever Fairport Convention concert, supporting Traffic. A wondrous night that. I was spellbound.
Listen: John Lee / Fairport Convention FairportJohnLee.mp3
Less spellbound were the critics. Everyone missed Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny. Okay, I get it, but Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol were equally powerful, unsung frontmen. Tiny Dave in dark blue platform boots swirling around the stage, attacking his violin, and creating a whirlwind of sound and nuts-ness. Showmanship in addition to being a superb songwriter. It was Dave Swarbrick who wrote all of these A sides. What the fuck’s not to like?
Their next album, BABBACOMBE LEE, ruled my world. That tour was a special night out for us British music followers, being sandwiched between The Kinks and Lindisfarne. This my friends was heaven on earth, the absolute best place to be in the entire solar system.
‘John Lee’, one the the album’s two singles, still brings back that raging blizzard of March 1, 1972. We’d driven through blinding snow for well over an hour. Being pre-cell phone days, I was terrified of finding the show’d been cancelled once we arrived and approached Kleinhand’s Music Hall with a deadly pit in the stomach. Besides, this was my first date with Corinne, who finally agreed to accept an invitation out. Please God, make it all happen.
Miracle. The show went on as planned, thankfully. It was in the stars I guess.
Let me tell you about it: This was Lindisfarne’s first ever US date, though you’d never have known. ‘Fog On The Tyne’ made it clear this was going to be a very English night. Bring it on, we had waited long for this.
Not to worry, Fairport Convention, despite being of the folk rock classification, powered that stage the moment they hit. Straight into ‘Walk Awhile’, “Sir B. McKenzie’s…’, ‘The Journeyman’s Grace’, ‘Sickness And Diseases’, ‘Sloth’ and the above ‘John Lee’, Even the balcony was jigging in the aisles, or at least they thought they were.
Then came The Kinks. At this point, in their high camp era, Dave decked out in a tailored tangerine red suit and Ray with bright green velvet jacket and clown sized bow tie, perfectly sloppy, opening with ‘Till The End Of The Day’, then satiating us with ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’, ‘Victoria’, ’20th Century Man’, ‘Death Of A Clown’, ‘Apeman’, ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’, ‘Holloway Jail’, ‘Autumn Almanac’, ‘Have A Cuppa Tea’, ‘Arthur’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset’. Sweet Jesus have mercy!
Listen: Rosie / Fairport Convention FairportRosie.mp3
“Rosie’ is as vital a song and single in Fairport Convention’s history as any of the others, which by the way, seem to get all the name checks. It came to represent the beginning of a comradery amongst former members that eventually defined lineups ahead, whereby any or many would float in and out of the band.
For this one, it was Sandy Denny who guested on the call and response type chorus, hinting at the full time member she would return to be just a year or so down the road. For proof of the fantastic vocal clarity she could bring to any song, just listen to ‘Rosie’.
Listen: White Dress / Fairport Convention FairportWhiteDress.mp3
Supporting the reunion album, RISING FOR THE MOON with another Anglophile crushing US package (Caravan and Renaissance), the horribly under attended September 24, 1975 stop in Rochester had to be a demoralizing, why-are-we-here moment. Unfortunately, the stark, vast theater seemed ironically fitting during ‘White Dress’, their most haunting track ever, and in some ways, most powerful simply via Sandy Denny’s ability to evoke chills so effortlessly.
As with her very own version of Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind’, a solo single from ’78, ‘White Dress’ can be overwhelming, and many times, still challenges my courage to play it all the way through.