Fairport Convention Thrives After 35 Years

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

In the United Kingdom, Fairport Convention is not so much a band as a national institution.

Originally formed in 1967 the band has survived breakups, numerous lineup changes, even deaths of band members, to celebrate its 3Sth anniversary this year with a new CD entitled “XXXV” and a world tour.

Fairport Convention’s name has become synonymous with British folk-rock music, but the band’s roots have a distinctly more American flavor. Fairport was originally touted as a British Jefferson Airplane, and their 1967 debut album “Fairport Convention” featured cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell among others.

By their second album “What We Did On Our Holidays,” the band began to develop a more individual sound, playing its own interpretations of traditional English folk songs in a rock style, including a 12-minute rendition of “A Sailor’s Life.”

Tragedy struck the band for the first time shortly after the release of_”Holidays.” The band was traveling home after a show when the van driver fell asleep at the wheel. The van flew 40 feet over an embankment, killing drummer Martin Lamble and guitarist Richard Thompson’s girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, and injuring the rest of the passengers.

The band eventually regrouped with a new drummer, Dave Mattacks, and released their third album “Liege & Lief” in 1969. With its marriage of traditional songs and electric rock instruments, “Liege & Lief” is Widely credited as the album that invented folk-rock, and has spawned countless imitators.

Fairport’s take on “Matty Groves,” featured on this album, became the band’s signature song and is considered by many to be the ‘definitive version. As the ’60s changed into the ’70s, so the band’s lineup changed various members left to pursue other projects.

Ashley Hutchings went on to form Steeleye Span, Sandy Denny to form Fotheringay and Richard Thompson to a solo career. The band continued on through the 1970s, with Sandy Denny briefly rejoining before her own tragic death from a brain hemorrhage in 1978.

Finally in 1979, faced With feelings of irrelevance in the aftermath of punk rock, Fairport decided to call it quits and embarked on a farewell tour, ending in their home village of Cropredy near Oxford.

The band’s retirement didn’t last long, however, as in 1980 its members decided hold a reunion concert, again in Cropredy. This annual event grew into the Cropredy Festival, which today is one of the biggest weekend folk festivals in Europe.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, September 12, 2002

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