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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Union Chapel, Islington, London
February 7th 2009
Two Pence
I have decided, Serge, that for many enthusiasts, watching Fairport Convention is a bit like stamp collecting. Not that there’s anything wrong with the most popular hobby in the world, a pastime fit for pauper or even premier. It just seems to me that it might be a tad backward-looking, a touch retrospective rather than futuristic, or head-in-the-sand rather than head-in-the-clouds.
Something that might be considered to turn Great Men of Deeds into country postmasters, fussily rearranging forgotten jars of jam and marmalade on dusty shelves. Look, for example, at the way Fairport obsessives dissect the minutiae of every tour: “What’s the set list going to be this winter?”, “Will this Autumn’s T-shirt be as awesome as the Cropredy one from the year before last?”, “Did anyone notice Ric’s hat?”, “How grumpy was Simon Nicol?”. These and other questions of mind-numbing irrelevance dominate the virtual Fairport firmament, where hordes of soon-to-be ex-public service workers share their fanatical, almost philatelic, infatuations with like-minded souls; clearly their other point in common is having far too much time on their hands. It’s as if all they’re really interested in is finding that rare and unimagined imperfection, something that no one else can possibly have. Rather like John Fowles’ Collector. Spooky.
Left to right: Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie.
It is a shame, since going to see the Fairports is still rather fun (as it should be) and especially with Jozzer, who may know a little too much about them for his own good: I’m told he goes to sleep humming ‘Matty Groves’ . But his maniacal ranting (“did you know that Dave Swarbrick once played ‘Rosie’ in Leicester’s De Montfort Hall with a bucket full of cigarette ends on his head?”) has been dulled by a vast plateful of Rock Salmon and Chips at the you-know-where, washed down with a handy bottle of something blanc from the hugely un-customer-centered Budgens store down the road (just past the famous Hope and Anchor). So he’s perched on his church pew, gently dozing with head resting on Trizza’s shoulder, while I’m left taking notes nowhere near as copious or detailed as those of almost everyone else in the place.
But I simply recorded a few facts. The show was opened by the unlikely pairing of Steeleye Span guitarist Ken Nicol and comedian Phil Cool. Nicol, says the notebook, delivered some great guitar playing, and Cool a truly wonderful Paul McCartney impersonation – his George Bush wasn’t bad either.
The Fairports joined them on stage for their last song, and then began their set with ‘Ye Mariners all’. Notable in this first set was Ric Sanders’ fiddle playing on ‘The Fossil Hunter’, his soaring notes seeming to fill every corner of the Union Chapel’s great high ceiling. Leslie sang a haunting ‘Reynardine’ from Liege and Lief, accompanied by the sirens of police cars charging round Highbury Corner while Nicol provoked a short debate on blood sports in his introduction to ‘Reynard the fox’ (to his disgust but Leslie’s delight, the fox lived to fight another day). And my notes noted, as they have before, that even if I can’t describe how irritated I’m made by Dave Pegg’s face-pulling, thumbs-up blokiness, his bass playing really is very good. Union
In the second half – and this was a real curiosity for the collectors – they played a pleasing mini-version of their often disregarded 1971 ‘folk-opera’ Babbacombe Lee telling the story of the man they couldn’t hang, convicted murderer John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee. Interesting, if not a bit 1960s. This was followed by a rather strained ‘Who knows where the time goes’, and the inevitable ‘Matty Groves’ (at which point Jozzer nodded off for good). For encore, before the mad rush to the merchandising store for the T-shirts and trinkets there was a weak ‘Ukulele central’, (involving lots of ukuleles and larking about) and finale ‘Meet on the ledge’ which was notable for guitar playing by Ken Nicol who’d joined the band on stage along with Cool.

As the collectors compared notes and swapped facts, we rudely stirred Jozzer from his slumbers and crept out into the cold snowy night. Did I mention that we’ve had snow in London? - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen: Fairport Convention on MySpace
Ken Nicol on MySpace


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