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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
FAIRPORT CONVENTION ‘ACOUSTIC’, 100 Club, London, November 16th 2005
Fairport Convention     Hey Serge, did you know that the esteemed historian and songwriter Ralph McTell wrote a wonderful tune about the greatest of all English patriots, William Conkere? You must remember William. He was the legendary English hero who fought off the invading hordes of Harold Hard at Hastings, and famously told “his lusty yeomen true” (I quote Ralph) to fire conkers from their longbows – one of which killed old Harold by hitting him in the eye. It was sad that William’s uncle was killed in the battle, but such was the nation’s gratitude that for years “all young men lusty and true” (Ralph again) were named ‘Norman’ in his memory.
And we still celebrate William’s famous victory every October by eating conker pie. Hmmm. And of course by singing Ralph’s song: “Have you seen King William, true patriot and fair, he’s the lusty warrior we call the Conkere” Yikes! Now that’s what I call history meets poetry. Anyway it was a shame that Fairport Convention didn’t find time for this McTell classic (though that’s not too say it was a McTell free night) in their gig at the 100 Club on Wednesday.
Although it wasn’t really like a 100 Club gig – more like a Convention of Conventioners, a mid-season Cropredy reunion without the rain - why they’d even brought along their fishing chairs, and I swear there was a stall selling (the famous West Midland’s delicacy) hot Ozzies and mushy peas outside on Oxford Street. I’m not even sure if many of them were there for the music, more for the chat and familiar friendly faces (apart from the one that The Photographer had a spat with at the bar, but that, as they say, is another story) four of whom just happen to be on the stage.
Fairport ConventionFrom left to right: Ric Sanders, Simon Nicol,
Gerry Conway and Chris Leslie.
Because it’s not full on Fairport, it’s the acoustic sitting down in fishing chairs version (all plugged in to amplifiers on course), comprising the hard-working Gerry Conway on a very abbreviated drum kit and percussion, grumpy Simon Nicol on guitar and vocals, the normally flamboyant Ric Sanders (tied to his chair) on fiddle, and the simply nice Chris Leslie (The Photographer’s school chum) on vocals, fiddle, electric mandolin and electric bouzouki. Acoustic? Confused? Me too. So apparently is bassist Dave Pegg, who rather than performing was in the south of France “getting his new house together” following his matrimonial adventures over the past year or so. Big shame as that means we miss Dave’s laddish and quite unique Brummie humour. Big shame.
And the performance? Well, I know my fellow reviewer Dave “boy” Broom hates this particular descriptor, but I have to see it was very … nice. Thoroughly pleasant. Most entertaining. Nicol actually sounds a much better singer in this smaller outfit that he sometimes sounds with the full (electric and plugged in) band, and I was able to watch closely, and admire, his exemplary rhythm guitar technique (though I suppose it should be good after about forty year’s practice). Conway is inventive and tireless (though I should observe he looked knackered at half time in the Gents, where he was being pursued by a Convention of ageing amnesic Gerry Conway fans, “what did you say you played again?”).
Fairport ConventionChris Leslie
Sanders is sublime, good humoured, and playing up to a Convention of Sanders fans seated determinedly in front of him on the left of the stage. Leslie spends most of the evening grinning away to himself as he swaps instruments, introduces songs (modestly neglecting to tell us that he’d written most of them) and sings. Now as I’ve already mentioned elsewhere a lot of this new material isn’t really as strong as the Fairport classics of the Thompson, Denny and Swarbrick days. But give the guys their credit – they don’t rest on these laurels - much of the material is of a more recent vintage and played with considerable gusto. And it’s just … nice. Easy, undemanding, fun … errr, nice.
Leslie does a nice line in sentimental – ‘I’m already there’, ‘Banbury Fair’ (he missed out all the fights, a great feature as I recall), ‘The fossil hunter’, ‘Close to you’. We get some nice instrumentals – ‘Woodworm swing’, ‘Canny Capers’, and Duke Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated lady’ morphed with ‘Here there and everywhere’ (unlike the Bill Frisell treatment I got this within half a bar). A nice old Thompson and Swarbrick tune, ‘Now be thankful’, and the nice ‘Culworth gang’, ‘Sheriff’s ride’ and ‘The dancer’.
And of course Ralph McTell’s gushing but nice ‘The hiring fair’, which is a suitable vehicle for Saunders to really put his fiddle through its paces. In between we get a not-so-nice drunks Convention, who appear nosily out of nowhere, but are soon put in their place by a collective turn of heads and glowering glare from the fishing chairs. And of course, as encore, the very nice ‘Meet on the ledge’, by which time, with the wine and beer fully kicked in, its nice hugs and tears and “see you next year at Cropredy’. Fairport Convention
Actually I think I might give it a miss next year, and find something a little less predictable (and less nice) to cover for you Whiskyfun rock fans, but on the other hand if I don’t go, what on earth will I do with my nice fishing chair? - Nick Morgan (concert photos by Kate)
 
 



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