It's 27th May 1967 the first line-up of Fairport Convention play their first ever gig at St. Michael's Church Hall in Golders Green. Some 25 members later and Simon Nichol (who is the one remaining original member though he went for a mid 1970's wander), Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie and Gerry Conway who have been the band since 1998 celebrate Fairport's 50th year. The celebratory year starts with the traditional Winter tour criss-crossing the country during February and March.

Fiddle player Ric Sanders introduces tonight's support Sally Barker, who you may know from a recent series of The Voice, but for many years she has been a member of The Poozies and sings with the re-formed Sandy Denny's Fotheringay, which provides a neat link to an early Fairport Convention line-up. Sally plays folky-country-blues songs from her most recent solo album 'Ghost Girl' along with tracks from earlier in her varied career.

There's a beautiful country song possibly called “Two Hearts”, which she's considering giving to Dolly Parton to record. 'Talk About The Money' gets a good rapport with the audience tonight. The tradition is that before starting their set, Fairport accompany the final track of the support's set which tonight is an excellent track called 'I'm Not Whole' which was written by Sally's son.

Fairport Convention start their first set with a new track 'Our Bus Rolls On' from the new album 50:50 @50, which acts as a bio for the current band members echoing the themes of 1971's 'Angel Delight'. Whilst Chris Leslie has been the band's main songwriter since 1996, the band always recognise their significant earlier authors. 'Genesis Hall' is introduced as written by Richard Thompson when he was “ .. just out of nappies ....which he'll be going back into shortly ... well it happens to all of us” a Swarbrick/ Thompson track “Now Be Thankful” (one of my personal favourites) is sensitively and beautifully played with Chris taking lead vocals.

There's a preamble to explain the origin of the next track which is a new arrangement of the instrumental 'Danny Jack's Reward', which goes something like this ; Ric “ I phoned Peggy and told him I wanted to make a new arrangement of Danny Jack's Reward for us to play at Cropredy with some additional musicians”, Peggy replied “How many additional musicians do you want ? “, “I replied 43!”. What follows is the arrangement which Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble (all 43 of them) played at Fairport's 2014 Cropredy festival and is now known as the expensive version, although tonight we get the cheap version played by the five piece it's still a great new arrangement.

The second half of the show begins with a couple tracks from the back catalogue, the traditional track 'Sir Patrick Spens' and Sandy Denny's composition 'Fotheringay'. Sally Barker returns to take Sandy's vocals on 'Rising For The Moon'. There's 'Farewell, Farewell ' from the multi-award winning 'Liege and Lief' album really brings out the beautiful twin fiddle playing of Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie.

The opening track from the new album is 'Eleanor's Dream' which is a rockier number in the style of 'Myths and Heroes'. Final track with the now familiar banjo intro from Chris is of course 'Matty Groves' ,which tells the story of doomed love between a lady of the manor bored with her husband and the handsome man she sees in the church (the years and the venues may change but the theme remains). Sally Barker returns (place a bet on her appearing at Cropredy this year) to sing a verse of 'Meet on the Ledge' as we bid farewell to old friends and promise to see them them again because as the song finishes “if you really mean it, it all comes round again”.

The Winter Tour continues until 5th March, there's a special 50 years celebration of the first show at the Union Chapel in London, and Fairport's Cropredy Convention is 10th -12th August in a field in Oxfordshire.


Alisdair Whyte