If a band's
going to play a concept album in its entirety, you should really be
there to see it in its entirety. But thanks to the so-called 'express'
bus service from Croydon to Hatton Cross, where the only thing
'expressive' was my mounting anger, coupled with some downright arsepain-inducing
and inexplicable traffic (bloody Carshalton Beeches, and to think I've
almost moved there twice as well) I arrive at the Beck Theatre some 12
minutes into Fairport's 'Babbacombe Lee' extravaganza, missing 'Little
Did I Think' 'I Was Sixteen' and the first half of 'Sailor's Alphabet'
by the time I eventually find my pass and get directed to my seat.
once, I don't go absolutely apeshit: either the Beck's beautifully
1971-styled, green and brown art modern interiors (which promote the
illusion that I'm actually seeing this material performed at that time)
have a miraculously soothing effect on me, or my new meds must be
Now not only
celebrating the 40th anniversary of the album but very soon, a full 45
years together, Britain's premier folk-rockers are the epitome of the
term 'seasoned professionals': yet, in spite of the somewhat polished
sanitisation such a term could hint at, and a decidedly conservative
audience, myself and BFI Flipside's Vic Pratt notwithstanding in our
Wyngardian facial hair and O'Sullivanian threads, the band, finally
achieving a stable lineup in the last 12 years with ‘classic' members
Simon Nicol and Dave Pegg and 80s recruit Ric Sanders (ex Soft Machine -
I always point that out where possible) augmented by Morris king Chris
Leslie on guitar on mandolin and Fotheringay/Cat Islam/Pentangle alumni
Gerry Conway on drums, still refuse to settle into comfortable
predictability, retaining an edge younger 'folk' players have already
lost by the time they first set foot in a studio.
just something that always remains with you: stripped wisely (even on
'Cell Song', which was based around Fender Rhodes on the original) of
any unnecessary MIDI keyboards, which blighted some turn of century
gigs, and left to excel at their respective instruments, they create a
special something, a world of wood, bracken and wordsmithery like
only they know how.
Song', the tune which gave me chills as a teenager despite, in my
brother's opinion anyway, humorously including the word 'John' one time
too many in the lyric, is as perfect as any rendition can be, while
'Hanging Song', though still stamped indelibly with the identity of the
estranged Dave Swarbrick, is a roller-coaster ride of galloping rhythm
and erudition that, if written by an American band, would be undoubtedly
better known, if inevitably not as good.
Later on in
the set Sanders, who has known Pegg since childhood, alludes to the
bassist's father being worried in 1966 when 'our Dave grew his hair long
and joined a pop group called the Uglys: that raw, beat group sound
still surfaces in his playing tonight, even at his most proficient and
exemplary, and while Leslie may lack the jagged edges of a Thompson,
Lucas, Donahue or even Allcock, somewhere within both his lead and
Nicol's rhythm still beats the heart of the afghan-clad psych combo from
Muswell Hill that once introduced Emmit Rhodes' 'Time Will Show The
Wiser' to a UK audience.
forget, this is not just folk but folk-rock, and rock it does too, with
the smoky melodies and farmy harmonies of new tunes 'The Festival Bell'
'Darkside Wood' 'The Wild Cape Horn' and 'Celtic Moon' (all from an
album Peggy wryly refuses to refer to as 'their last', just in case, at
their age, it is) holding my attention far more than I'd expected, and
even the slightly poppy 'Rui's Guitar' - dedicated to a Portuguese
friend of theirs who actually supplied said instrument, and handled by
Leslie as deftly as any other in his six-string armoury - boding well
for the future.
many new songs in a row in front of a certain quota of oldies who in
turn expect a certain quota of oldies is brave, but thankfully everyone
seemed keen to join them on the journey, and their eventual reward was
an incredible closing trio of 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes' 'Matty
Groves' and what else but 'Meet On The Ledge' (featuring guest lead
vocals from their support act) thankfully shorn of any of the arch
silliness that ruined them in recent years, with the first respectfully
dedicated to its late author Sandy Denny, unbelievably only seventeen at
the time of composition.
never scale those creative peaks again, or indeed attain the
breathtaking scope of 'Full House' 'Angel Delight' and 'Babbacombe Lee'
itself: even the mid-career highlight of their late 80s masterpiece 'Red
And Gold' seems like another world away now, but invention, innovation
and most of all passion are still very much on display, and one Simon
Nicol or Chris Leslie alone is worth a million Mumfords and their sons.
the band they couldn't hang have escaped the gallows once more.
Darius Drewe Shimon
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