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Fairport Convention - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 12 / 4 / 2015

Fairport Convention - Interview


Nick Dent-Robinson speaks to folk-rock legends Faiprot Convention about their first studio album in four years, 'Myths and Legends', and their plans for this year's Cropredy Festival

Folk-rock legends Fairport Convention have been hitting the road again this year to promote their new album, ‘Myths and Heroes’. The band are performing around the UK and in Denmark and Germany to celebrate the launch of their first studio release for over four years. The record features thirteen new songs with five by Fairport's Chris Leslie, two by the band's Ric Sanders and six guest compositions including one gifted to Fairport by the renowned Ralph McTell. The arrangements are stunning and the contrast of material works well. Plus the quality of recording at Woodworm Studios in the little Oxfordshire village of Barford St Michael is outstanding - so it is no surprise that the music press has been enthusiastic. And, despite the band's longevity, Fairport's virtuosity just seems to go from strength to strength! As Fairport founder-member Simon Nicol commented, “You could say I am doing a young man's job in an old man's body but live performance is what I do and I love it. I believe in Doctor Theatre. He comes to visit the dressing room and helps us rise to the challenge of remaking the music all over again each time the house lights go up and our drummer Gerry counts us in. That maintains our freshness. We look forward to touring, and 2015 is a bit special because we have a whole album's worth of new material to introduce to our audiences. Of course, we'll be playing familiar songs from our repertoire too.” The new tracks on ‘Myths and Heroes’ are a delightful mix. Chris Leslie talked about the inspiration for the songs he contributed. “The title track is a reflection on how, throughout human history, we have tended to put faith in things that are never what they seem to be,” Chris explained. “And ‘Theodore's Song’ tells the tale of an Oxfordshire musician and clock repairer who travelled the lanes and byways of the county before 1950,while ‘Grace and Favour’ takes its inspiration from the other end of the country. I visited the Grace Darling Museum at Bamburgh in Northumberland and was fascinated to learn about Grace who earned herself an immortal place in lifeboat history. By contrast ‘Love at First Sight’ is a modern take on the age-old folk tales about women who dress in a man's clothing to gain access to forbidden fruits. And the way the combination came about of Dave Pegg's ‘Roger Bucknall's Polka’ with my ‘The Fylde Mountain Time’ was really very strange. Dave will explain...” “Yes, that was odd,” Dave Pegg agreed! “The Fylde Guitar Company based up in Penrith, Cumbria had built a beautiful bouzouki for Chris. It had a wonderfully thin neck and the craftsmanship was fantastic. I was very jealous and Roger Bucknall, Fylde's supremo, offered to make a similar bouzouki for me. I was so pleased with it when it arrived that I vowed I would compose a tune in Roger's honour. I wrote the tune one May morning and sent it to Chris to see. I just called it ‘Roger Bucknall's Polka’. Amazingly Chris called immediately to say that on that very same morning he'd had a similar thought and had written his own tune for Roger and named it ‘The Fylde Mountain Time’. Chris popped straight over and we listened to the two tunes and, magically, they worked together perfectly as a great duet piece. Karma, or what? Then Chris and I spent the rest of the day playing our favourite mandolins and banjos - plus our new bouzoukis - together.” Reflecting on the new album's title, ‘Myths and Heroes’, do Fairport members have any favourite myths about the band? “There was the myth that circulated about the gig we did on 4th August 1979 when we opened for Led Zeppelin at Knebworth and were then 'helicoptered' to Cropredy to play our own farewell show,” Dave Pegg recalled. “Except the helicopter looked remarkably like a rusty old Ford Transit van!” This recollection prompted Simon Nicol to add, “Of course the big Fairport myth is that we get bracketed with some of our contemporaries as super-rich. Just because we have worked almost fifty years as a band doesn't mean we own private islands or stud farms!” And who are Fairport's heroes? “I don't normally put people on pedestals,” Simon Nicol responded. “But maybe Leonardo da Vinci would be my choice. Though tomorrow I might pick someone else. If people were gifted with the powerful curiosity and restless energy Leonardo da Vinci brought to bear on his world - anatomy, mechanics, science, high art - then this would be a more peaceful, successful planet!” By contrast, Rick Danko of The Band is Dave Pegg's hero. “Because he was a huge influence on my bass playing. I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of hours in his company, and he was a truly great musician. Sadly he died at just 56,” Dave said. Drummer Gerry Conway opted for the late Spike Milligan as his all-time hero while Ric Sanders picked Kwai Chang Caine as portrayed by David Carradine in the 1970s ‘Kung Fu’ TV series. And Chris Leslie, as a fully qualified violin maker (as well as a brilliant multi-instrumentalist), chose the little-known Lloyd Loar who worked for the Gibson guitar company in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the 1920s and redesigned Gibson's original mandolin into the Gibson F5 model which is played today by top mandolinists everywhere – including Chris himself! Looking ahead to this year's Fairport's Cropredy Convention which will take place from Thursday 13th August to Saturday 15th August, what are some of the highlights festival goers can look forward to? “As always, there will be at least twenty acts,” Simon Nicol said. “We are especially pleased to welcome the world class Emmylou Harris with Rodney Crowell and, by way of contrast, Level 42. Our special guest this year is Paul Carrack - who should be very popular.” Other acts include the Proclaimers, Fish, Band of Friends, Toyah Willcox, the Norwegian all-female group Katzenjammer, Dreadzone, Richard Digance (of course!) plus The NewGrass Cutters – which is the bluegrass-style band of top producer and multi-instrumentalist Pete Brown (son of Joe, brother of Sam) which already has a big celebrity following from the likes of guitarist Albert Lee, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, former Jethro Tull drummer Barrie Barlow, Chas and Dave, BBC radio's Bob Harris and Mike Read plus Fairport Convention. As Simon Nicol said, “It is an exciting challenge each year to try to better what we have done last time. 2014 was a sell-out and hopefully with the breadth and range of acts for 2015 plus our headliners like Emmylou Harris and Paul Carrack we will appeal to the wide-ranging age groups who now return to Cropredy annually. It is the highlight of my year and all of us in Fairport are already looking forward to it!” The main photograph was taken by Ben Nicholson. For details of Fairport's ‘Myths and Heroes’ album plus news of this August's Cropredy Convention visit www.fairportconvention.com

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Fairport Convention - Interview

Fairport Convention - Interview

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