Author’s Note: I’ve been at a number of Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festivals, from the 1980s to the 2000s, but this event at the 1997 one – a stand-alone set on the Friday night by something very closely resembling the very earliest two line-ups – was probably the most captivating. After this review was published Judy Dyble sent me a very nice letter, believing at that point that the show would be her swansong and what a nice way to go out. As if! Judy has been involved in more record releases since that reunion show than she was in the 30 years before it (one of them, I’m very happy to say, one of mine). She has also become a good friend.

 Fairport Convention: 30th Anniversary Reunion

Cropredy Festival

Published: Mojo, October, 1997

 Set List:

Wings / Both Sides Now / Time Will Show The Wiser / Jack O’Diamonds / Fotheringay / Mr Lacey / Suzanne / Percy’s Song / Genesis Hall / Million Dollar Bash / Come All Ye / Reynardine / Lark In The Morning / Matty Groves

 

            If somebody back in the ‘summer of love’ had told Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson and Judy Dyble – members of North London’s premier Jefferson Airplane wannabes Fairport Convention – that 30 years on they’d all be playing in a band called Fairport Convention effectively supporting a band called Fairport Convention, of which none of them would be members, then even the mild-mannered Hutchings might have raised an eyebrow and wondered what the hell the keenly far-sighted fellow was talking about. But so it was.

            Lacking only the late Martin Lamble on drums (current Fairporter Dave Mattacks deputising) and the strangely absent Ian Matthews, this was a rare gathering of the all but forgotten Mark 1 line-up: Hutchings on bass, Thompson on lead guitar (ably tackling Matthews’ vocal parts like he wouldn’t have dared in 1967), Dyble on vocals, Simon Nicol on rhythm guitar. Joe Boyd, their manager during the classic years, introduced them all with great affection and right from the start it was almost as it would have been – the slightly built Ashley Hutchings, restless visionary behind first Fairport, then Steeleye Span and countless versions of The Albion Band, suddenly a towering presence on the stage, unquestionably running the show and accepting nothing less than 100%. Even Thompson was looking to the leader for cues. This wasn’t the usual annual bash at the more familiar back pages; this was the stuff even the diehards hadn’t dug out of their record collection for years.

            Few of the Mark 1 recordings were originals, but Hutchings, like Thompson, has since become a powerful songwriter and his recollection of the era ‘Wings’, from his recent box set The Guv’nor, set the tone. A gracefully aged Judy Dyble emerged smiling for a splendidly strident ‘Both Sides Now’ – an acetate of which had originally clinched the group their Polydor LP contract – before everyone shifted up a gear for their “peace punk” anthem of yore, Emitt Rhodes’ ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, including truly implausible and riveting stabs of lead guitar. Contrary, perhaps, to expectations Dyble’s singing was a joy, and who else would use a wooden recorder as a psychological crutch?

            The set moved on chronologically, with Dyble giving way to Vikki Clayton as Sandy Denny and finally Dave Swarbrick for rarely performed Mark 2 material. Mattacks dedicated Dylan’s ‘Percy’s Song’ to Martin Lamble and played like a demon; by ‘Reynardine’ the goosebumps were right where they should be and for once, at a Fairport festival, the set ended all too quickly. Barring an incident with “an authentic 1960’s amp, it seems…”, this wasn’t the knockabout, in-jokes-a-plenty, middle-England version of Lindisfarne that Fairport have increasingly become but a real glimpse of the serious rock’n’roll band they used to be. Ironically, or perhaps inevitably, the crowd reserved its fullest enthusiasm for the four hour Fairport set the following night, and for Hutchings’ bravura performance with his own Albion Band, launching yet another CD and closing a chapter on yet another line-up. The main man, at least, is still striving after all these years.

Colin Harper