There was a time from about 1969 to 1971 when Fairport Convention were my favourite band. Up to that point my music taste was American, mainly the Beach Boys but I started going to Peterborough Folk Club in 69, went through a period of transition and entered my folk-rock era. I discovered the album What We Did On Our Holidays. This was followed by Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief, Full House, Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee. After that I began to lose interest in Fairport. I think that was because the two people I really admired in the band who were Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson had departed. Another reason was that I entered my Van Morrison period which has lasted to this very day. However, in the last few years my interest in Fairport has been rekindled, mainly due to seeing them live a few times and enjoying their last two albums Myths & Heroes and 50:50. They are a great live band and still producing splendid new music. Also, they are nice people who take the time to talk to the fans at the gigs as I have discovered at the Cheese & Grain In Frome in the last few years.
Recently I saw that a new biography of the band had been published so I sent off for a copy which arrived a couple of weeks ago. It was signed by the author Clinton Heylin. I don’t like him very much because he wrote a biography of Van Morrison quite a few years ago which I took exception to because of his sarcastic comments. I don’t like this Fairport book all that much either. Maybe the band should write their own autobiography to put the record straight. There was one thing though in the book which made me sit up and take notice.
On page 62 I read that Sandy’s second ever gig with Fairport Convention was supporting John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and Donovan at Whittlesey near Peterborough on June 2nd 1968 almost exactly 50 years ago. If only I had discovered Fairport a year earlier than I did, I could have seen them on my own doorstep. Mind you, I was only 16 at the time so I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to go. Although I have seen Fairport many times over the years I never saw them when Sandy was in the band. This particular two day event was organised by the same people who a year earlier had put on an event at Spalding Nr Peterborough featuring Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, and Geno Washington & His Ram Jam Band !. Imagine seeing all that lot in one day for £1. What really intrigued me reading Heylin’s book though was when he said that a tape of Fairport’s gig was in existence.
“I want a copy of that tape!”, I thought to myself. Not only was it recorded in my home town, it is also the earliest ever known live recording of Sandy Denny singing with Fairport and only two weeks after she joined the band. An important historical document. Thanks to the good old internet I was able to do some research. I discovered that the recording had been made on a Telefunken cassette recorder by a member of the audience called Anders Folke. It lay in his attic for 30 long years before it was transferred to cd and bootleg copies began to circulate. I expect this tape is well known to hardcore Fairport aficionados but not to me until today. After a bit more googling I found a site called ioffer where someone had a copy for sale.
The cd popped through my letterbox this morning and I immediately slammed it into the music machine. The sound quality is quite poor, but I was expecting that. To save his batteries Anders had also stopped recording between songs so there is no talk or introductions by the band. Listening to the music you wouldn’t think that this group in less than two years would invent a whole new genre of music, namely British Folk-Rock. On this recording which is only seven songs in just over twenty minutes the band sound like a bluesy loud rock band. Richard Thompson’s excellent guitar playing is apparent though and Sandy’s wonderful vocals. There are no original Fairport songs. It is almost all covers of American singer-songwriters. I can see why someone described them in their early days as the British Jefferson Airplane. If I had to choose, my favourite song is Sandy singing You Never Wanted Me, written by her boyfriend Jackson C. Frank.
Although the CD is very short with poor quality sound I am really pleased that I discovered it and finally heard Fairport Convention fifty years after they played in my home town of Peterborough. Thank you very much Anders Folke for making this historic recording back in the mists of time all those years ago.