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Fairport Convention - Liege & Lief CD (album) cover

LIEGE & LIEF

Fairport Convention

 

Prog Related

3.62 | 79 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars "It will never be said in fair England I slew a naked man"

"Liege and Lief" was the third album released by Fairport Convention in 1969, coming just a few months after the excellent "Unhalfbricking". Tragically, between the albums drummer Martin Lamble was killed in a road accident, so Dave Mattacks makes his first appearance with the band. Also added to the permanent line-up is the multi-talented Dave Swarbrick, who had guested on three tracks on "Unhalfbricking".

In order to work on this album, the band rented a house in Hampshire, UK where they lived and worked together. As a result, Fairport finally found their true identity and recorded what is undoubtedly a defining album in the history of folk rock and indeed prog folk. The need to find a new direction was in part due to the effect the death of Lamble had on the other band members. They were now reluctant to play songs they associated with him, to the extent that they even considered breaking up altogether.

The music of "Leige and Lief" is rooted in traditional British folk. Gone are any residual American influences, although producer Joe Boyd suggests that the band were trying to parallel in Great Britain what The Band were doing in the US.

The opening "Come all ye" is a mid-paced anthem. Written by Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings. It was clearly intended to become a live favourite, offering the audience the opportunity to join in on the chorus. The following "Reynardine" is the first of no less than five (of eight) traditional numbers arranged by the band. The song is delivered in a sparse Celtic style focusing on Denny's pure voice, the results being atmospheric and emotional. The melody is similar to that of the folk favourite "She moved through the fair".

"Matty Groves" is one of the true highlights, not only of this album, but of the band's career. The first half tells the story of a liaison between a lady of wealth and a commoner, and inevitable conclusion when her husband hears of the affair. Once the tale is told, the band, led by Dave Swarbrick and Richard Thompson, add a wonderful instrumental outing based on the air "Kate and the cow hide". As a whole, this is a truly magnificent piece which superbly blends a simple folk song with an ambitious arrangement.

Richard Thompson's "Farewell farewell" slows things down again for a short ballad of the type which features heavily on Denny's solo albums. "The deserter" tells the tale of someone who did just that, from the perspective of the offender himself. The song offers a striking contrast between the pure vocals of Denny and the surprisingly heavy instrumental arrangement. The following "Medley" takes in four traditional jigs and reels, Dave Swarbrick taking the chance to demonstrate the full versatility of his magnificent fiddling. Here we have the essence of Fairport Convention in 4 wonderful minutes.

Dave Swarbrick's arrangement of "Tam Lin" offers room for Richard Thompson to flex his fingers on guitar while Denny tells another traditional tale. The closing "Crazy man Michael" is for me quite exquisite. This Swarbrick/Thompson composition sounds like it has been around for hundreds of years. The song tells a story of a seemingly mad man who, as predicted, mistakenly kills his sweetheart. Sandy Denny delivers the song without great dramatics, but the emotion of the song is quite overwhelming.

In all, a magnificent folk rock album which finds Fairport doing what they were to discover they do best. The transformation of traditional songs into magnificent contemporary pieces is carried out with an assured confidence which will serve the band for the decades to follow.

The 2002 remastered version of the CD has two extra tracks from around the same time. The first of these "Sir Patrick Spens" is a rare version of this Fairport favourite sung by Denny, while "Quiet joys of brotherhood" combines the words of Richard Farina with a traditional tune. The latter, which runs to almost 8 minutes, is in the style of songs such as "A sailor's life" and "Sloth" with a sparse arrangement and maudlin atmosphere. As such, this is actually something of a lost gem.

Despite their major input to "Liege and Lief" throughout, Sandy Denny (to Fotheringay) and Ashley Hutchings (to Steeleye Span) would leave the band shortly after the release of this album. Sandy would later return for the "Rising for the moon" album.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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