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Fairport Convention - What We Did On Our Holidays CD (album) cover


Fairport Convention


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3.65 | 74 ratings

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4 stars 12.5/15P. A consistent collection of beautifully-crafted and rootsy original compositions plus a broadband choice of covers makes up a perfect soundtrack for a cozy winter evening. Each song is different, but all of them go together perfectly well. And - best of all - no psychedelic experiments to spoil the enjoyment!

This album is so much of a piece that I would do it harm if I deconstructed it the same way I'm inclined to do it otherwise. In 1968, a time in which the clash of Indian folk, west coast psychedelia, folk and rock music resulted in a lot of messy albums, it is rare that you find an album which shows a self-confident and mature band with classy compositions instead of sitar solos and strange Vaudeville songs. This album, picking up songs and influences from both sides of the Atlantic ocean, has a remarkable dignity to it - a clerical atmosphere in the reverberated harmony vocals of Sandy Denny and Iain Matthews (as in Book Song), a grievous power of the swampy Delta sound in You're Gonna Need My Help and The Lord is in this Place (recorded by Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson in a church in a vocals-plus-slide-guitar lineup) and the melodicism of Scottish pipers and balladeers in the two British folk adaptations and, actually, in most of Richard Thompson's lead guitar parts.

And it was also Richard Thompson, 18 years old at that time, who provided the slightly psychedelic pop song Tale in Hard Time which includes wonderfully entangled guitar drones in the beginning and the end in addition to the heavenly vocals, a lovely harpsichord in the background and the slightly twisted rhythm. It's actually my favorite tune on the record, if I think it over for a little while. Book Song, on the surface, looks like one casual American country ballad, but due to its ethereal atmosphere and the chilly reversed-played guitar tracks it is on one level with Gram Parsons' best ballads on the Burrito Brothers' debut album. Curiously there are some seconds of sitars and Hammond organ in front of and after the song, but these seconds turn out to be quite tuneful. No Man's Land dips into Cajun music, a genre which you do not regularly listen to when you are a rock listener. Cajun music is the product of an accomodation of the upbeat and often accordion-dominated folk music of French migrants to the new homeland which they strove to inhabit, an area we now call Louisiana. It was also Richard Thompson who brought in these influences, building them into an unusual pop song with some Byrds influences.

Actually I'd also suggest that this album is a lot more appealing than the critically acclaimed Unhalfbricking. Compared with the overlong and rhythmically unstable A Sailor's Life, the two folk songs on What We Did On Our Holidays are concise and haunting, Nottamun Town with drummer Martin Lamble's fiddle accents, four-part harmonies and Thompson's rapid acoustic guitar shredding in a more medieval way, She Moved Through the Fair rather echoing Bert Jansch and Shirley Collins with the hushed and jazz-influenced Gibson lead guitar and Sandy Denny's stellar and utterly British vocal delivery. The Unhalfbricking track Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, in a way, also pales a wee bit compared with the Dylan cover I'll Keep It With Mine which is, in Fairport's heavily assimilated and piano-backed version, doubtlessly the precursor to the later band interpretation of that Sandy Denny track. I'll Keep it With Mine is 6 beautiful minutes of folk rock with also explain a bit which role the inconspicuous rhythm guitarist Simon Nicol played in this stage of the group's biography. Without any doubt Who Knows Where The Time Goes features a sufficient amount of own ideas and beautiful hooks, as proved by her gorgeous solo demo recorded in 1967, but the Fairport version from 1969 just gives Sandy too little space to shine. Sandy Denny's composition Fotheringay, perhaps as unusual an album opener as The Band's Tears of Rage which was published around the same time, gives the band the opportunity to work on the more classical aspects of folk music. The song deals with Queen Mary I of Scotland, a person quite important in the 16th century politics of England and Scotland, a time in which - to say the least - the situation between the British and the Scottish was more tense than one could imagine it today. In the folk rock genre these realms, be it genuine minnesongs or just songs with a more scholastic approach towards history, are less frequently ventured into than the dances and ballads of the working class - and don't get me wrong, it's actually the working class material which I, thanks to folklore collectors Roud and MacColl etc., have the closest relation to.

Bandleader Ashley Hutching's Mr.Lacey, though saved from banality by Nicol's and Thompson's properly concerted double guitar work and the bizarre lyrics mentioning British inventor Bruce Lacey, is slightly out of place on this album. I surely wouldn't miss it if the band kept it in the vaults; after all, Ashley Hutchings always did best when he arranged the music, not when he composed it. * Simon Nicol's brief acoustic guitar instrumental End of A Holiday, however, is a superb closer to this album. Quiet and delivered with understatement, it's a nice coda to the enthusiastic anthem Meet on the Ledge, which is really good, but at the moment in my opinion not - as most people profess - one of the very best songs in the Fairport Convention repertoire. Nonetheless it received some further bitterness - along with the 1967 track M1 Breakdown - when drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson's girlfriend died in an accident on the M1 motorway in early 1969. Jack Bruce dedicated his first solo album to Thompson's girlfriend, and Ashley Hutchings - injured heavily as well - left the band to start a huge number of utterly successful folk rock projects afterwards.

The bonus tracks, apart from the commercial and, after all, quite superficial Bryant song Some Sweet Day, show Fairport Convention as an unexpectedly proficient blues rock band, Throwaway Street Puzzle in a more West Coast fashion than the gruff You're Gonna Need My Help. The former - never at all a throwaway track even though it's a b-side - convinces with fine distorted blues harp playing and a tricky guitar lick which is better than the actual guitar solo, the latter features hypnotic percussion work and electric slide guitar, never keeping the matter too far away from the sound of Led Zeppelin on III and IV.

I won't give this album a full five star rating because of the minor faults already mentioned and, actually, because this rating wouldn't feel correct. For sure, this shouldn't keep you from buying this excellent record which is at least as important as the group's seminal Liege and Lief album, and nearly as moving and haunting as the less seminal, but more tightly crafted recordings in the Mattacks-Nicol-Swarbrick-Thompson-Pegg lineup (1970). Most importantly, this album doesn't get its noteworthiness merely from its historical relevance, but also by its rustic beauty which exposes itself in many different directions.

* [In this respect I cannot recommend enough what great achievements Mr. Hutchings made with his Albion Country Band and related projects. Every rock music listener looking for music of the most independent kind may expect a completely new listening experience: the work of a man who got so much absorbed in the British music that he was able to unite dozens of different musicians over the years - from first-row folk revivalists in the vein of Martin Carthy (who inspired Bob Dylan quite a lot) onto Canterbury musicians Lol Coxhill and Ric Sanders - to revive the strangest British traditions such as the Morris dancing. Start with the Morris On album from 1972, if you wish to explore this kind of music.]

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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