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Fairport Convention - Liege & Lief CD (album) cover


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4 stars This wonderful album set the direction to England's folk rock movement at the early Seventies, and IMHO it's the best album Fairport ever made. Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Ashley "Tyger" Hutchings were on top form here, probably delivering the performances of their lives. Of course, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol and then guest Dave Swarbrick are all worth of note, but Denny, Thompson and Hutchings are geniuses. "Matty Groves" and "Tam Lin", the two epics, are the best tracks here, but all songs are good ("Reynardine" is Denny's greatest performance in my opinion). I do not have the 2002 CD reissue, so I don't know if the bonus tracks are good, but I like to recommend this album to any prog-rock fan which have interest in folk-rock. If this site were "Folkrockarchives" instead of "Progarchives", I would give it 5 stars.
Report this review (#60555)
Posted Saturday, December 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I think "Liege & Lief" is this bands biggest achievement. It's absolutely fantastic! Every single track involves either strong songs, inspiring lyrics or astonishing musicianship. My favourite song "Crazy Man Michael" is put last on the album, here you get the very best of Sandy Dennys caracteristic singing. Before that track there is "Tam Lin" (no 7) , a track that is hidden away in the shade of the smashing introducing tracks. Tam Lin could definitely be the leading track on any other folk prog album, a track that every other song evolved around. But on "Liege & Lief" it's only one in the crowd. "Matty Groves" is to me the ultimate folk/folkprog track, beginning with a fashinating story, told in true folk style, followed by an instrumental second part with raving violin/guitar. I could go on about all songs, but I will try to make it short: If you have the slightest interest in folk prog, this is where to begin! I even hold this one more dear than Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" (not that the resemblances between the two are huge).
Report this review (#61276)
Posted Thursday, December 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars A flawless masterpiece! On Liege & Lief finally let all American influences behind them and concentrated on British folk instead. It would be their finest moment. The leading role is for Sandy Denny's lovely voice. Although a talented songwriter, she only contributed one the opening track for this album. But combined with Richard Thompson's songwriting her voice gives us some pure magic in the form of Farewell, Farewell and Crazy Man Michael, which are only two of the highlights of this album. A solid five stars for one of the best albums in the genre, if not in history.
Report this review (#77936)
Posted Friday, May 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
Eetu Pellonpaa
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This album begins another transition phase for the band's, as their influences drawn from 1960's popular folk music (Dylan & Cohen mainly) starts to flow deeper to spheres of more purist traditional folk music. After this album Sandy Denny also left for her solo career through a group Fotheringay, though would return for some live concerts and "Rising for The Moon" record in mid 1970's. My own focus was followed by her to the solo projects, and later Fairport Convention records still wait my interest's awakening. Own favorite tracks on this album are the ethereal "Reynardine", really fragile and beautiful "Farewell, Farewell" (to late Martin Lamble?) along with the jolly medley of four traditional tunes. I have not earlier been very keen to these traditional jigs & reels, but this performance has really good arrangements, and the songs of the medley switch really fluently and dynamically, making up an interesting song. Many other tracks have also good ancient and raw feeling, making this as a quite solid album, so if you liked the previous records done with Sandy, this is a worthy album to check out. But it has other merits on its focus than the previous "What We Did on Our Holidays" and "Unhalfbriocking", having little less romantic melancholy and fragileness present on them in my observation.
Report this review (#119613)
Posted Tuesday, April 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars I am having trouble understanding the middling rating which this album has received. I think that this album is perfect. I love the two records that preceded this one, but I feel that the amazing musicianship and songwriting developed with the previous records really received a shot in the arm through the group's wholesale adoption of British folk music forms and themes. It it a credit to the band that they avoid some of the more precious trappings into which other bands playing in the realm of medieval rock have fallen. Even though they play with traditional forms, Fairport Convention never forget that they are playing rock and roll. With epics like Tam Linn and Matty Groves, the band also presents a remarkable command of narrative songcraft and performance that plays as both high theater and kick ass rock and roll. Rollicking, moving, beautiful, and sometime very, very sad, Liege and Lief is one of Progressive Rock's true masterpieces.
Report this review (#128747)
Posted Monday, July 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars 6.5/10 Decent

Well, Fairport has almost entirely strayed from what I loved about them so much. At this point they are almost entirely traditional minstrel folkish sounding, which is probably my least favorite style from them. Farewell, Farewell is a complete masterpiece in the likes of What we did on holidays... makes me cry remembering that sound!!! Why oh why they chose to stray from this is beyond me, when they were so capable of continuing with it!! This is not to say the musicianship is not great, sure...the violins jigging and the speed and passion are all there but I am just NOT INTERESTED half the time! I still play this album and enjoy it all the way through if I am in the mood, but when I hear that Farewell, Farewell it makes me want to swap this album for What We Did... every time. If you are interested in serious folk, downright traditional songs basically that all sound exactly like She Moves Through The Fair or that like, then by all means you will probably love this album so check it out...but for me, no THANKS! I need some raw Fairport classics...Sandy still sounds amazing here and this is enough to give it a listen...Farewell, Farewell, whew!!

Report this review (#165983)
Posted Monday, April 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Lieg and Lief is a great album of English folk music with rock instrumentation. Sandy Denny is without doubt a brilliant vocalist and along with Dave Swarbick, the violinist (or fiddler) really gives this album its life.

'Come All Ye' is a great rallying call for musicians and music-lovers everywhere to join in the experience of this album. 'Reynardine' is slow, and solemn, with its own subtle beauty. 'Matty Groves' is a brilliant traditional folk song. It tells a tale of murder treachery in a true English folk fashion, before going into a bit of a rock jam. 'Farewell, Farewell' and 'The Desserter' are two average tracks off the album. Then there is an instrumental 'Medley' (not an instumedley DT fans!). This really shows how skilled the band are, and how they have a great chemistry together. 'Tam Lin' is a great folk song, with odd lyrics. 'Crazy Man Michael' is the closer and another good song. Also worth noting is on the CD version there are two bonus tracks, one of which ('Quiet Joys of Brotherhood') is an amazing trippy psych-out.

For this very good album, I would give 3.5 stars, but since I am in a generous mood I will round up to 4.

P.S. Anyone who loves the folkier side of things should check out an album called 'Am I Born to Die' by two American musicians called Maon Brown and Chipper Thompson. The album is not rock or prog, but straight Apelachian folk. Most of the songs originated inAmerica, but a few come from Scotland and England and one is an original composition. All of it is high quality.

Report this review (#172968)
Posted Tuesday, June 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
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 affect 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.

Report this review (#176441)
Posted Thursday, July 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Often regarded as one of their finest studio releases Liege and Lief embarks on even more solid folk sounding themes. The late Sandy Denny delivers great vocals on the rallying opening track Come All Ye. Richard Thompson as usual commanding the set throughout the album. Check out other great tracks like ' Farewell Farewell and the lengthy Tam Lin. The bonus release in 2002 also offers to extra songs but for purists the original album will be the main point of reference. A solid and good release from FC.
Report this review (#176581)
Posted Saturday, July 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
2 stars I much prefer the all male line-up of Fairport Convention over this earlier Sandy Denny fronted band. Full House and Babbacombe Lee are the best Fairport albums in my opinion.

The sound quality of Liege & Lief is quite bad compared to Full House and the other 70's albums. Also, the only instruments involved here are guitars, drums, bass, vocals and fiddle. That means no mandolins, no dulcimers, no autoharps, no keyboards, etc. In that sense Liege & Lief is less folky and has a much less interesting overall sound. It is certainly not progressive and the arrangements are quite simple.

The best tracks here are the instrumental medley and Matty Groves.

I guess that this is essential if you want to know Fairport Convention and British Folk Rock in general. But for listening pleasure, Full House or the concept album Babbacombe Lee are much better places to start.

Only essential from the historical perspective.

Report this review (#177533)
Posted Monday, July 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Rebounding quickly after the death on drummer Lamble, L&L appeared less than six months after Unhalfbricking. With Mattacks on the drum stool, the band added Swarbrick on violin (he had appeared on previous albums of theirs). L&L with its very traditional-type of artwork was an instant hits with the crowds pretty well everywhere the album was released. I must say that it's a great improvement on their Dylan/Cohen/Mitchell-esque previous albuus, as the group finally found their way, following Traffic's footsteps into renting out a cottage to write the album (remember Genesis and Zep Bron Y Aur things??) and it shows.

Although L&L is considered by many the ultimate British folk rock album, it's typically the type of album that I don't think should be regarded as progressive as in prog. Sure the electrified usual folk became folk rock, which was a progression in itself, and the band had excellent interplay skill, it simple was not "prog" in the manner this site makes it out to be, because the group mostly modernized standard by electrifying them. Even in the longer tracks Matty Groves or Tam Lin, where the band develops excellent interplay and lengthy solos, the group settles into a groove and maintains steadily (tam is in 5). Outside that, we have a delicious rendition of the trad Reynardine (the arrangements are brilliant but have been heard before), a much less interesting sing-along Come Ye' All and the 4-)jigs medley (not really what I call useful, it can even be seen as a filler) and a good Deserter version. Getting back to Groves and Lin, both tracks are the clear highlights of this album showing FC's brilliance both virtuoso and in intra-group tightness. On the other hand the band's few original songs are rather few and not exactly shining, with the afore mentioned Come Yea All, Thompson's Farewell (heard somewhere before, or since) and Crazy Man Michael lacks the touch to become real pouignant tune, partly because of conservative songwriting.

The remastered version boasts two bonus tracks, the second of which makes the price of upgrading worth it. Indeed after an average Sir Patrick (a preview of the FH next album), we are offered a cover of Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood, which is to rank with the groups' series of mini-epic life Sloth, Groves or Sailor. It's easy to see why L&L is generally picked out by fans as their best album, and there are indeed plenty of arguments in its favour, but even FC's best album pale in comparison to any of Pentangle's early albums. IMHO, of course.

Report this review (#178846)
Posted Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Liege & Lief is the fourth studio album from UK folk/ rock act Fairport Convention and it´s the third album the band would release in 1969. It´s also the third and last album with Sandy Denny ( She would return a couple of years later, but that´s another story). The first being What We Did On Our Holidays and the second being Unhalfbricking. Liege & Lief was written and recorded during the summer of 1969. Producer Joe Boyd has installed the band in a large English country house and the band had set up their rehearsal gear in one of the large downstairs livingrooms. In the spring of 1969 the band had been struck by tragedy when drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson´s girlfriend Jeannie Taylor were killed in a car crash and the band was at that time unsure if they wished to continue. After a while the band got the pieces together and set out to record their next album. A new drummer Dave Mattacks and Violinist Dave Swarbrick ( who had guested on Unhalfbricking) were added to the lineup.

It was decided that they would start from scratch to prevent them from being reminded about the dead too often. This means that many of the songs on Liege & Lief are traditional british folk songs which has been re-arranged by the band. In fact only three out of the eight songs on the original release were written by members of the band and that´s come All Ye, Farewell, Farewell and Crazy Man Michael. That doesn´t mean that the music has changed that much since Unhalfbricking IMO. Unhalfbricking was also pretty folky if you ask me.

The difference is the mood on Liege & Lief which I think reflects the sad mood the members must have been in at the time. There are some truly beautiful songs on the album and I´ll mention the powerful Matty Groves as my favorite, but also songs like The Deserter, Tam Lin and Raynardine are excellent. Only Medley : The Lark In The Morning/ Rakish Paddy/ Foxhunter's Jig/ Toss The Feathers is below standard and that´s just because it doesn´t suit my taste. I just can´t stand the dirtkickin`, leather jiggin` violin led piece.

The two bonus tracks which has been added to the CD re-release are also great songs. I especially enjoy Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood. Fairport Convention´s version of The End.

The musicianship is excellent. Sandy Denny is a strong female vocalist. She really gave Fairport Convention their identity in that period. I also enjoy the great interplay between the two guitarists.

The production is really well done. It suits the music perfectly. Warm and pleasant.

Liege & Lief is a notch better than Unhalfbricking IMO and deserves a 4 star rating. I can´t claim that this is music I listen to very often but this exact album ( and the debut) has something special that can´t be taught or practised. It´s got real emotions. Out of the three Sandy Denny led albums this is by far my favorite from Fairport Convention. Sadly Sandy and bassist Ashley Hutchings would leave the band shortly after the recording of the album.

Report this review (#189368)
Posted Saturday, November 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars Released at the end of 1969, Liege and Lief is the third Fairport Convention album to come out in that almost legendary year for rock music. It is also the last album for some time to feature singer Sandy Denny (known to most rock fans as the other voice in Led Zeppelin's The Battle of Evermore), as well as their first recorded with new drummer, Dave Mattacks, after the tour bus crash that had killed drummer Martin Lamble and guitarist Richard Thompson's girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, in the month of May. After that tragedy, it seemed things had already come to an end for the young, promising band that - together with the likes of The Strawbs, Steeleye Span and The Incredible String Band - had spearheaded the British folk-rock movement of the late Sixties.

However, after the remaining members had recovered from their physical and emotional injuries, Fairport Convention got back in the studio, and produced what is commonly hailed as the highpoint of their career, and one of the most representative albums of that era. Much more accomplished than their earlier recordings, melancholy and subdued in mood (in spite of the occasional flares of upbeat energy), "Liege and Lief" presents a stylish image right from its cover, depicting purple-hued, cameo-like portraits of the six band members. Five out of eight tracks are reinterpretations of traditional British folk songs, while their earlier albums had been more biased towards American folk music.

With the sole exception of the instrumental "Medley : The Lark In The Morning/ Rakish Paddy/ Foxhunter's Jig/ Toss The Feathers", a series of lively, string-driven tunes meant for dancing, the songs feature Sandy Denny's pure vocal tones, allowing them to shine throughout. Sandy's sad fate is well-known in the music world, and the wistfulness underlying her singing sounds like a foreboding of her early demise (she died at 31 after a fall from the stairs, whose causes are still unclear). The anthemic opener "Come All Ye" (one of the three original band compositions) is sounds definitely more upbeat, both musically and lyrically, than most of the album; while "Reynardine" is delicate and atmospheric, with Denny's voice emoting over a somewhat sparse instrumental arrangement. While all band members, in spite of their young age, offer remarkably accomplished performances, Sandy Denny is the real star of this disc. Her crystal-clear voice is not as melodic as Jacqui McShee's, and not as earthy as Maddy Prior's, making her delivery somehow less sentimental in spite of the subject matter of many of the songs.

For the purposes of this site, as good as this album undeniably is, it should also be said that it is only very vaguely related to prog, as most of Fairport Convention's output. Those who are looking for authentically progressive folk should look elsewhere - starting with their contemporaries Pentangle, whose music is certainly more complex, even if they share most of their source material with FC. However, "Liege and Lief" makes essential listening for anyone interested in folk-rock (progressive or otherwise), and can definitely be enjoyed by most prog fans, unless they have an allergy to female vocals. Four solid stars for an excellent album.

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Posted Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Liege and Lief is Fairport Convention's most acclaimed album. That is no surprise, the musical maturity of the musicians had grown considerably and Sandy Denny delivers some of her most divine vocals ever. Unfortunately it was the last album with her in the band and Fairport Convention had a hard time reaching an audience ever since.

The album opens with the rather pedestrian tune Come All Ye, classic blues-rock with a tiny fiddle that doesn't appeal much to me. The eerie folk hymn of Reynardine is an entirely different matter, so much delicate emotion and dreamy atmosphere here. Matty Groves is also a more satisfying song, in style it's similar to the opener but the unrelenting folk chant keeps building up all the way through. Farwell and The Deserter are fairly unremarkable but ok ballads. A big disappointment comes with Medley, a very badly aged medley of folk dance clichés.

Up goes the level with the next one. Tam Lin is a mandatory listen, an epic folk tale with a good bluesy rocking arrangement. Crazy Man Michael ends the original album with a beautiful ballad. Considering all the ups and downs, you must make sure to get the 2002 reissue. The 8 minute Quiet Joys of Brotherhood is a must-have, recalling the sad and sinister atmosphere of Reynardine and A Sailor's Life, the highlight of the previous album.

Generally, I'm not to keen about folk music and certainly not folk-rock. On top, I haven't heard much rock bands with convincing female vocals. But somehow Fairport Convention makes it work here. There's a layer of thick woolly blankets to bite through, but once you're in, it will be a cosy and warm stay with Sandy and the guys around the campfire. 3.5 stars

Report this review (#282066)
Posted Saturday, May 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
2 stars Even on FAIRPORT CONVENTION's so-called classic, the legend precedes and outshines the actual quality. Perhaps it was the group's not insignificant pluckiness in re-tooling themselves in the face of tragedy and releasing their 3rd album in a year. Perhaps, in retrospect a Sandy Denny who departed as fast as she had swooped in from STRAWBS (who with her recorded the first UK folk rock album a year before) just solidified the agglomeration's status as an ever shifting reluctant cooperative of sorts.

While Denny remains the icon, Ashley Hutchings had more to do with this electrified folk phase, a style advanced by his next two formations STEELEYE SPAN and ALBION BAND. While Fairport remained utterly committed to musical promiscuity, those bands, particularly STEELEYE, would quickly usurp the sub genre with more inspired reworkings of traditional tunes and a few equally hair-raising originals.

On "Tam Lin" and "Matty Groves", Fairport hint at the sea change occurring in the UK around folk rock. The two epics are really just multi-verse extravaganzas with a bit of loud but spiritless ensemble jamming marred by production pitfalls that were preventable even at that time, but remain significant historically. Only "Crazy Man Michael" stands out in and of itself, a moving original song that points to the road sadly not taken. "Come all ye" proposes dreadful fiddle rock while "Reynardine" saw far better versions in the following years. The rest is equally mundane and muddled.

If you are approaching the history of UK prog folk from a chronological angle, please don't stop here, but make sure to have a look at PENTANGLE and move on to STEELEYE SPAN's discography which began to emerge a short year after this well intentioned and courageous but unconvincing production.

Report this review (#289017)
Posted Saturday, July 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Full article first published on

Ever and anon, out of trauma and tragedy arises, phoenix-like, a thing of wonder from the ashes. In May of 1969, Fairport Convention's band van swerved off the road and down a steep embankment on the M-1 outside of Birmingham, England. Most of the passengers in the van were jettisoned through windows and doors. None escaped injury, but guitarist Richard Thompson's girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, died at the scene, and Fairport drummer Martin Lamble died en route to the hospital. Dark days indeed, for an up-and-coming band who had just tasted their first chart successes with the recent releases What We did on Our Holidays (released January 1969) and Unhalfbricking (released July 1969).

Though grief-stricken, the young band carried on, replacing the deceased Martin Lamble with drummer Dave Mattacks, and adding fiddler David Swarbick, who had gained prominence in the English folk movement with stellar appearances on several of legendary guitarist Martin Carthy's solo recordings. Swarbick had already played with Fairport on the traditional air "A Sailor's Life", which first appeared on the seminal folk album Unhalfbricking. It was the song "A Sailor's Life", and the inestimable contributions of Swarbick that gave the band a new direction, integrating traditional English themes with a progressive electric folk sound that was first to appear on Liege & Lief (U.S. release 1970).

Yet, it was not merely a tweaking of musical elements that gave the album its undeniable dark character. There is an unremitting melancholy that pervades the recording ? the emotional aftermath of a still-too-recent tragedy, perhaps ? and sad partings, death, murder, betrayal, and insanity are frequent themes therein; however, there is a mysticism and an ancient but ageless wonder that underlies the sadness ? a timeless sound that transcends both traditional and new material to a point where it is difficult to ascertain which songs were first sang in the 16th century and which were composed in 1969. It was from this remarkable synthesis of disparate elements that the landmark Liege & Lief album was created.

That Liege & Lief was eventually haled as the quintessential British folk-rock album, and recognized twice, in 2002 and again in 2006, as the Most influential Folk Album of all time by BBC Radio 2, is understandable, given the almost netherworldly quality of the recording. But what rankles is just how woefully underrated a folk-rock band Fairport Convention is in general terms. For instance, you most likely will not be seeing Fairport on a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voting ballot anytime soon, which is not so much surprising as it is infuriating, given the well-noted nearsightedness and blatant biases of Hall of Fame electors.

The late, great Sandy Denny never got her due as a rock diva, perhaps because she was never quite as pretentious as Stevie Nicks or over-the-top as Janis Joplin, and remained loyal to her folk music roots. But her voice is beautiful and ethereally distinctive, and if you are just getting into Fairport Convention but find Denny's vocals eerily familiar, it is likely you recall hearing her stunning duet with Robert Plant on "The Battle of Evermore" from Led Zeppelin's Volume IV album. Guitarist extraordinaire Richard Thompson seems to be suffering the same fate as Denny, praised by those few who appreciate his remarkable career (whether with Fairport Convention or his series of great solo efforts with his ex-wife Linda Thompson), and yet ignored because he does not fit in the mainstream of rock music. Such is the inanity of the recording industry that non-entities like ABBA , Blondie, and The Bee-Gees receive accolades, while truly gifted bands such as Fairport, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson remain unheralded.

Curmudgeonly editorializing aside, Liege & Lief is an electrified bit of traditional folk heaven, with many of the songs dating from the 16th through the 19th centuries ("Tam Lin", "Reynardine", "Matty Groves", "The Deserter"). As alluded to previously, the original compositions "Come All Ye" (Denny and Hutchings), "Farewell, Farewell" (Thompson), and "Crazy Man Michael" (Thompson and Swarbick) meld so seamlessly with the older material that it can be quite hard to differentiate the two, which is a testament to the group's superb songwriting skills.

"Reynardine" is an eerie ballad about a werefox (yes, werefox, not werewolf) that slyly draws a young woman to her doom with fair words to hide its evil intent. Although the song dates to the early 19th century, it draws on the medieval tradition of Reynard the Fox, a cycle of allegorical stories about a tricky but ultimately nasty animal antihero, wedded with later incarnations of vampire and werewolf tales. The sustained menace in the subdued guitar work of Thompson and Sandy Denny's vocal treatment is superb here, and the barely- veiled malevolence of Reynardine is finally revealed in Denny's subtle phrasing of "Sun and dark she followed him/His teeth did brightly shine/And he led her up a-the mountains/Did that sly, bold Reynardine."

In the same vein, "Tam Lin", a 16th century Scottish ballad, invokes the netherworld with the folk tradition of an earthly knight held in thrall by Mab, the Queen of Faery. The none-too- tragic loss of the heroine's maidenhead, tithes to Hell, shapeshifting, and love conquering evil ensue, but it is the electric minstrelsy of the band, particularly Swarbick and Thompson, that sets this tune apart from being a fey and thoroughly nancified renaissance faire rendition of ye olde broadside ballade.

But the centerpiece of the traditional songs on Liege & Lief is the incomparable "Matty Groves", a 17th century murder ballad of adultery and revenge, where the dull-witted (but obviously well-hung) Matty Groves is seduced by Lord Darnell's wife ? just after Sunday prayers, no less. Lord Darnell finds out about the tryst, catches the two in bed, a duel is fought, and the unhappy lovers meet their deaths on the edge of Lord Darnell's bloody sword. Lord Darnell, ever one to keep up the appearance of status and privilege, then suggests ironically to his servants, "A grave, a grave?to put these lovers in/But bury my lady at the top, for she was of noble kin." Swarbick and Thompson finish the song with a rousing several-minute duel of fiddle and guitar.

Elsewhere on the album, Richard Thompson's burgeoning songwriting abilities are highly apparent, and for one of such tender years (20-years-old at the time of Liege & Lief), far more mature than his age belied. "Farewell, Farewell" seems to mirror the overall sad tone of the album, with Denny breathing the appropriate air of melancholy into the song. In addition, the tune "Crazy Man Michael" is a musical descent into madness (a la Edgar Allan Poe) which chronicles a troubled man's manic discussion with a prophetic raven.

Musically speaking, Fairport Convention's departure from the Byrd-like What We did on Our Holidays and the Dylanesque folk of Unhalfbricking is quite pronounced, and Dave Swarbick's influence is most notable on songs like "Matty Groves" and the foot- stomping "Medley" (which contains the reels and jigs "The Lark in the Morning", "Rakish Paddy", "Foxhunters' Jig", and "Toss the Feathers"). Swarbick's roughhewn and masculine fiddling indelibly marked Fairport's future recordings and acted as blueprint for such groups as Steeleye Span (which Ashley Hutchings formed after leaving Fairport) and Jethro Tull (several members of Fairport have also been in Tull at one time or another) to explore different perspectives of British folk.

However, as British reporter and rock critic Nigel Williamson wrote in The Times, "Not only did Fairport Convention invent English folk-rock but they effectively destroyed it, too. Nobody could top the electrified versions of trad ballads such as Tam Lin and Matty Groves on their classic, genre-defining Liege & Lief ? after that there was nowhere left to go." Williamson's statement is perceptive but perhaps a little bit too heavy on the hyperbole. What Liege & Lief did in effect was to destroy the continuance of Fairport's classic lineup, due primarily to musical differences. Sandy Denny feared that Fairport was heading too far down the road of traditionalism, which would adversely affect her songwriting, and she left to form the band Fotheringay; whereas, Ashley Hutchings felt that Fairport was not traditional enough (and thus his next band, Steeleye Span, featured more reels, jigs, and selections from Child's Ballads). After the next Fairport album, the live recording Full House (1970), Richard Thompson also left for a solo career. Still, Fairport Convention managed to soldier on with guitarist and co-founder Simon Nicol, Mattacks, Swarbick, and new bassist Dave Pegg.

Doors open, doors close. People come and people go. But between the final, sad partings and first, furtive hellos, sometimes a spark of genius glows, caused by the friction of farewells and felicitations. Liege & Lief was just such a fortuitous meeting in the hallway, a brief interlude with a profound effect on all who shared in the encounter.

Report this review (#391950)
Posted Tuesday, February 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Fairport Convention - Liege & Lief (1969)

As my search for pleasant or progressive folk rock continues and can't help stumbling apon Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief. This particular album of the band is been referred to as a starting point for a lot of conventional folk influenced folk-rock. Even in my home- country one can it's influence in the wave of Dutch folk that came to being after '75 with bands like the Frisian Irolt (recommended to folk collectors!).

Though folk-rock already existed, it had largely been focussed on the song-writing styled folk-song like Donovan or Pearls Before swine (among many others) would make in the second part of the sexties. Fairport Convention has build a bridge between the authentical folky compositions with recognisable guitar patterns, flutes and violins and the still blues influenced rock music of the time (we're talking about '69 here). The strong use of folky rhythmical patterns and 'church'-scales really help to create a soothing, warm, non- threathning atmosphere that might even attract some of your non-prog and female friends. Furthermore, the female vocals of Sandy Denny prove to be a daring but successful addition to the atmospheres the band creates. As Bonnek states, it's not that easy to find rock-styled bands with convincing female vocals.

It is noteworthy the production of this record is kind of brilliant for it's time of release. Though the violins could have been recorded a bit more directly for my tastes, I must admit the album has a full and acceptable polished sound. The sound hasn't dated that much and I was kind of suprised when just read this album was from '69, I would have put money on saying it was released during the '73-'74 period.

The album has ten tracks that all fit in nicely. The instrumental piece Medley stands out as a bit too conventional with it's pint-bar instrumental atmosphere. The ballads with long rests in the instrumenal department really show the vocal capabilities of Sandy Denny, whilst some of the instrumental parts during other tracks remind us of the prog-folk that was soon to come in the beginning of the seventes progressive period. Some rock-guitars with gentle distortion are a welcome distraction, though in most songs the musical accents are made with a powerfull rock worthy sound.

Conclusion. Ground-braking, yet non-bombastic folk rock with an traditional approach to composition and song-writing. A great album for '69 and still a soothing folk record today. The progressive part of folk-prog isn't the focus here, but one can hear other prog-folk bands are inspired by this release. Three and a halve stars, but I think I'll extend them to the upper end. Recommended to fans of folk-rock, those interested in the development of the genre and people searching for relaxing, soothing music.

Report this review (#427699)
Posted Tuesday, April 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Quite honestly, these are folk tunes plugged in. But in these electrically adapted folk tunes are some lively performances from the instrumentalists who seem to be having fun with the material.

As for the tunes themselves, the dynamic range varies from full throttle, foot-stomping rock to near quietude. It is quite interesting how the album opens with the lively ''Come All Ye'' followed directly by ''Reynardine'' with more sparse instrumentation; the two songs sound like they are meant to be connected.

The two tracks near the epic length are lengthy by lyrical content which is usually a huge turnoff for me, but the crescendo of sorts in ''Matty Groves'' and the groove of ''Tam Lin'' (watch the time sig counter) have a solid enough backbone to support their lengths.

Consistent quality can be an issue. Right after the highlight of ''Tam Lim'', ''Crazy Man Michael'' ends the album on way too soft of a note (I would have preferred ''Farewell, Farewell'' as a closer, but that point is moot), almost dull even. Sandy Denny does have a fantastic voice, but there are times I feel she simply isn't into it.

A lot of reviewers don't care for the medley smack in the middle of the album. I actually enjoy the thing even if its purpose is to showcase Dave Swarbrick's skills. Still, that track ended up being the difference maker for me.

If you enjoy folk music updated to modern (for the 60's) standards, this is a classic. Slightly missing it on the prog side of things, though.

Report this review (#810622)
Posted Sunday, August 26, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars On Liege & Lief Fairport Convention made their definitive break away from previous 60s folk rock precedents, which had concentrated mostly on presenting modern material from singer- songwriters like Dylan, and instead applied a folk rock approach to adapting more traditional folk fare, focusing in particular on arrangements of British folk standards with only a smattering of original compositions.

It's spoken of as a groundbreaking album, and it is, but to perceive this you need to remember that the real inventiveness here is in the arrangements rather than in the compositions themselves, with mellow electric guitar solos and the like being worked into the mix so naturally you'd have imagined these songs were originally composed for electric instruments. Fairport Convention weren't the first people to take this sort of approach to British folk rock, but few were as successful as they are here.

Report this review (#926419)
Posted Friday, March 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I had seen Fairport Convention as an opening act for Jethro Tull, back in the early 80s and I certainly retain vivid impressions of what I saw and heard that night. Particularly, Ric Sanders terrific fiddle, which lashed out often and blazed a few memorable sonic trails. I always enjoyed British folk, as opposed to American country music, though it must be said that Fairport Convention is a different kettle of fish as it concentrates on traditional structures. On Liege and Lief, Sandy Denny, who has often been deified for dying young, a popular habit back in the 70s with a slew of superstars expiring (Hendrix, Jones, Joplin, Morrison, Wilson, Bonham & co) was of course a fundamental pioneer in the career of the Strawbs, a band I have a long standing love affair with. It must also be mentioned that the instrumentalists are equally first rate, no one more so than the enigmatic and genial Richard Thompson, but also the terrific Dave Mattacks on drums. The violin is held here by Dave Swarbrick .

This album is considered to be their finest hour, a glowing menu of brilliant melodies that perfectly capture the various styles associated with the nascent electric prog-folk scene, from old school traditional songs such as the instantly recognizable highlight tracks "Matty Groves", "Reynardine", "Sir Patrick Spens" and "Tam Lin" as well as more rollicking pub sing-along fare ("Come All Ye"). There is also an inspiring medley of jig related pieces that highlight the still revered British folk scene today, the fiddle leading the way in a style that spawned such current stalwarts as Iona or Loreena McKinnitt. There is even an epic 10 minute finale, the deliciously titled "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" that stamps strong prog imagery onto the disc's powerful folk leanings. The rock element is conveyed by Thompson's energetic performance, a fluid and innovative guitarist with boundless expression and exuberance. His playing alone is worth owning this in a prog collection.

The focus is also clearly on Denny and her angelic delivery, and she really does not falter or disappoint. Particularly on the extended folk platforms "Matty Groves" and "Tam Lin", she glides dramatically over the dignified melodies with assurance and class. "Crazy Man Michael" is another mesmerizing ditty, full of rolling bass from Ashley Hutchings, some cool Swarbrick violin and Denny howling to the moon. The epic final track has a unique buzz, somewhat experimental in nature, very Iona-like actually, like some mist choked bog in the Highlands churning out some sheep farmer's lament. The hypnotic mood is atmospheric and ethereal, simplicity ruling the melody as it's egged on by the swirly fiddle. Pretty sure Enya and Clannad got their initiation on this incredible track. The only slight negative is the awful artwork, a typically drab pre-Woodstock cover, looking more like an old postage stamp.

4 tankards of ale

Report this review (#1295516)
Posted Thursday, October 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars My ALL-TIME Greatest #9

I have to confess my partiality right from the start ' I grew up listening repeatedly to this wonderful music and it grew up in me to the point I became addicted to Sandy's voice up to this day.

Unfortunately when finally got the chance to see the band live in'79 she was no longer with them nor alive, having sadly departed the year before.

Global Appraisal

I love FP early days work and I LOVE all Sandy Denny has done as a singer/songwriter, not only her voice; nothing too strange then that I value so high this major album where these talents so effectively but briefly came together (it would be the last of 3 albums SD stayed with FP, just before going solo and being voted 2 years in a row Best Female Singer by the MM readers).


The interplay of Dave Swarbrick's violin, Richard Thompson guitars and the exceptional voice of Sandy is the driving force behind the whole dynamics of this folk-rock combo, only two years after the inception but already with 4 albums under their belt.

On this one they perform a majority of traditional british folk songs.

Report this review (#1490221)
Posted Friday, November 20, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Finally we come to Fairport's jewel in the crown, the very celebrated Liege and Leif album from 1969. Is it worthy of it's accolades? That depends on if you like or hate the album, ultimately, as negative opinions always seem to miss the fact the fact this album is responsible for creating another folk rock subgenre. Nay Sayers also seem to miss the fact that this album is quite good, if not perfect, with first rate musicianship.

In a nutshell, Fairport took staid but interesting unaccompanied British folk standards and set them to very dramatic rock music while interfusing it with deft fiddle playing in order to give it all a rustic appeal. And for these songs it works well. The only song to resemble a conventional rock song is the lead off track "Come All Ye'" with it's conventional verse and chorus structure. The rest have the harder job of holding one's attention on longer narrative based ballads that display little change in the song's musical structure. This was easily accomplished by picking some truly interesting songs and having them sung by the one and only Sandy Denny, who could probably have made vocal exercises sound fascinating, such is the beauty of her voice, phrasing and delivery.

The production of this album is nothing to write home about, sounding quite dull and congested like demo recordings would. However, the less musically dense songs come off best as is the case with the highway bandit ballad "Reynardine", that features economical washes of guitar, bass and whooshing cymbals. This song, turned into a lycanthropic tale by folklorist Cecil Sharp, is absolutely sublime and, more then "Come All Ye", really sets the tone for the album. Following directly is the magnificent tale of betrayal and murder that holds one spell bound through five minutes of dramatic story telling to go along with it's propulsive bass and drums. This song, "Matty Groves", is the highpoint of the album and concludes with a dramatic instrumental coda featuring Richard Thompson's lead guitar kept melodic company by the late great Dave Swarbrick's violin. Swarbrick is more in a supporting role on this album and unfortunately that keeps a song like "Matty Groves" from turning into a progressive tour de force as the songs found on Fairport's follow up album Full House, but it's damn close.

"Farewell, Farewell" is an emotional ballad with lyrics written by Thompson around the melody of the traditional song "Willy O' Winsbury". Denny sells this song in a way that no one else ever could, while it's Spartan musical arrangement once again let's the song shine. The dramatic traditional ballads "The Deserter" and "Tam Lin" follow and the latter song, with long verbiage, would tax many without the dramatic stop/start rhythms and slashing electric guitars that keep it interesting. Both songs are placed around the first of Fairport's recorded jigs and reels simply titled "Medley", which is only a warmup for the ballistic hyper instrumentals that would follow on subsequent albums. The album concludes with the melancholy "Crazy Man Michael", which was written by Thompson and Swarbrick and fits the album perfectly being a tale about a man who murders his lover.

Liege and Leif is not without it's faults but it's virtues and accomplishments put it firmly in the 5 star category.

Report this review (#2084677)
Posted Sunday, December 9, 2018 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Explorations of the electric/rock side of folk music yields Liege & Lief. Not the most proggy album on my list but it was a progenitor to many other experiments/developments in the Folk and Prog Folk realms.

Album highlights (for me): Sandy Denny's mesmerizing vocal over the fascinatingly sparse and intermittent support of the band in 2. "Reynardine" (4:34) (10/10); her second best vocal on the album's finale, 8. "Crazy Man Michael" (4:37) (9/10); the aggressive presentation of the 7. "Tam Lin" (7:13) story (8.5/10), and; the electric guitar play in general and the guitar-violin duel at the end of 3. "Matty Groves" (8:10) (8/10).

A solid four star album; B; an excellent addition to any progressive rock lover's album collection. Obviously my list of Prog Folk favorites leans more on the prog side than the folk side.

Report this review (#2268202)
Posted Friday, October 11, 2019 | Review Permalink

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