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Fairport Convention - XXXV - The 35th Anniversary Album (1967 / 2002) CD (album) cover


Fairport Convention


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3.86 | 10 ratings

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Easy Livin
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4 stars Peggy and the Tramp reunite in Portmeirion

Released in 2002, this album is subtitled the "35th Anniversary album". The line up now is of course very different to the one which recorded the band's eponymous début way back then, and indeed to the one which made the band's classic albums such as "Liege and lief". There is however one member, Simon Nicol remaining from those heady days, but even he left the band for a while during the 1970's. The other stalwart worthy of mention is the great Dave Pegg, who joined the band in 1970, and has remained ever since.

This album was recorded by the then current five piece line up, with none of the former members returning to celebrate the occasion, in the studio at least. We do however find Peggy's old pal Ian Anderson turning up to play flute on "Portmeirion". There is the odd nod to the past in the track listing, such as another re-visiting of the wonderful "Now be thankful", but by and large this is an album of new material.

The opening "Madeleine", written by Lawrence Bristow Smith and the late Kenny Craddock sets the scene with a bubbly piece of pop folk clearly designed to get the toes tapping. Although Chris Leslie is much less dominant in terms of the song writing this time, he still contributes several of the tracks. His first song on the album, "My Love Is In America" has a melody reminiscent of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Nothing rhymed", the song building nicely from a gentle ballad to a violin led piece of power folk.

There are only a couple of traditional songs this time, the first of these being the brief "The Happy Man" (not "Happy the man"!), a very orthodox folk tale which reminds us of the band's early days. The instrumental "Portmeirion" is named after a popular tourist village in North Wales. Composed by band violinist Ric Sanders, the piece is mainly reflective, with guest Ian Anderson adding some delightful flute along the way.

In addition to writing "The crowd" (and its reprise) guest Anna Ryder contributes vocally and instrumentally to several tracks. Her French horn introduces "The crowd" before her harmony vocals with Simon Nicol remind us of the days when Sandy Denny's fine voice graced the band. The track is one several on the album which runs to 6 minutes and more, evidence perhaps of the band being willing to develop the tracks more fully than of late.

The traditional "The banks of sweet primroses" is number 586 in the Roud Folksong Index. Originally collected in the south of England, the song has been covered by many folk bands and artists, including the Fairport offshoot Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick on their "But two came by" album. Carthy described the song as "the happiest and most optimistic song I have yet to come across". My favourite track on the album, and indeed one of my favourite Fairport songs ever, is the John Richard's composed "The deserter". The song had previously appeared on Simon Nicol's 1987 solo album "Before Your Time", but he rightly brings it into the Fairport repertoire here. Nicol retains the lead vocal, his wonderful voice bringing real emotion to a song which looks at desertion from the a pacifists point of view, rather than offering the more usual portrayal of a traitor. Ric Sanders violin solo is truly moving here.

Chris Leslie's "The Light Of Day" has a slightly prog, perhaps Jethro Tull like arrangement but for me, the song part of the track does not work as well its peers. The latter part is better, as the piece develops into an increasingly frantic instrumental burst. "I Wandered By A Brookside" combines music by Barbara Berry with traditional lyrics. I am guessing it is Dave Pegg who provides the fine vocal here, his straight delivery suiting the magnificent melody perfectly. Mark Tucker's guest contribution of electric guitar and e-bow differentiate the track in terms of sound.

"Neil Gow's Apprentice" is the first of two tracks with a distinctly Scottish bent. Written by noted Scottish singer songwriter Michael Marra, the song combines a marching beat with a fiddlers rally like backing. Sanders' second and final writing contribution is "Everything But The Skirl", a piece which would be popular at any highland ceilidh. The brief "Talking About My Love" feels like a fairly ordinary update on "Si tu dois partir".

Whether we need another version of the wonderful Thompson/Swarbrick composed "Now be thankful" may be open to debate, but there is no denying the supreme nature of this Fairport anthem, and the version here certainly does it full justice. Wisely, Sanders does not seek to imitate Swarb on fiddle, but adds his own distinctive colours on said instrument. The album closes with a modified reprise of "The crowd".

In all, a superb entry in the Fairport discography, which shows the band of the 2000's to be every bit as talented and inventive as their predecessors. Worth hearing for "The deserter" alone, this collection should please old and new fans alike.

Re-releases of the album include two bonus tracks recorded live on the band's 2002 tour. "The Widow Of Westmorland's Daughter" is one of those raunchy "Bonny black hare" like folk songs, while "Rosie" is a revisiting of the lovely title track from one of the band's early albums.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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