Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Fairport Convention - House Full CD (album) cover


Fairport Convention


Prog Related

3.96 | 19 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
4 stars 13.25/15P.: one of the lost gems of live British folk rock - beautiful songs, unexpectedly heavy improvisation and three eccentric virtuosos playing together on one stage. Essential!

Writing a four-chord ballad isn't a really hard task if you know just a little bit how the basic chords are related with each other. Writing an elaborate prog instrumental piece (think Steven Wilson's new tune "Sectarian") is much harder, for sure; you need to know scales, and all the intricate riffs have to be played perfectly in time. But it's most difficult to compose a two-chord piece which grabs you so intensely from the first to the last second that you don't even notice how few chords actually appear in this piece.

I'll get it clear right now: Fairport Convention are, from the musical point of view, the total opposite of Genesis. Genesis were masters of elaborate chord progressions, the intro of Watcher of the Skies proves it. If you're solely into that stuff this album will disappoint you. Fairport Convention are not the total opposite of Jethro Tull, but really different nonetheless. Jethro Tull have both been into that medieval Jack-in-the-Green stuff and combined it with really seminal blues stuff and classical part writing.

The five guys of Fairport Convention play tunes straight from a 200 years old muckheap and from the innermost spot of a Kentish hops field. If the piece is instrumental, it either is a lamenting drone-like tune or dance music. If there are lyrics, it's all about women turning men down, about noblewomen betraying their honorable husbands with apprentices and many people killing many other people. And instead of constructing an epic structure around this stuff, the pieces contain hardly four different chords.

You might think that this kind of music is rather boring, but to me this record is the most stirring piece of live music I have discovered that year. The five musicians are totally on fire and somehow project the virgin soil of British folk rock into a Led Zeppelin-inspired, but by far more English dress. Sloth, one of the few pieces which aren't interpretations of British folk tunes, proves that Richard Thompson deserves his #19 ranking in Rolling Stone list of the 100 best rock guitarists. His solos are utterly eccentric bits of complete madness, lots of finger vibrato, a really dry and crunchy Stratocaster tone and stuffed with great rhythmic ideas. Sloth, a slowly meandering anti-war song which is framed by some lamenting vocal parts with gorgeous vocal harmonies, hence grows from intricate single note echos to an apocalyptic wall of sound of violin, rhythm and lead guitar. While Swarbrick plays mean Hendrix-like hammer-ons on his electric violin, Thompson is listenably inspired by rockabilly, jazz and British folk - much more than by blues. Dave Pegg's inventive walking bass is slightly mixed to the background and thus deserves some repeated listens to be enjoyed in all its force. But the combination of these different playing styles really sounds like three English peasants who try to make ends meet and who hurry and labor 24 hours a day to have their fields ploughed before the rain comes down; it's just so intense and authentically British how these guys treat the genre of music which F.C.Child and R.V.Williams rediscovered more than a century ago.

Matty Groves is a similar case; when Sandy Denny left the band in 1969 Richard Thompson had to sing this song, which gave this old British folk song new energy and a slightly snotty Velvet Underground feel. It's nice to hear Swarbrick sing along while playing the violin; his singing is actually 'leakage' from the other microphones used on the stage because it's virtually impossible to sing straight into a microphone and play the violin simultaneously. It just shows how much the band is into the songs - something which is more important than everything else (i.e., accuracy) in music. The instrumental part, taken from a different British instrumental dance, showcases how great a drummer Dave Mattacks is. He always was a skinny and quiet guy with aviator sunglasses who didn't catch one's eye at first, but his versatility ranges from the delicacy of a piano tuner (this was his first job) to the swing and the groove of jazz drumming and to the most aggressive and driving hard rock aggression I have ever heard. He's definitely among the 5 greatest drummers I've ever listened to, and I do know quite a lot of them. He's just not the drum-solo-kind of drummer, but totally flourishes in British folk music and helps giving these old songs the meaning and the spirit which they need. Check out how he jams on the bass drum from 4:15 to 5:20 while keeping the beat with the ride cymbal!

Staines Morris (i.e. a Morris dance melody from Staines, SRY, to celebrate the holiday) and Sir Patrick Spens are perfectly competent folk tunes, and particularly the Morris works out fine again due to the percussion coloraturas in the stanzas and the powerful chorus. Folk guitarist Martin Carthy once stated this tune to be quite "formal" and assumes it to be quite an old melody from Michael Praetorius' times. In fact the staccato melody of the vocal harmonies and the unisono of the mandolin (played by Swarbrick) sound quite archaic and different from the other stuff. A great song anyway, just like the fanfare-like stanzas of Sir Patrick Spens, which in turn would have been a perfect single. The strange thing is that this song is announced as "the last song of the concert" in the beginning. Somehow the order of the songs has been changed for this CD.

Banks of the Sweet Primroses always shows me how scarcely music theory can describe music. Honestly, I don't trust songs in which the mere three chords used are G-, C- and D-major, but this song has left me breathless since I first listened to it. I'm someone who wants to be consequent about which music he likes, and so I ask myself: why do I find most AOR ballads appalling, although they basically have the same three chords as folk songs and a similar melody to this song, which in fact touches me and forces me to replay it once of thrice?

Is it because this song tricks me into thinking it's got meaning? No, that would be inconsequent. Is it because of a special feeling which this music projects? Possibly, but this is not consequent enough. I think the most satisfying answer is that songs like these are minimalistic in the way they place the most rational ingredients of music in the background: the basic rhythm and the chords. Minimal electronic musicians and early blues guitarists did the same and thought: what happens if I standardise the frame of the music, and focus on the aspects of music which directly relate to the performance and which hence straightly represent the feelings and thoughts I have when playing it? Then the life of this song is actually in its melody, in the rhythmic details and - most importantly - in its dynamics and the timbres. Since materialistic songwriters coming from the music industry mostly don't express their true feelings in music (possibly they do not even feel music?!), their three-chord-songs are by far less credible than songs which people have sung for two-hundred years. Songs which reduce themselves to simple chord progressions so that everyone who plays it may add some new detail - songs which hence 'aged' like a good drop of wine and which in fact became better the more they were played and passed on through the generations.

From this point of view, the hymn Battle of the Somme is a wonderful ending to the main part of this CD. It's a half-speed version of a British dance tune (listen to the 1973 version of the Albion Country Band) and again sends shivers down my spine. Two different melodies, two different chords, but an awfully plaintive soundscape of mellow electric guitar picking, minimalistic percussion, deep bass notes and the grieving leads of the electric dulcimer and the violin. This is a far more adequate way of setting a tragic event like the Battle of the Somme to music - and this without using the bagpipes which sadly have become a cliché of Celtic hymns.

Whilst The Lark in the Morning (mistitled "Toss the Feathers" here at PA) and Jenny's Chickens are driving and eclectic upbeat dance tunes with splendid improvisations of the whole band, the Bonnie Kate/Sir McKenzie's Daughter dances are really uninspired and the only real let-down of this album. They surely aren't bad, but lack a memorable melody. Lark in the Morning might be the first example of British folk rock since it was first recorded in 1969, mixing four different jigs and incorparating jazzy rhythms and driving fiddle work into a very homogeneous frame. Jenny's Chickens is, like the Last Night of The Proms rendition of The Sailor's Hornpipe, one of the instrumental jigs which become faster and faster. The big treat is that it already starts off in quite a respectable speed. In the end Thompson and Swarbrick duel on the electric guitar (some mean bluegrass fingerpicking here) and the violin, and I don't think there is any 8-bar-sequence whose drum beat is repeated throughout this piece without adding a flam or a roll at some place. And, of course, Mattacks doesn't stumble anywhere.

And Yellow Bird, yes - is a typical encore. A children's song played in a rumba fashion and mocking harmony vocals. A throwaway, but a funny one with fine flamenco playing by Richard Thompson and with an example of Dave Swarbrick's natural and authentic humor. At some time musicians also want to go home, and I don't think that the audience wanted more encores after this one. ;-)

All in all there are seven pieces which are really excellent, one good piece, one piece which cannot quite keep up with this standard and one encore. I think here are too much of the dance tunes here to justify a full 5-star rating, but the great songs of this record are way too stellar to justify a worse rating. I'm pretty sure the band played more songs in this concert than just these, and things might change if the complete concert would finally be released. Thanks to the great sound quality and the inspired playing I locate the album at the uppermost segment of the 4-star-rating. The work of Swarbrick, Thompson and Mattacks alone is a wonderful experience, and every rock drummer should know Dave Mattacks and his inventive playing style. And those who like British folk rock music will surely be not disappointed by this album - and you can get it quite cheap. Make sure you get the digitally remastered edition. The two bonus tracks aren't really great, but they belong to this concert and are part of the experience.

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password


Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.