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Fairport Convention 'Babbacombe' Lee album cover
3.74 | 61 ratings | 8 reviews | 11% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 1971

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Verdict (0:28)
2. Little Did I Think (2:19)
3. I Was Sixteen (Part 1) (1:30)
4. John My Son (0:44)
5. I Was Sixteen (Part 2) (1:17)
6. St Ninian's Isle / Trumpet Hornpipe (1:14)
7. Sailor's Alphabet (5:42)
8. John Lee (3:07)
9. Newspaper Reading (0:46)
10. Breakfast In Myfair (3:07)
11. Trial Song (3:55)
12. Cell Song (3:34)
13. The Time Is Near (2:33)
14. Dream Song (5:25)
15. Wake Up John (Hanging Song) (5:23)

Total time 41:04

Bonus tracks on 2004 Island remaster:
16. Farewell To A Poor Man's Son (4:55)
17. Breakfast In Mayfair (3:59)

Total Time: 49:57

Line-up / Musicians

- Dave Swarbrick / vocals, fiddle, viola, mandolin
- Simon Nicol / vocals, electric& acoustic guitars, electric dulcimer (12), co-producer
- Dave Pegg / vocals, bass guitar, mandolin
- Dave Mattacks / drums, harmonium (6,7), tambourine, electric piano (14)

- Philip Sterling-Wall / narrator voice (1)
- A.L. Loyd / narrator voice (7)
- Trevor Lucas / rhythm guitar (16,17 - uncredited)
- Jerry Donahue / lead guitar (16,17)
- Sandy Denny / vocals (17)

Releases information

Artwork: Roberta Nicol based on a photo of John Lee with his old mother

LP Island - ILPS 9176 (1971, UK) Not divided in tracks but only 3 sections on Side A and 2 on Side B.

CD Island ‎- IMCD 153 (1992, UK) Follows LP track resumed listing
CD Island - IMCD 308 (2004, Europe) Remastered by Paschal Byrne w/ 2 bonus tracks recorded in late 1974 for the BBC 2 documentary 'The Man They Couldn't Hang' about John "Babbacombe" Lee, which was broadcasted on 1 February 1975.

Thanks to alucard for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy FAIRPORT CONVENTION 'Babbacombe' Lee Music

FAIRPORT CONVENTION 'Babbacombe' Lee ratings distribution

(61 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(11%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(41%)
Good, but non-essential (33%)
Collectors/fans only (13%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

FAIRPORT CONVENTION 'Babbacombe' Lee reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Heptade
4 stars Folk rock didn't produce many concept albums, and this is a particularly unusual example. It details the story of a man wrongfully accused of murder in the nineteenth century and his experiences right up to his attempted execution and redemption. A strange story, but the music is compelling enough to carry it. Apparently this was a major flop, but it has survived the test of time. It was the first Fairport album in a while to be light on trad matierial- a sea shanty is the only non-original composition here. The originals are decent, leaning more towards pop/rock than folk at times, although Dave Swarbrick's fiddling and mandolin are always present. The songs have a lot of energy, a lot more rock orientation than the band had shown up to that point. There is even a an extremely psychedelic "Dream Song" which sounds like nothing the band had ever done up to that point. This lineup of the group was fairly weak vocally (Simon Nicol's vocal on "Breakfast in Mayfair" is a little wonky), but they harmonize well. The LP came with a fake newspaper booklet which was entertaining reading- I don't know if the CD reissue has anything like it. This album is worth a listen for fans of concept albums in general, but if you don't like electric folk, stay away. Horslips fans will like it a lot. This was the last really superior album Fairport would make for a while.
Review by Sean Trane
3 stars By the time FC came on with this album, most of the notable front persons of the band had left (Denny, Hutchings, Thompson and Matthews, Lamble, also more tragically) but Fairport kept on putting high standards record (look at this is a relative way from a proghead view) although not really reaching the heights of Liege or Full House. It was not for lack of trying as the remaining foursome (three of them will later play with Jethro Tull in the 80's) and only Simon Nicoll from the original line-up (this his last album, too as he will found the Albion Country Band) composing a concept album as their seventh record. Most fans will agree that this is the last classic album from Fairport, and I will agree too. Many fine moments on this record and maybe the most dramatic ones in all of FC's career in the lenghty closing chapter, this might just be the best description of a raconteur-troubadour folk rock has produced.

The concept is about a character John "Babbacombe" Lee's tribulations from the navy to jail and unjustifiably accused of murder of lovers, condemned to death penalty, escape etc. The first two chapters (we cannot speak of tracks here a 6 and 10 min long respectively) speak of the happier and "lawful" days of the hero, while the much shorter third chapter starts out with the brutal description of a murder and tells you how the hero gets accused. A rather duller 7-min fourth chapter represents the prisoner's lament but, as mentioned previously, the final chapter provides a loadful of drama and an increasingly tense and haunting climate regularly interrupted by verses and choruses. Clearly the album's highlight.

Musically, we are dealing with usual Fairport sound that remains somewhat constant that even the continuous personnel changes cannot change. Meandering between its fair share of jigs, Celtic ballads and their usual folk rock, one cannot say that this record is anything else than a worthy Fairport album as all of the preceding ones were.

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Don't hang "Babbacombe" Lee.

Surprisingly perhaps, this is Fairport Convention's only concept album. It tells the true story of young John "Babbacombe" Lee, who was tried for the murder of his employer Miss Emma Keyse, and found guilty. Lee protested his innocence, but was sentenced to be killed by hanging. After three attempts to complete the hanging, which were foiled on each occasion by the trap door failing to open, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, in accordance with the law of the land. What makes the case interesting is that the evidence against him did not really stack up, and thus the "act of God" that spared him is now seen as justice.

The album's concept came about after Dave Swarbrick had come across copies of Lee's papers in an antique shop, and the album is thus very much his baby. Swarbrick had been working on it for some time before it was finally released, hence the two bonus tracks on the remastered CD are by an earlier Fairport line up, and were taken from a BBC documentary on Lee. The tale is told by Fairport mainly in the first person (Lee) with little in the way of embellishment of the story beyond the facts.

After a brief pronouncement of the verdict, we are returned to the early days of John Lee, including his spell in the navy. This offers a good excuse for including the only non-band composition on the album in the form of the shanty "Sailor's alphabet". One of the best sections is the "I was 16/John my son" medley, which while hardly prog, does have an inventive structure and some good instrumentation.

Given the subject matter, the album is surprisingly upbeat, with the usual folk influences well to the fore. Tracks such as "John Lee" (where he leave the Navy through illness and takes up working for Keyse) and "Wake up John" (in which Lees describes the day of his abortive hanging) sound immensely positive.

There are of course softer tracks too, such as the lullaby like "Dream song", the reflective "The time is near", and "Breakfast in Mayfair" which includes the so-bad-it's-great lyric "put that paper down before your breakfast goes quite rotten". Instrumentally, while the fiddle and Mandolin of Dave Swawbrick are very much in evidence, recognition of the superb bass playing of Dave Pegg throughout the album is also due.

"Babbacombe Lee" was the first Fairport album where the line up, which has seen 20 plus members, was the same as on the previous album. It was released in the same year as "Angel delight", although by the time of its recording the group had vacated The Angel. When originally released, the album consisted of only two tracks, one on each side of the LP and was devoid of track titles. The remastered CD version however, breaks things up into their natural sections, and gives them titles for the first time. There is a continuity to the album which, while perhaps not rendering it progressive, does make the whole much greater than the sum of the parts. Indeed, "Babbacombe Lee" is in my opinion the most under-valued of Fairport's extensive catalogue. Because it does not contain the usual array of traditional songs, it is often perceived to be something of a fish out of water. What we have here though, is a wonderfully put together concept album, full of strong melodies, and first class performances. Recommended.

The remastered version includes an excellent booklet with lyrics and great detail of the story of "Babbabcome" Lee ("Babbacome" incidentally comes from the name of his home town in South West England). The two bonus tracks mentioned earlier were used in the BBC documentary about Lee. "Farewell To A Poor Man's Son" fits in well with the concept, but did not actually appear on the album, while the alternative version of "Breakfast in Mayfair" sees Sandy Denny taking lead vocal. Unfortunately, the BBC themselves did not have a version of the programme with these songs intact, so the versions included here are of a poor recording quality.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
4 stars The ABC is too long for a song!

Together with Full House, this is my favourite Fairport album of the 70's. It is not just the fact that Babbacombe Lee is a concept album, or rock opera, and that I happen to like conceptual albums. Everything about this album is far better than most other Fairport albums. The vocals are a lot better, there are more elaborated harmonies. The lyrics are better too. The melodies are strong. And most important of all, here they have written most of the music themselves instead of just upgrading old English Folk tunes. Compared to Liege & Lief and the other 60's releases by this band, Babbacombe Lee is also much better recorded and better produced. And much more progressive!

It is also the case that Babbacombe Lee is a Folk rock album with an equal emphasis on the Rock and the Folk, while some other albums by this band clearly emphasises the Folk over the Rock.

We should keep in mind also that this was released in 1971 and that it must have been rather groundbreaking at the time given the strong traditionalism within Folk rock.

My only complaint is that the alphabet is a little bit to long to make a song out of it!

A very good and enjoyable Folk rock album! One of the band's very best and most progressive. Recommended!

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Babbacombe Lee" is the seventh full-length studio album by UK folk/rock act Fairport Convention. The album was released through Island Records in November 1971. Itīs the successor to "Angel Delight" from June 1971. "Angel Delight" was a commercial success for Fairport Convention, and although "Babbacombe Lee" did not sell as well as its predecessor, it did receive praise from contemporary reviewers.

"Babbacombe Lee" is a concept story and often refered to as the first folk rock opera. Itīs the real life story of John Babbacombe Lee (1864-1945). His story is actually a very sinister and bizarre one and well worth telling. Lee was wrongfully (at least thatīs his version of the story) accused, convicted and sentenced to death for the brutal murder of his mistress Miss Keyse (whom he worked for at the time of the murder) in the town of Babbacombe (hence his nickname which is also the name of the album). But on the day of his execution the release mechanism of the scaffold didnīt work. Three times they tried to hang John Lee, but failed. The strange thing is that between those three attempts the release mechanism did work. After the three failed attempts to hang John Lee the queen commuted his sentence to penal servitude for life which in 1885 Victorian England meant twenty years in prison.

The lyrics on the first half of the album is about John Leeīs life before the murder. His youth and his time in the Navy before he was invalided out by the pneumonia. The last part of the album is about the murder, the trial and the failed execution. The music is very well crafted folk/rock which follows the mood and atmosphere of the story all the way through the album. I really like the shifting atmospheres and I think itīs one of the cases where the lyrics for a concept story works well with the instrumental part of the music. Nothing sounds forced here.

The musicianship is excellent and it finally sounds like thereīs confidence in the vocals (something I have missed on previous releases by the band). The fiddle and flute parts are much more restrained on "Babbacombe Lee" and it means that this album has a lesser degree of folk elements compared to its two direct predecessors. Some of the songs actually rock pretty good and Iīm almost reminded of Fairport Conventionīs excellent debut album.

The production is also much more powerful than on the two last albums by the band. Organic, detailed, and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion "Babbacombe Lee" is a high quality album. Itīs one of the highlights of Fairport Conventionīs discography, and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

Review by Warthur
4 stars After several albums hit by lineup shifts, "Babbacombe" Lee came amidst a period of comparative stability for Fairport Convention, with the same four members recording this as had put together Angel Delight. Whilst the previous lineup had seen them not progressing their music that much, bar for gaining a little more confidence as vocalists, this finds them recovering their ambition, undertaking their first narrative concept album.

There's a touch more rock in their folk-rock formula this time around (usually it leans much more towards folk), perhaps as a consequence of them taking a deliberate "rock opera" approach, and by and large the band do a good job of putting together the compelling narrative of "the man they couldn't hang", with solid original material and well-chosen traditional songs putting together the narrative.

Consisting of five clutches of songs - one for John's boyhood, one for his naval days and him finding employment as a household servant, one to cover the discovery of the murder for which he was accused, one for his trial and imprisonment, and one to tell the tale of how his failed execution led to his sentence being commuted to life - the album reveals that despite any fears to the contrary, Fairport Convention still had something to contribute in the world of British folk rock in the early 1970s, despite acts like Steeleye Span having largely gained more momentum.

Latest members reviews

4 stars "Babbacombe" Lee gets good press in the PA reviews and that's no surprise. Fairport Convention's seventh studio album is an unusual concept album about an historical figure named John Lee. Lee was condemned to die on the gallows and escaped death three times when the trap door wouldn't open on e ... (read more)

Report this review (#2086447) | Posted by SteveG | Thursday, December 13, 2018 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This concept album tells the story of the man who was sentenced to death for murder. John 'Babbacombe' Lee known also as the 'man they couldn't hang'. It was impossible to execute him because of hanging mechanism failure, however John claimed his innocence. In early 70s Dave Swarbrick found co ... (read more)

Report this review (#179136) | Posted by LSDisease | Thursday, August 7, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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