50 Years Of Fairport Convention

Me with SImon Nicol of Fairport Convention

In just a few hours from now, a band will take the stage at a concert hall in London. One more show yet again from a band in the middle of yet another tour. While that may sound terribly routine, it is in fact anything but. For tonight marks 50 years to the day that Fairport Convention performed for the first time at another London concert hall way back in 1967. At this point I have written about Fairport Convention and many of its former members here several times, so I will not repeat myself, but I wanted to do my small part in celebrating this very special occasion. It certainly is not everyday that a band has a milestone such as this, but here we are.

It bears repeating though that tonight’s concert is by a group that have never had a number one hit. In fact they have never really been commercially successful. Band members have come and gone. They started off as an American sounding rock group but became the standard bearers for British Folk Rock. They have suffered the loss of band members over the years. After essentially disbanding in 1979 they realized at a reunion show the following year that more people had actually come than had to their ‘farewell’ gig. They used this idea to start and run their own very successful festival every year in the quiet little village of Cropredy which continues to this day.

Not resting on their laurels, this year saw the release of the album 50:50@50, a combination of live and studio recordings, old and new. It includes guest performances by longtime friends of the band Robert Plant and Jacqui McShee. The band also continues to tour steadily.  Bass player Dave Pegg recently quipped that though other bands might be older, they probably have not played as many gigs as Fairport has in  their lifetime. And he’s probably right about that!

So Happy Birthday Fairport Convention! Thank you for your music. Thank you for continuing on purely for the love of music and performing. In my 30 years of being a fan you have given me incalculable hours of joy. Fairport are just the type of band one stays loyal to. The type of band that the audience sings Happy Birthday to spontaneously. The type of band who appreciates their fans, always willing to pose for a photo or sign a program. The type of band who give a lot of time and support to a multitude of social causes. A band with a great sense of humor.  They are just very special to me. Congratulations to all who have been a part of it! Here’s a song about the band written by their good friend Steve Tilston. It looks back to Fairport’s history while reminding us that good things can still come ‘over the next hill.’ Cheers! Pints will be raised tonight in your honor!

Dedicated to the memory of Martin Lamble, Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, Bruce Rowland, Roger Hill and Dave Swarbrick.

 

Over The Next Hill-Written By Steve Tilston

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Photo Shuffle-Close To You

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Close To You By Fairport Convention.

Highland Lighthouse-Truro, Massachusetts
Highland Lighthouse-Truro, Massachusetts

Like a lot of other people I suspect, I have always had a fascination with lighthouses. Tall ones, short ones, striped ones, whatever they look like it does not matter to me. It is the idea of lighthouses that has always appealed to me. Without sounding too nostalgic, they represent an older form of technology that is still relevant today, even in this high-tech era. Satellites and computers can fail, but the simple light reflected onto a Fresnel lens can be seen for miles at sea and remains the best way for a ship to know land is near. Like others, I have climbed to the top of many a lighthouse in my day, and taken many a photograph of them. It is hard to understand precisely why they have such a fascination. Could it be because they stand like sentinels in the harshest weather year in and year out? Could it be for the allure or romance of them in hundreds of books-the lonely lighthouse keeper, maintaining the beacon at all costs? Could it be because of some of the improbable feats of engineering used to build them in some of the most difficult and challenging terrain around the world? The answer for me would certainly be all of the above but there is one other reason that springs to mind in hearing this song by Fairport Convention.

The strength and resiliency of a lighthouse has also long been used as a sign of a relationship-be it a personal, or even a spiritual one. The same strong foundation, and shining light are often used as metaphors, as in this song. I have written about Fairport Convention before here, so I’ll let you backtrack about the band itself.  The song was written by Chris Leslie,  the multi-instrumentalist for the group. It is full of some beautiful imagery centered around a lighthouse theme and a lighthouse keeper yearning for his loved one (as Chris explains in the liner notes). The parallel between a relationship and the physical strength of a lighthouse as in this line-‘I turn my way, to the top of this sultry fortress, To light the way so others won’t come aground.’ Or this one- ‘And you know your smile is in this light, That I will send into the night’.  I love a song that switches back and forth between the reality-a storm tossed ocean, ships sailing and seabirds flying set against the dreamy thoughts one has when you are away from your loved one and just want them near you. It is a beautiful song, and one that has been a favorite for me since it first appeared on The Wood & The Wire album some years back. My favorite band, and the subject matter of a lighthouse made it a perfect fit I suppose!

On a side note, I should mention two wonderful books about lighthouses I have read. One is called Guardians Of The Light-Stories of  U.S. Light Keepers by Elinor DeWire. The second is The Lighthouse Stevensons By Bella Bathurst, which is about the building of Scottish lighthouses by the family of Robert Louis Stevenson. Both highly recommended.

Fresnel Lens- Halifax, Nova Scotia
Fresnel Lens- Halifax, Nova Scotia

Close To You-Written By Chris Leslie

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