Melbourne and Sydney 1974.
Melbourne Festival Hall. 1-25-74.
Set list ( incomplete)
Fairport Convention is a good seven years old this year, a healthy life for any band in these days of instability and change. Fairport has changed, certainly, but the changes seem due to the natural processes of growth, accretion, and wriggling out of old skins. Not a single original member of the band is left in the present lineup, but there still remains a strong sense of continuity.
The influence of Fairport Convention has been strong and pervasive. A shoot removed soon gows into another tree. They stand at the centre of a widening network of English musicians who are doing things that nobody would have dreamed possible before Fairport's magnificent Liege and Lief.
To my knowledge, they were the first electric band in the world to use straight traditional material. Ashley Hutchings, founding member and bass player up to Fairport Three, was a founding member of both Steeleye Span and the Albion Country Band; Ian Matthews, after playing with Fairport for two years from their inception, formed Matthews Southern Comfort and later Plainsong; and the later adventures of Richard Thompson and Sandy Danny are not without honor on as many continents as there may be.
It is always possible that the early promise of a band might be betrayed or negated by its later manifestations but Fairport Convention - as might be expected of a group that plays so much traditional music - has held faithfully to the solid ground of its own past. No damned jerrybuildings here; this group's music is cut into the living rock
The Melbourne venue was the infamous Festival Hall. The seating is poor, the acoustics have occasioned unfavorable comment, and on a humid night like last Friday night, the place gets too hot for comfort. For some reason this turned out to provide a marvellous atmosphere. Last year's Fairport concerts at the sedate Dallas Brooks Hall suffered, in spite af the near-perfect sound and visibility, from a coldness that was evidently due to the overwhelming ascetic slick surroundings, or maybe it was caused by the malevolent vibrations of the arcane mystic rites practised in the same building. A bit of discomfort is always good for an audience. It makes them feel virtuous and stops them dropping off the sleep. Whatever the reason, the audience was generous, excitable and cooperative.
The "supporting act" was Irishborn Sydney singer John Currie. It's a difficult position to be played in, with little chance for glory and the possibility of making the more uptight members of the audience actually angry with you for wasting their valuable time. Otherwise kind and reasonable people start muttering about having paid out good money and all that crap. But even with all those points down from the start, John Currie made it. If the supporting act has any reasonable function apart from humiliating Australian musicians, it is to warm the audience up and settle them down. Mr Currie did a fine job.
Interval, and outside for a cigarette
and a drink of rum and to listen to people complaining about one thing
and another. Is it possible that there are people who are even more
dreary and boring than me? But this is where the story really starts
'All alone with me Polly on the shore.
She's a tall and a slender girl,
With a dark and a roving eye;
And here am I lie a-bleeding on the deck
And for her sweet sake I must die.
Probably the most immediately
impressive of Fairport's achievements is their precision in playing
traditional tunes. Difficult changes of time are negotiated with offensive
ease. Their unison phying is a remarkable accomplishment; Dave Pegg
is the only bass player I've heard who can play fiddle tunes on his
instrument. His face occasionally contorted into the involuntary grimaces
that some musicians show when they have to play with particular speed
and precision, but Jerry Donahue and Dave Swarbrick just grinned and
capered all the way through it, the heartless unfeeling bastards.
Sandy Denny's voice is a notable instrumental addition to the band as well as a vocal lead. She has power, control and considerable expressiveness. A recent visitor to this country (I nearly wrote our shores) was billed as simply the best female singer in the world. Well, Sandy Denny is not that simple.
The most impressive single piece in the concert was the stunning 20-minute Thompson -Swarbrick composition Sloth. The words of the song are strong in a way not often found in contemporary songwriting - a virtue that seems to be Richard Thompson's particular glory; that is, they are both reticent and dramatically dense. There is a tremendous story in the song that is told only in brief flashes of frozen action, like isolated stills from a film .Movement occurrs through the instrumental solos, which are nothing short of hair-raising.
This band has the rare ability to build up an instrumental tissue slowly, layer by layer, playing with total absorption and relaxation, as if the song had to be slowly discovered as it was played, as if it would only reveal itself if one waited patiently for it to loom up out of the mist. I cannot think of another band that could carry off a completely unaccompanied bass solo lasting about four to five minutes without losing either the song or the audience in the process.
It was a little annoying that many of the audience, perhaps thinkng they were at a jazz or a bluegrass concert, insisted on applauding each instrumental solo as if it were a circus act .They meant well, but the song tends to suffer if the solos are regarded as breaks or displays of virtuosity.
Sloth is a brilliantly conceived and contolled piece of music, and I think I have never heard anything so totally absorbing as this concert performance of it.
Fairport Convention played for about two and a half hours. At the end of it all, Dave Swarbrick very politely asked everybody to stand up. This was a very clever move because people will not stand up in a concert hall if they can help it. Ask them to dance and only a few exhibitionists will do so, because it's necessary to stand up before you can start dancing. But if everybody is already standing up, the battle (for hearts and minds) is already won.
Naturally, everybody stood up, and Fairport started on a medley of dance tunes. And the crowd went wild, folks!
Hot sweaty steaming bodies undulating beneath the tropic moon. It was marvellous to see the young people enjoying themselves so much. Everybody seemed to be smiling or laughing, clapping their hands or jumping up and down. A few drugcrazed hippies removed articles of clothing, probably transported in the throes of their fevered visions to Sunbury or other scenes of abandon. It could never have happened in the Dallas Brooks.
For an encore they played a couple of old rock songs, eg. That'll be tbe day, which kept the excitement and the dancing going nicely. But all too soon it was time to go and we all had to go home tired, but happy.
Fairport Convention is a rare group indeed. There's nobody like them.
I agree with
the living daylights writer .Compared with a few months earlier the band were
really cooking. I remember being impressed with Jerry D's lead guitar work
this time around - not the frenetic up and down the fretboard guitar hero
masturbation type stuff, he played"slowhand" style with individual
notes being picked out and accentuated but still with lots of bite.I was even
more impressed withTrevor
Lucas. Somehow the cavernous nature of Festival hall rolled his vocal into a sound that was more resonant but less harsh than the studio sound. The combination of his Ovation acoustic with Donaghue's electric musings was that unique sound that the acoustic/electric combination can sometimes give. And then when Sandy came onstage and took over lead vocals things could only get even better.
My memory of the subsequent stage banter was that it was announced that this was the first gig for Sandy as having officially rejoined Fairport as a full member, and that she would now do the rest of the Aussie dates as a full member of the band. This being the case our esteemed historian friend Pete Frame and numerous other Fairport chroniclers are 2 months out in the date when they have Sandy rejoining the band. Presumably they have relied on the official press release after the band got home prior to the next series of tour dates.
Sydney Opera House
A Folk group which is for fun.
Fairport Convention In Australia pages
Fairport Convention in the Mother Country