Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Later this year Fairport Convention hope to record their first album of new songs for some time. Test-driving the new material live brings welcome variety to their annual Winter Tour the set list for which in past years had become over-familiar nudging towards predictable.
The 2014 Tour takes the group from their earliest techniques into the future. Prior to being pigeonholed as folk-rock pioneers the group had success bringing an English flavour to songs by American singer –songwriters. They return to this approach at the start of their set joining support act Edwina Hayes in a version of John Prine’s ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’. Hayes is songwriter with a knack for heartbreaking numbers. The quality of her voice is such that the group co-opts her back to the stage during their set to take the vocal parts of the late Sandy Denny on ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’ and help to build the anthem ‘Meet on the Ledge’
The new material is refreshingly varied ranging from a brooding ‘Home’ through a lively and bright ‘On Me You Can Depend’ to straightforward rock. Even the classic material has a fresher quality as the group drops songs that have become timeworn and instead chooses tunes that haven’t been played live for some years. The raucous jig and reel ‘Dirty Linen‘ offers a particular challenge for Matthew Pegg who has joined the group on bass at short notice after his father Dave was left unable to play due to an injury sustained in a wineglass/dishwasher incident.
Pegg Senior acts as a sort of MC introducing the opening and closing numbers. However, the compulsion that each member of the group (with the exception of the rhythm section) feels to offer lengthy introductions to every damn song is a weak point in the concert. Fairport Convention enjoy a very close relationship with their audience but on this occasion the tendency to chat gives the show a stop-start quality and hinders the development of momentum that is essential for a successful concert. At times the relaxed approach of the band intrudes on their performance with a weak joke shoved into the climatic murder ballad ‘Matty Groves’.
The Winter Tour of 2014 is a welcome demonstration that, even after more than 45 years in showbiz, Fairport Convention are unwilling to rest on their laurels preferring instead to take risks and try out new material. If only they could cut back on the introductions.
Reviewed on 9th February 2014