Come All Ye
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2002 Anil Prasad. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives license.
One hears the word "friends" a lot when talking to members of Fairport Convention, the venerable British folk-rock institution now celebrating its 35th year together. Though it's an aberration in a music industry fueled by celebrity and conceit, the down-to-earth band includes its loyal, global fan-base among its closest comrades.
"What is it that's given Fairport its longevity? My answer is always the same: the audience," said Ric Sanders, the band's fiddler since 1985. "We have an incredible audience. I'm as proud of how Fairport relates to its audience as I am of any music we have produced. I think we're a real people's band. Massive popular success has never bothered Fairport. We've never been put in the position of being celebrities. A Fairport concert is like a meeting of friends. There's no big, security wall around us. It's kind of how music should be."
Indeed, on any given evening after a gig, the current line-up of Sanders, drummer Gerry Conway, mandolinist/fiddler/vocalist Chris Leslie, vocalist/guitarist Simon Nicol and bassist Dave Pegg can be found milling about with fans—sometimes for hours if a pub or fine imbibements are involved. The group's openness and social nature has no doubt played a role in propelling it through 35 years as a viable, ongoing entity.
Nowhere is that better represented than at the group's annual Cropredy Festival, named after the tiny British village it takes place in every August. The festival is a celebration of Fairport's music and members past and present. Typically, the three-day event features epic-length sets by the group's current line-up, augmented by alumni such as Dave Swarbrick, Richard Thompson, Jerry Donahue and Iain Matthews.
"In England, we have a very loyal bunch of fans, some of which have been with us since the late '60s," explained Pegg or "Peggy" as he's known by most. "It's very much a club, the Fairport audience. Everywhere we go, we know people. At our Cropredy Festival, we probably know half of the 20,000 people who attend by name."
"The Cropredy Festival is absolutely central to everything we do," added Nicol. "It's hugely energizing in terms of recharging the current and alumni membership, and all of those people who have marked that weekend off in their calendar. Each year, they get together with people from all over the world. More than 20,000 people come from places as far away as the USA, Scotland or Australia. They don't see each other elsewhere, but they're friends in that field once a year."
Founded in 1967, Fairport spurred the storied British folk-rock genre with its seminal 1969 release Liege and Lief. The group is the fountainhead for the movement that spawned other influential acts such as Steeleye Span, The Albion Band, The Home Service and The Oysterband.
With more than three-dozen albums, over 25 members passing through its ranks and thousands of gigs behind it, the band shows no sign of slowing down. It recently released XXXV, an appropriately-titled anniversary release comprising new material and re-recordings of select nuggets from Fairport's vast back catalog such as "Now Be Thankful" and "The Banks of the Sweet Primroses."
There's been a flurry of related 35th anniversary releases too. Recent offerings include a boxed set titled Fairport Unconventional that gathersmany of the group's rarities; Cropredy Festival 2001, a DVD chronicling a typically invigorating festival performance; Before the Moon, a double CD capturing a 1974 performance featuring the late Sandy Denny; and several remastered albums from its heyday including Liege and Lief and Full House.
Innerviews conducted a series of evocative, in-depth interviews with each member of the current line-up, featuring a comprehensive look at the making of the XXXV album, as well as many intriguing recollections and anecdotes about the group's history and legacy.
The XXXV Innerviews: