Fairport Convention

Fairport's original drummer was Shaun Frater. After their debut performance, on 27 May 1967, Martin Lamble (who had been in the audience) persuaded Hutchings, Nicol and Thompson that he could do a better job, and was brought in to replace Frater. By adding a female singer, Judy Dyble, they got themselves a sound that would set them apart from the rest of the London music scene. This was enhanced by the addition of a male vocalist: Iain Matthews (known at the time as Ian McDonald).

After their self-titled debut album (released in June 1968 on the Polydor label) sold poorly, Dyble was replaced by Sandy Denny. Matthews left during the recording of their next album, after finding out that there had been a recording session to which he hadn't been invited. He was not replaced; the other male members of the band shared his vocal duties between them.

On 12 May 1969 the band was struck by tragedy when its van was involved in an accident on the M1 motorway. Martin Lamble lost his life, as did Richard Thompson's girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn. Lamble was replaced by Dave Mattacks.

Fairport's second and third albums (What We Did On Our Holidays and Unhalfbricking - both released on Island in 1969) established them as pioneers of what would become known as folk-rock. Up to this point they had been heavily influenced by artists from across the Atlantic such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and the Byrds, but the track A Sailor's Life, which Denny had brought from her repertoire as a folk singer, pointed the band in a new direction - towards traditional English material. A Sailor's Life featured a major contribution from the fiddler Dave Swarbrick, who joined the band officially later in 1969.

This paved the way for an undisputed classic of the folk-rock genre: their fourth album, Liege & Lief. Its fusion of traditional and self-composed material has probably never been surpassed since by Fairport or anyone else.

The move towards traditional music was not without its issues. Ashley Hutchings was more keen to explore the traditional influence than other band members, and he left to form Steeleye Span, which would rival Fairport throughout the 1970s as champions of English folk-rock. Fairport then suffered what might have proved the biggest blow of all, when Sandy Denny left to form her own band: Fotheringay.

Richard Thompson stayed around for one more album - Full House (1971) - but then left to pursue a solo career. Simon Nicol was left to fill Thompson's shoes, but this was not a role that he was comfortable with and he left to join Ashley Hutchings (who had left Steeleye) in the Albion Band. This left Swarbrick as Fairport's de facto front man, and their next two albums - Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee - proved that the band had legs even without any of the members that had established its reputation. Angel Delight was the first Fairport album to make the US charts.

By 1979 however the folk-rock market had dwindled; when Swarbrick was forced to leave the band for health reasons, Fairport decided to disband. They played a farewell tour, and a final outdoor concert on 4 August in Cropredy, the Oxfordshire village where Dave Pegg lived with his wife Christine. A reunion was promised, and this evolved into an annual event at Cropredy - which proved so successful that in 1985 the band decided to reform. Swarbrick refused to join, and the line-up was Simon Nicol, Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg. Ric Sanders (fiddles and keyboards) joined later in 1985, along with Maartin Allcock (guitar, mandolin, keyboards, vocal).

By 1998 the line-up was Nicol, Pegg and Sanders, with Chris Leslie (fiddle, mandolin, bouzouki and vocals) and Gerry Conway (drums and percussion). It hasn't changed since then, and has continued to tour the world and release albums approximately every four years. The annual Cropredy Festival attracts up to 20,000 people each year, making it the largest annual festival of its kind in Britain.

What kind is that? Well it's essentially a celebration of the 50-year history of one iconic British band, combining the excesses of a rock festival with the informal atmosphere of the folk scene. You could argue that it is to festivals what Fairport Convention are to bands.

© Haydn Thompson 2017