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Fairport Convention – Liege & Lief (1969)

May 28, 2014

[Album 315/1001]220px-Fairport_Convention-Liege_&_Lief_(album_cover)

There’s nothing like getting excited about a new record.

Or in this case, a 45 year old record that was brand new to me.

There haven’t been any records from the 1001 list so far that I’ve found completely lacking in merit; there have been dozens I’ve enjoyed, several that really impressed me, and another bunch of old favourites I’ll continue to unabashedly label as excellent.

However, there have only been a handful of new discoveries that have been truly remarkable records.  The Who Sell Out and The Band are two of those rare albums deserving of such a description.

Liege & Lief, welcome to the club.

If timing is everything, Fairport Convention exhibited exceptional timing in three instances here:

1. The addictive 7/4, 6/4 time signatures in Tam Lin.

2. I’ve been searching for weeks for an appropriate adjective to describe the beauty of Sandy Denny’s voice on this recording.  The best I’ve come up with so far: her performance here is incomparable.

I tend to argue that great records feature terrific attention to detail (such as in Rocky Raccoon, the snare hit after “he drew first and shot”).  Denny’s pause in Come All Ye (also a Denny co-write) before the final word in the line, “and move the rolling…sky,” is exceptional.

Better still, in the third chorus, she omits the pause, keeping the listener guessing!

3. Ironically, even though her voice was the major selling point of the record for me, my favourite track here is an instrumental.  When I made my Top 5 Instrumentals list last September, I of course hadn’t heard The Lark in the Morning/Rakish Paddy/Foxhunters’ Jig/Toss the Feathers medley.  The seamless tempo changes (not to mention the ridiculously skilled musicians) are something else.  In a future revised list, it may not unseat YYZ for the #1 spot, but it’s tough to picture the medley much lower than #2.

It’s even harder to envision the year 1969 being anything less than the finest calendar year in the history of popular music.  If Led Zeppelin I/II, Let It Bleed, Arthurand In The Court of the Crimson King weren’t quite enough, maybe adding Hot Rats, Abbey Road, At San Quentin, and Five Leaves Left would remove any doubt.

If still unconvinced, hopefully the addition of a couple of exciting/new-to-me records, The Band and Liege & Lief, ought to do the trick.

From → 1960s

  1. This was the album that I always thought put Richard Thompson on the rise as one of the most stylistic guitarists of his generation. English Folk music would never be the same.

    • He’s a name I didn’t recognize at first glance and for most of the record, is playing is relatively subtle (but of course very effective). On that medley though, he’s flying!

  2. A UK poll not that long ago rated Liege and Leaf as the ‘most influential’ folk album of all time. Hard to argue.

  3. Thanks. FP were incredibly influential in the folk world for instrumental class, fabulous singing and two great writers. Regards Thom at the immortal jukebox (features on sandy and Richard Thompson to come).

  4. I must admit to not getting this ye olde english folke stuff, about wizards and elves etc. Does nothing for me at all. Very ‘of it’s time’ I think.

    • Interesting – I found it sounded like it could have been from a century or two earlier, a troubadour feel.

  5. This is a superb, important album and was a gateway into a whole new musical world for me!

    • I’m glad you called it both superb AND important – there are a bunch of influential records that I’m grateful for, but I think artists that followed actually raised the bar. Other superb ones that generally went unnoticed.
      So when an album is both, that’s the best case scenario!

      • Very well put! It’s very exciting to read about someone discovering an amazing album like this for the first time!

      • Thank you HMO – I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the project if I’d be able to really get into any new records. I thought, I’m not 16 anymore, I’m twice that age with a mortgage and kids!
        Fortunately I was way off – immersing in a record like this one is easy after all 😀

  6. Fairport Convention are still going strong. In August, as most years, I will be at their annual Cropredy Festival. They might play this very instrumental. I’ve heard it many times live. They still tour. They still make albums. Yes, their lineup changes make Yes look like ZZ TOP (and who else could make Yes look like ZZ TOP?), but this is not the case of some modern version of an old band with no original members. In the case of a band which has much material from outside the band, changes of personnel have a different aspect than if the members write the songs. Certainly the folk tradition consists of people singing other people’s songs. There was a time when Fairport Convention did have no original members, but it wasn’t worse for that. Original member Simon Nicol (who is now the main singer and is an example of someone whose voice has improved with time) was away 1973–1978 but has been in the band since his return. Dave Pegg has been in since 1970. “New boy” Ric Sanders since 1985. Current drummer is Gerry Conway, who joined “only” 15 or so years ago but was the drummer in Fotheringay, which also had Sandy Denny after she left Fairport (for the first time), Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Trevor Lucas. Trevor was later married to Sandy and he and Jerry were in Fairport Convention when SImon Nicol wasn’t.

    Go see them at Cropredy! This year’s Cropredy festival also features many progressive-rock acts. It is by far the best festival in the world. One comment I read which sums it up: “It’s so good, it would be worth going even if there were no music.” But there is music.

    Sandy Denny—what can you say? Can anyone sing better than she did? There is a reason she is the only outside musician Led Zeppelin ever used. Oh yes, Planty has been a guest at Cropredy a few times. Also, when he was there as a guest, and in some years when he didn’t appear on stage, he could be seen out in the field with the other punters. Where else could that happen?

    I first came to Fairport Convention via Jethro Tull. I was reading Pete Frame’s excellent Rock Family Trees book and noticed that Dave Pegg played in both bands. As a Tull fan, I had to check them out. I bought a CD and the booklet mentioned the festival.

    Yes, they were most influential back in the day, when Sandy Denny was voted best British singer, but they continued soldiering on even when they became unfashionable. Their record company once bought them out of their contract. Dave Pegg said that the first time the band made money from albums was when they were paid not to make any more. However, don’t let punk (which caused them to briefly disband) hide the fact from you that in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s they continued to produce good music. They have a huge catalogue and there is some filler, but there are many gems waiting to be discovered.

    You really, really, really, really, really need to check out their other albums. Really. What about Sandy’s song “Fotheringay” from <What We Did on Our Holidays, an album most readers here have probably never heard and not even heard of? It would be in my list of the handful of perfect songs in the world.

    After Sandy’S departure, check out the live album House Full (coming after the studio album Full House. Check out their folk-rock opera (yes!) Babbacombe Lee. Tippler’s Tales has some great, more traditional-sounding stuff. After their reboot, check out the instrumental album Expletive Delighted, the excellent Red and Gold, the unplugged album Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, the relatively recent Sense of Occasion, the side project Fame and Glory (also including Jacqui McShee of Pentangle, who is also Gerry Conway’s girlfriend). You are missing so, so, so much. Take it from someone who likes much of the same stuff you do. So many CDs, so short the life in which to hear them.

    • Oh Yes, Ashley Hutchings left after Liege and Lief to found Steeleye Span, another great (but totally different) folk-rock band. (In the early days, Fairport were rock musicians playing folk music, while Steeleye were folk musicians playing electric instruments.)

      • closing-italic-tag fail; please correct!

      • I love that cropedy quote about it being so good!

        Thanks so much for the comments & recommendations Phillip – it’s rare that I find myself this excited about a group so it’s much appreciated knowing what stuff to explore next by this new found fantastic band!

        Hearing Fotheringay will be priority #1 – I’d agree, there are a lot of great songs but only a handful that could be considered perfection.

        And the italics should be corrected now!

      • “Hearing Fotheringay will be priority #1 – I’d agree, there are a lot of great songs but only a handful that could be considered perfection.”

        Off the top of my head, some more perfect songs: Rush: “Xanadu”, Cream: “White Room”, Beatles: “Eleanor Rigby”, Pink Floyd: “Time”, Rush: “YYZ”, Jethro Tull: “Back to the Family”, Jethro Tull: “Velvet Green”, Jethro Tull: “Songs from the Wood”.

      • Love the White Room intro especially – I forgot Eleanor Rigby when I made my list of top 5 girl names in song, that would likely be #1 in hindsight!

  7. I really know nothing about Fairport. Thanks for the writeup!

    • Yes, me either! Except, I learned that Richard Thompson was in Fairport Convention, the same guy responsible for that GLORIOUS music in Grizzly Man.

      • My pleasure – And I know nothing about Grizzly Man, so thank you for the related recommendation!

      • You bet. I’ll have to write something up on this fantastic doc…I know Mike has already done a similar write-up, and after reading his review, I watched Grizzly Man again recently and took note of the beautiful music. I have since traced some affiliated YouTube sessions with Werner Herzog looking on and it’s truly breathtaking.

      • Oh yeah! You’re right. Awesome.

  8. Congratulations on discovering the glorious music of Fairport Convention. It’s hard to imagine a better introduction than “Liege & Lief,” which was how I first heard them about 25 years ago. It’s a timeless record that gets better with age. Not sure if there are any other Fairport albums on the 1001 list, but I highly recommend “Unhalfbricking,” “What We Did On Our Holidays” and “Full House” which are equally brilliant (and in the case of “Full House,” very different from “Liege”).

    As for instrumentals, I’m with you on “YYZ” but I think “La Villa Strangiato” would top my list of Rush instrumentals.

    • Unhalfbricking also made the cut – I’m reluctant to listen to it right away as based on the excellence of L & L, my expectations are immeasurably high! But I’m very pleased that I’ll be able to check out another Fairport record, for the project, along with many others for pleasure.

      And agreed re: the timeless nature. It’s so nice having those records that each listen, you hear something new and look forward to subsequent listens that much more.

  9. Check out The Bones of All Men for some good Richard Thompson with most of modern Fairport.

    • I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight is on the 1001 – I don’t recognize the name The bones… but I’m certainly interested in checking out much more of his/Fairport’s catalgoue.

  10. Oddly, iTunes doesn’t sell this album. Bizarre!

    • That’s a shame! I borrowed a 180g vinyl from a friend (no wonder my review was so favourable) but I also tracked down a library cd. So I’d suggest the library route could be worth exploring if itunes isn’t co-operating!

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