Fairport Convention are playing at Bilston’s Robin 2 soon but Martin Longley already caught up with them in Old York a coupla months ago…
Grand Opera House
Unlike most hoary old combos, Fairport Convention are very much concerned with the recent past, meaning the prominence of their latest album, Myths And Heroes, released just over a year ago. Their two-part set was heavily devoted to this newer material, in a fashion reminiscent of The Fall, who have a history of sticking to the contents of their latest opus. For a band that’s been together for almost five decades, this is an admirable approach, although perhaps frustrating for those audience members who haven’t witnessed them with great regularity.
The Fairports may well be a more sedate proposition now, compared to their early days, markedly influenced by the psychedelic blues of the late 1960s. Often, complaints might be made when various bands attempt to rock out by hiking the volume up past the natural capacity of a room, but this gig featured a sonic level that was almost troublesomely hushed. It took a few numbers to adapt. Mainman founder Simon Nicol’s electric guitar was often cast in the role of introverted rhythm generator, with the bulk of the showy solos handled by violinist Ric Sanders and mandolin/bouzouki specialist Chris Leslie.
At first, the performance was lacking in energy, as if this constantly on-the-road bunch were merely trucking through the motions of the songs. This was a gig that allowed the punter to settle in slowly, gradually appreciating the song-craft, admiring the instrumental changes. These were mostly down to Leslie’s switchings, but also with Nicol alternating on acoustic guitar, and the lead vocal duties swapped around for greater variety.
The Grand Opera House is one of their favourite venues, so Nicol sympathised with the damaged ground floor areas, due to the recent severe flooding of the River Ouse. Otherwise, most of the banter was humorous, with Nicol bouncing witticisms between Ric Sanders and almost-original partner, bassist Dave Pegg. Sanders nearly went over the top with his Monty Pythonesque meanderings, but Pegg supplied the earthier chuckles.
Lifted from the latest album, John Condon formed part of a military history trilogy, such subject matter undergoing a surge of popularity on the folk scene at the moment. A couple of instrumental sets allowed a harder roots thrust to emerge, focusing on the Sanders and Leslie soling abilities.
Even the older tunes were quite recent, with a focus on The Festival Bell, from 2011. It took until the end and the encore before they hit Matty Groves and Meet On The Ledge. It was a sturdy performance, with a steadily increasing substance, but there were few flashes of inspiration evident, not that this prevented a relaxed sense of enjoyment.
Fairport Convention are playing at the Robin 2 in Bilston, on 20th May.