Meeting on the ledge again

Fairport Convention’s Dave Pegg talks to Dave Woodhall.

As we all know, Birmingham has punched well above its weight over the years when it comes to internationally-acclaimed musicians. Some are known for being from the city, others less so. For example, Fairport Convention bassist Dave Pegg hails from Acocks Green and before he became a world-famous folk musician he played in a very different genre with some legendary Brummie names.

“I played lead guitar at first with Roy Everett’s Blueshounds. Then I auditioned for the Uglys, which was Steve Gibbons’ band. Roger Hill got the job but Steve said that if I was willing to play the bass I could do that. I owe Steve an awful lot because it was a life-changing thing to move to bass. I went on to play with all these great guitar players. I played with some of my heroes; Richard Thompson, Jerry Donahue, Martin Barre from Jethro Tull. I finished up in a band that was two-fifths Birmingham when I joined because Dave Swarbrick came from Great Barr.”

You started out with all those blues and rock musicians yet you’ve played folk for a long time. When did the change in style happen?

“I started off playing stuff like the Shadows then I was influenced very much by Spencer Davis and Steve Winwood, who was our hero. I began doing sessions with the Ian Campbell Folk Group, they ran the Jug of Punch folk club. I played on one of their albums then they asked if I could join the band, they needed a double bass player so I swapped my 1962 Fender Stratocaster for a double bass at Ringway Music on Smallbrook Ringway and became a folker for a year. That’s how I met Dave Swarbrick, he joined Fairport Convention and when their bass player Ashley Hutchings left in 1969 I auditioned and I’ve been with them ever since.”

Fairport Convention photographed in November 2016.

It’s been a constant line-up for more than twenty years.

“It has. Ric Saunders our violinist is from Solihull. We’re a very happy bunch, we’ve missed playing and we’ve had to cancel our Cropredy festival twice but it’s happening next August. Of the 10,000 people who bought tickets 9,500 have kept them for next year and also the artists have been booked, they’ve agreed to come back so it’ll be a great time.”

Maddy Prior said that being in Steeleye Span was like being on a bus; you got on, then got off and you got on again a bit later. You’ve kept together for all these years. What’s the secret?

“We’ve had 27 members altogether but our current line-up’s stayed the same for over twenty years. We’ve matured a bit and it helps having a songwriter back in the line-up, Chris Leslie, who’s always coming up with fantastic songs. That’s kept the band fresh and always able to have our own kind of Fairport sound. Our audiences are so loyal, they keep coming back for more. Hopefully in October we’ve got about ten gigs than next year we have a big tour in England including the Core Theatre at Solihull and in Walsall. I’ll be going home on one of the days off.”

People get grumpier as they get older. Do musicians go the other way and get more relaxed?

“Definitely. You get people of a certain age, I’m 74 next month and the Fairports were a pretty wild bunch in my twenties. We got up to some amazing things on our travels but the past twenty years have been much more sobering. We read books in the van, we don’t have fights over what’s going to be played next. We can’t even get the music to work now. Covid has meant we’ve done gigs in eighteen months and one of them was the little pub in Cropredy. We were able to play in the car park which we filled and put out on YouTube and our website. It was great fun, despite the weather.”

Circumstances have dictated that the music business has had to become more innovative over the past eighteen months. We see gigs being streamed, musician are recording in their home studios. There’s been a lot of new ideas emerging.

“We’ve streamed a couple of things where we’ve had a massed choir singing Meet on the Ledge, which has become an anthem for us, but we haven’t wanted to do one of those concerts where we sit in our houses and perform. We’re a bit technophobic, especially the older members. For us the appeal in music is to be on stage in front of an audience, which is why this recording from Cropredy was so important for us. That’s why we’re so excited about going back on the road.

Amongst your next dates are festivals in Bedworth and Nuneaton.

“We’ve not done either before. We do the theatre in Chipping Norton every year. Most of us are based in Oxfordshire, I live in Brittany now. I’ve had a house here for sixteen years and with Brexit and Covid I couldn’t keep travelling so I stayed here but I still have a house in Banbury and when we work that’s my base. Cropredy is where I used to live, the festival has been going for over forty years and attracts twenty thousand. We’re very proud of it. It’s not a folk festival, it’s very eclectic. We’ve had Alice Cooper, Brian Wilson, the main criteria is that we have to love the acts. Robert Plant graces us with his presence sometimes, we’ve had Steve Winwood, Little Feat from America. It’s a fabulous festival.

“We couldn’t out it on because although we had permission the regulations were so vague there wasn’t time. We just didn’t have time to put it together. We were sitting on the money from ten thousand tickets and we hadn’t spent any of it. We could pay certain key workers and it got to the point where the only way we could make sure the festival could happen would be to spend that money and then if we’d had to cancel we could have had to go bankrupt because we couldn’t have paid that money back.

“It was different in 2021 so a few festivals were abler to go ahead but that dangerous cut-off point was when we didn’t have enough positive advice from the government and there was no insurance back-up. We’ve never had any kind of sponsorship, it’s always been us at risk and it was just too much of a liability. Many of the people we employ and we hire generators and trucks and tents from, many of them went out of business because they couldn’t do any of their jobs in 2020.”

Hopefully it’s coming to an end and us audiences are going to be able to smile again.

“And vice versa, because without you, we wouldn’t be making music if we didn’t have an audience. We get into music by playing round our mate’s dad’s garage or their front room when the house it empty but the older you get and the more you’ve achieved the less that sounds attractive.”

There aren’t many who’ve achieved as much as you, nor for that matter are there many cities that have given as much as Birmingham.

“Absolutely. I’m very proud of Birmingham and the scene that started off with half of Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, the Moody Blues, Spencer Davis. Jeff Lynne – he has exactly the same accent as when he was a teenager. What a talent.”