Review: Fairport Convention

Richard Nevin basks in the familiarity of Fairport Convention at Dudley Town Hall.

Some say nostalgia is a negative thing, eschewing the tried and trusted for progression and all things new but great comfort can be gained from the familiar, the traditional, that which delights even after prolonged exposure. That warm feeling of something close, something valued and above all else something enjoyed.

And that was the overriding feeling that emanated from Dudley Town Hall on a wet Sunday night, a gathering long in the memory and in the tooth. Borne out by the t-shirts, beards and friendly exchanges: Fairport Covention were back in town.

I’m ashamed to say that I was unaware that Dudley even had a town hall, despite living just up the road. It’s wonderful building and has been kept smart and clean but with the council crisis sweeping the nation one wonders how long places like this will survive the cold hand of the accountant and developers, eventually giving us the ‘unique opportunity’ to purchase a 2 bedroom duplex. Whatever one of those is.

Having shook off damp coats and hats we welcomed Yorkshire due Plumhall, who opened proceedings with a short set of acoustic and contemporary compositions, gaining favour in 20 short minutes. They remained on stage as the headline act accompanied them on their final tune One Star Awake before leaving, but not for the last time it transpired, as Fairport took over.

The history of Fairport is well documented and should Pete Frame try to get a handle on the comings and goings over the last 57 years of the band we’d be looking at a forest, or at least a large copse, rather than a family tree. So I’ll stick to the five members currently in the line up and on the Dudley stage. Ric Sanders, Simon Nicol, Chris Leslie and Dave Pegg are joined by legendary folk drummer Dave Mattocks who has passed through the Fairport revolving door once more. Acocks Green-born Peggy, as he is affectionally known, almost acts a de-facto leader probably due to long service, but all the band address the audience at one time or another, proving jocular and relaxed as that familiarity comes to the fore again. Sanders even gets a 5 minute stand up set prior to his fiddle showcase Steampunkery.

We’re taken on a journey through the years and decades, via the oceans, the wars, loves lost and found, infidelity and revenge and even UFO sightings in a carefully constructed set of songs reflecting all the Convention eras. There were nods to those who left the band and those who passed, notably Richard Thompson, who originally composed an early highlight of the night for me, Genesis Hall, a song from 1969 that deals with homelessness and bigotry, proving that while we’ve all got the older the world hasn’t really changed that much.

Dave Swarbrick is remembered fondly, as is Trevor Lucas and even our own Steve Gibbons gets a mention as Peggy recalls times passed. The show climaxes with the wonderful Hiring Fair, a relatively modern tune, only 39 years old, written by Ralph McTell but rendered expertly by Nicol who possesses a similar voice. This is swiftly followed by folk standard Matty Groves, a two chord wonder as Nicol had it but no less powerful.

Plumhall re-enter proceedings as the inevitable Meet On The Ledge brings the night to a close. There’s no better singsong to get the arms waving, eyes moist and amplify that warm, comfortable feeling that has both the band and fans joining together regularly after all these years.

This was the final night of Fairport’s winter tour and the band will resurface once more for their own summer festival at Cropredy, joined by a whole host of other fine acts, and then who knows? Hopefully another spin around the country in the coldest months of the year, bringing a warm glow to a town near you.