Fairport Convention played its first concert in a church hall in May 1967. Based in suburban north London, the group had coalesced around bass guitarist Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings.
The youngsters ‘convened’ for rehearsals at a house named Fairport, the family home of rhythm guitarist Simon Nicol. Thus was born the name of a band that has endured for over five decades.
As well as Hutchings and Nicol, there was lead guitarist Richard Thompson and Shaun Frater on drums.
However, that initial line-up only played the one gig. A young drummer, Martin Lamble, was in the church hall audience and he convinced the band that he could do a better job than the incumbent. It was the first of the bewildering flurry of line-up changes that characterised Fairport’s first fifteen years.
Fairport soon augmented its line-up with a female singer, Judy Dyble, which set it apart from the dozens of other bands springing up from the fast-moving youth culture of that summer.
Fairport found no shortage of work and was soon a regular act at underground venues such as The Electric Garden, Middle Earth and UFO.
The band had only been playing a few months when they caught the ear of Joe Boyd who secured them a contract with Island Records. Boyd suggested they augment the line-up with another male vocalist and so Iain Matthews joined the band and the first album, Fairport Convention, came out before the end of 1967.
At this early stage, Fairport looked to America for material and inspiration. “The two lead vocalist approach appealed to us,” Matthews recalls. “and because of our name and onstage presence, lots of people thought we were American, and we were not about to attempt to dispel that presumption.” This led to the band being dubbed ‘the British Jefferson Airplane’.
By the time the second LP, What We Did On Our Holidays, was released Judy Dyble had been replaced by Sandy Denny, a folk singer who had previously recorded as a soloist and with the Strawbs.
The third album, Unhalfbricking, featured a guest appearance by Birmingham folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick. This album, like its predecessor, mixed strong original material with contemporary songs by artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.
Radio DJ John Peel (pictured right with Sandy Denny) was a staunch champion of Fairport’s music. He played the band’s albums on his influential BBC shows. Peel also recorded a number of BBC sessions which were later released later as the album Heyday pictured.
By now the band was on the cusp of inventing folkrock, a hybrid of imaginative revivals of traditional material with modern instrumentation and rhythms. Richard Thompson had developed into an exceptionally talented and inventive guitarist, and the band was increasingly penning its own material
Fairport Convention even entered the singles charts with Si Tu Dois Partir, a French language version of Bob Dylan’s If You Gotta Go. The record just missed the top twenty but got the band a slot on Top Of The Pops (pictured left).
Things were looking rosy when disaster struck. Fairport’s van crashed on the M1 motorway on the way home from a gig in Birmingham. Martin Lamble – just 19 years old – and Jeannie Franklyn, Richard Thompson’s girlfriend, were killed. The rest of the band suffered injuries of varying severity.
The young musicians nearly decided to call it a day. But they didn’t and, once recovered, they went back into the studio. Matthews had left the band by then and Dave Mattacks took over the vacant drum stool. The resulting LP, Liege And Lief, was a classic. This was arguably Fairport Convention’s finest album and established British folkrock as a distinct and influential genre.
Liege And Lief was launched with a sell-out concert in London’s Royal Festival Hall late in 1969. Dave Swarbrick had made a big contribution to the project and he now joined the band full-time.
1970s – major changes
Despite the triumph of Liege And Lief, founder member Ashley Hutchings quit to form Steeleye Span. To compound Fairport’s problems, Sandy Denny also left the band.
Dave Pegg took over on bass guitar and has been in the band ever since, an unbroken stint of 34 years. Sandy Denny was irreplaceable so the band decided to continue without a female singer.
All the band members and their families moved in to The Angel, a former pub in Hertfordshire. There was nearly another tragedy when a runaway lorry crashed into the building. Dave Swarbrick was rudely awoken as the truck demolished his bedroom, leaving him unhurt but covered in rubble.
The next Fairport album was Full House but soon after its release Richard Thompson left the band. Simon Nicol was now the only original member.
The band played on. Dave Swarbrick developed a folkrock opera called Babbacombe Lee and life in the ex-pub inspired the LP Angel Delight. The two albums were the first time the same Fairport line-up had recorded consecutively – every other release had seen changes in personnel from its predecessor.
Simon Nicol left Fairport early in 1972, followed by Dave Mattacks although both would rejoin later. That left the two Daves, Pegg and Swarbrick, holding the band together.
The following few years were dubbed ‘Fairport Confusion’ as a bewildering sequence of band members came and went. Of the albums released during this period, Fairport Nine and Rosie were probably the most successful.
In 1974, Sandy Denny rejoined Fairport Convention for a couple of years. She is featured on the album Rising For The Moon but she left again in 1976.
Having come to the end of the contract with Island Records, Fairport signed up with Vertigo. By now, the line-up had stabilised and Simon Nicol was back in the band. But after two of four contracted albums, Vertigo wanted out – in fact, the label ended up paying Fairport Convention not to make albums.
’79 – “Aww, mama, can this really be the end?”
In 1979 the band had no record deal and Dave Swarbrick’s hearing was deteriorating rapidly. Fairport decided to call it a day. The band did a farewell tour and played a final outdoor concert in Cropredy, the Oxfordshire village where Dave and Christine Pegg lived. No record company wanted to release the live recordings of the tour and concert so the Peggs started Woodworm Records and released it themselves.
After a year, Fairport Convention staged a re-union concert in Cropredy and the famous festival was born. Over the next few years, it grew rapidly. Soon Fairport was staging New Year gigs and playing in Scandinavia. The Peggs continued to record and release the Cropredy concerts as ‘official bootlegs’.
Meanwhile, Dave Pegg had joined Jethro Tull and Simon Nicol had teamed up with Dave Swarbrick in an acoustic duo. In 1985 both Pegg and Nicol had some spare time. Dave Mattacks (pictured left) was free too. They decided to record an album of new material in the Peggs’ studio.
1985 – stability at last
Dave Swarbrick declined to join the new band so violin virtuoso Ric Sanders, formerly of Soft Machine, was invited to participate. Multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock was also recruited and the five-piece recorded Fairport’s only all-instrumental album Expletive Delighted.
With its mix of old stagers and new blood, this proved to be Fairport Convention’s longest-lasting line-up – eleven years.
In the early nineties, a four-piece acoustic line-up emerged, the two versions of Fairport running in parallel. Woodworm continued to record and release the band’s studio albums and live ‘boots’.
Maartin Allcock left in the mid-90s and was replaced by Chris Leslie on mandolin and fiddle. Chris proved to be a talented songwriter and has made a significant contribution to the band’s repertoire.
In 1998, Dave Mattacks moved to the USA and Gerry Conway, who had travelled a parallel musical road to Fairport for 30 years, took over on drums and percussion.
Into the 21st century
The new century found Fairport in fine form. Concert halls were full and records were selling well. The year 2000 was marked by the very successful ‘Y2K’ tour and a new studio album, The Wood And The Wire.
Fairport Convention won the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2002 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The seminal album Liege And Lief was voted ‘Best Folk Album Ever’ by Radio 2 listeners. In Summer 2006, Liege And Lief was awarded a Gold Disc for its continuing sales.
Fairport Convention is still one of the busiest bands around. The current line-up of Simon Nicol (lead vocal, rhythm and electric guitars), Dave Pegg (backing vocals, bass guitar, mandolin), Ric Sanders (violin) and Chris Leslie (lead vocal, fiddle, bouzouki, banjo, mandolin and woodwind) still packs venues on its frequent tours.
The band released their new live recording from their 50th anniversary concert at 2018’s Cropredy Festival “What We Did On Our Saturday” featuring the current line up, plus former Fairporters Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Judy Dyble, Dave Mattacks, Iain Matthews and Maartin Allcock, ably assisted by their friends Ralph McTell, Sally Barker, Chris While and PJ Wright. This was Maart’s last appearance with the band as he died shortly after the festival.
Each year starts with Fairport covering the length and breadth of Britain on its Winter Tour (Wintour). This is folowed by a more relaxed Spring tour and in August, the band stages Fairport’s Cropredy Convention music festival in Oxfordshire.
Each December the band’s time is occupied by side-projects and their respective Christmas tours. Simon tours with The Albion Christmas Band; Peggy with Anthony John Clarke; Ric with the Ric Sanders Trio; Chris with St Agnes Fountain.
Fairport released a new studio album – ‘Shuffle and Go’ – in January 2020. Unfortunately, the release to the shops coincided with the Covid pandemic and numerous lock-downs which resulted in relatively poor sales, despite the very positive reviews.
Fairport celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ‘Full House’ album two years too late thanks to COVID. However, the release of the Cropredy Full House set with Dave Mattacks and Richard Thompson entitled ‘Full House For Sale’ is a wonderful tribute that very fine album.
“Fairport did for real ale what the Grateful Dead did for LSD”
Copyright Fairport Convention 2019
Simon was born on 13 October 1950 and brought up in north London. He is a founding member of Fairport Convention, joining the band at its inception in 1967.
As a teenager, he met local musician Ashley Hutchings. They – with others – formed Fairport Convention, taking the name from Simon’s house ‘Fairport’ where the band rehearsed.
Fairport Convention became hugely successful after vocalist Sandy Denny joined the band. However, after Sandy left Simon found himself taking a more prominent role on stage. He also became more involved in studio work and production.
During the 1970s, Simon took a four-year break from Fairport working on various projects as both producer and musician, collaborating with Dave Swarbrick and The Albion Country Band among others.
Simon rejoined Fairport in 1975 and has been the band’s main guitarist and lead singer ever since. However, he has continued to work with other musicians including Dave Swarbrick and Ashley Hutchings and has toured with, among others, Beverley Craven and Art Garfunkel. Simon has also released two solo albums.
Simon lives in Canterbury in Kent
Dave was born on 2 November 1947 and brought up in Acocks Green, Birmingham. He joined Fairport Convention in 1969.
As a teenager, Dave became involved in Birmingham’s vibrant 60s rock scene. He soon found himself playing guitar most evenings with one or other of the city’s young bands. Later, Dave auditioned as a lead guitarist with The Uglys but was persuaded to swap to bass guitar and has played the instrument ever since.
After a spell with The Uglys, Dave joined the Ian Campbell Folk Group on double bass and met fiddle maestro Dave Swarbrick by whom he was introduced to Fairport Convention. He joined them and has been in the band ever since.
In 1980, he joined Jethro Tull as bass player and spent 15 years with the band. As if playing in two bands was not enough, he set up Woodworm Records to produce and market Fairport’s albums. He also recorded a solo album.
Dave has also co-organised Fairport’s Cropredy festival since the early 1980s. From small beginnings, it has grown into a major event that attracts 20,000 fans each August.
As well as recording and touring with Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull, Dave is much in demand as a session player and has contributed bass to innumerable recordings. He is also an accomplished mandolin player.
Dave splits his time between his homes in Banbury, Oxfordshire and Merlevenez, Brittany.
Ric was born on 8 December 1952 and brought up in Birmingham. He joined Fairport Convention in 1985.
The violin was Ric’s first love and he took up the instrument as a youngster. His first professional engagement was in 1972, touring Europe with Stomu Yamashta’s Red Buddah Theatre.
During the mid-1970s Ric was in demand as a jazz soloist and worked with, among others, Michael Garrick, Johnny Patrick and legendary jazz pianist Jaques Dieval. In the late 1970s, Ric pursued both his folk and jazz interests as a member of, respectively, The Albion Band and Soft Machine. He toured and recorded with both bands. With The Albion Band, Ric performed at the National Theatre.
In 1980, Ric and Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge formed Second Vision. They recorded an album and toured extensively. Ric next teamed up with guitarist Vo Fletcher in music education projects: the duo supported a Musicians Union initiative in schools and recorded for BBC television.
Since 1985, Ric has played full-time with Fairport Convention but has continued to take an active interest in jazz and other musical forms. He has collaborated with June Tabor, Andrew Cronshaw and Martin Simpson among others and also recorded solo albums and a violin tuitional introduced by Jools Holland. His session credits include Roy Harper, Jethro Tull, Strawbs, Pentangle, Gerry Rafferty, Loudon Wainwright III, Robert Plant, The Fureys, and Ashley Hutchings among many others.
As well as Fairport Convention, Ric has his own trio, The Ric Sanders Trio, with Vo Fletcher and Mike Gregory. The group performs a wide repertoire of jazz and swing and recently has collaborated with Banbury-based Anjali Dance Company.
Ric lives in Bloxham, Oxfordshire.
Chris was born on 15 December 1956 and he was brought up in north Oxfordshire. He joined Fairport Convention in 1996.
Inspired by local musicians, Chris began playing the fiddle at the age of thirteen. One of his early influences and, later, his mentor was Fairport Convention’s then-fiddler Dave Swarbrick.
In 1976, Chris and his brother John Leslie began performing as a duo and they recorded an album in 1976. Chris also played with singer-songwriter Steve Ashley, touring extensively in the UK and continental Europe. Chris studied violin making in Nottinghamshire and completed his three-year course in 1983. Back to Oxfordshire, he was invited to tour with Dave Pegg to promote Dave’s solo album.
Dave Swarbrick invited Chris to become a founder member of the pioneering acoustic group Whippersnapper. This band made several albums and toured the UK, Europe and the USA. Chris also toured with rock group All About Eve.
During the 1990s, Chris worked as a duo with Whippersnapper guitarist Kev Dempsey, collaborated with folk pianist Beryl Marriott, and was a member of Simon Mayor’s Mandolin Quartet. He also played fiddle on tour with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
In 1995 Chris joined The Albion Band, touring and recording with them before joining Fairport Convention the next year. As well as playing and recording with them, Chris has contributed many songs to Fairport’s repertoire.
In the run-up to Christmas each year, Chris tours with seasonal group St Agnes Fountain. His session credits include work for Ralph McTell, Steve Ashley, Alan Stivell, Chris While and Julie Mathews, Jez Lowe, Christine Collister, Maartin Allcock, The Melstock Band, Kieran Halpin, John Wright, All About Eve, and Mostly Autumn. Chris has also recorded four solo albums.
Chris lives in Adderbury, Oxfordshire.