Saturday, 10 May 2014

Fairport Convention - 'Heyday - BBC Radio Sessions 1968-69/Extended' (Island)

Heyday was Fairport's album of radio sessions from the early era of the band, but not the earliest - it's all Sandy Denny here, sans-Dyble, and while they were theoretically writing material like 'Meet on the Ledge' and recording albums as great as Unhalfbricking, this collection shows them cutting loose and mostly delivering rave-up cover versions. If Fairport was folk-rock, this shows that the rock came first; the only British traditionals appear as the bonus tracks, though this CD is all about the bonus tracks. I actually had the original Heyday CD, which was only the first 12 cuts here, and then upgraded to this expanded reissue when it came out. The album proper is almost a classic of its own - the band goes through Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Gene Clark songs with varying aplomb, and there's a few originals such as the great 'If It Feels Good, You Know It Can't Be Wrong', by Thompson and Ashley Hutchings. Of course, no more false words have ever been written, but on that track, the debt to American rambling folk-rock is laid on thick. This is perhaps the least British Fairport Convention ever -- their smashing version 'Reno, Nevada' shows how much they fetishised American folk culture -- but some of the most fun. And Joe Boyd contributes to the liner notes, explaining how he pushed them to define a more distinctly British sound, which I think everyone can thank him for. These are Peel Sessions from before the term really existed and thus have that thin, spontaneous Maida Vale sound, with reverb on the live vocals (most evident on 'Fotheringay's haunting background voices and 'Si Tu Dois Partir'). It's only the bonus disc that starts to creep later, material-wise, into 1969 and into far more British fare. Here we get 'Nottamun Town', 'Fotheringay', 'Reynardine' and 'Tam Lin', all of which defined and distinguished Fairport Convention from the other masses of Dylan-gazing folk-hippies, and you can hear why. Thompsons's shredding on 'Nottamun' is great with Martin Lamble's congas, and it's like a hash den at times, all the more affecting when juxtaposed with a strident Jackson C. Frank cover. The version of 'Tam Lin' to close it out is a scorcher, as good as the album version and a million miles from 'Gone, Gone, Gone' earlier on the disc. It's an appropriate finish to something as conclusively 'fun' as this album, with a burning light that lingers after the disc has stopped spinning.

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