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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Fairport Convention - 'House Full' (Hannibal)

Here's one I got for free somehow, which is a live recording of the 1970 Fairport lineup, post-Lamble, post-Denny. Just five guys trying to make the best of their iconic vocalist's departure. The liner notes, written by Joe Boyd in the 60s, are somewhat dismissive of the Full House album and of later Fairport in general (referring to a 'long, slow, sometimes ungraceful but always spirited decline'). But he insists that this 1970 band was a tight unit, not captured on the studio recording, and thus this live gig from Los Angeles in September 1970 is presented to support his argument. It's a good live recording - a bit lacking in the low end, but this is a CD after all - and the 'reluctant vocalists' Thompson and Swarbrick (again, Boyd's words) sound pretty confident to me, especially on 'Banks of the Sweet Primroses' where they exude a casual confidence which sounds striking, or maybe I just like English accents. The band is overall playing a bit fast, or at least with a spring in their step. The instrumentals are particularly fierce - 'Mason's Apron' sounds like something off Camper Van Beethoven's second album, and the climax of 'Matty Groves' never sounded better. As a band, the material has shifted really strongly towards the 'folk' in 'folk-rock' (which is a nice juxtaposition with the Heyday CD we just listened to) and also leads to more extended meandering solos by Thompson, which are always welcome. He seems to just stick some extra notes in hidden places, here and there, and it's a casual grace that he masters when he starts making solo records a few miserable years later. The centerpiece, of course, is 'Sloth' - I've already proclaimed my love for this song elsewhere, and that remains on this version, if it isn't amplified. The fierce buildup about 8 minutes in is even more aggro than the studio version, and the raw live edges are perfect for the come down, when Swarbrick starts to delicately pluck the violin strings around the cadence. It's like he's trying to tease the beast of a melody into revving up again and it works wonders. I love this song and even though this lineup of Fairport is slightly lackluster,  I can't imagine 'Sloth' with Sandy Denny -- the sense of resignation and frustration is distinctly male. The closing cut, 'Battle of the Somme', is delicate in a way that it feels out of place, especially after 'Mason's Apron', but maybe that's just my own itchy nervousness coming into play.

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