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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
The heart of the song
Look, rhodri told us what he thinks and what someone else thinks about the Free French gig at the Water Rats last Tuesday, and everybody else has mentioned it, so there's not much I can add, is there? Music journalism doesn't come naturally to me, & I don't feel that coming out with a batch of clichés is any better tribute to a band than just saying "dude, they were great". Anyway, they were great, and their lyrics (which I have already been plundering for sigs and catchphrases) have now given me a new tagline for my life: "Hilariously unprepared but crucially prepared to have a go". I'm going to sound like a teeny fangirl for saying this, but frankly if a band makes me want to write their lyrics all over my pencil-case then I'm theirs.

I liked The Vichy Government, too, but I think I'd've liked them more if they could have sorted out the balance between the keyboards and the vocals (hint: if your music is basically poetry with a backing-track, DON'T DROWN THE WORDS). The venue's acoustics may have been partly to blame for the imbalance but really, guys, if the keyboard makes my bowels quiver, it's probably too loud. Or am I just getting old?

***

A more complete contrast could hardly be imagined than Fairport Convention at the Corn Exchange on Sunday. Giants of folk rock, with 35 years of experience (and back-catalogue!) to draw on, they can always be relied on to give a good show... or so I thought. Unfortunately, this was definitely not the gig I'd have chosen as an introduction to the band for Fairport-virgin addedentry. It may seem churlish to complain about a band concentrating on their new material rather than old favourites, particularly when most of the people on stage weren't even in the band when the old favourites were released (Simon Nicol is a founding member, Dave Pegg joined in the 1960s, but the others are all 1990s Johnnies-come-lately) ... but when the new songs seem to be taking a band which was once a pioneer of progressive folk ever further into the fields of MOR and soft-rock, there may be cause for complaint. Tellingly (no pun intended), the best of the new batch isn't even a Fairport original -- a dark and brooding rendition of Ralph McTell's "The Girl from the Hiring Fair" -- and close on its heels is the lively "John Gaudie", an old Chris Leslie song from his years with Whippersnapper. It's a fine song, but if even the resident songwriter is reduced to trawling his old material for the new album, something's gone wrong.

However, they're still a bunch of great musicians; and when everything comes together they still have the power to amaze. Any song featuring a Leslie/Sanders duet is a guaranteed success, whether they're playing fiddles back-to-back or going head-to-head in a double mandolin attack; it's not just their effortless virtuosity, but the sheer infectious joy they display. And the band do justice to the classic tracks: "Crazy Man Michael" is superb (even though Nicol can't hold a candle to Richard Thompson), "Matty Groves" still manages to sound fresh (and not just because of the introductory shenanigans in which the opening bars are morphed into 'Suicide is Painless', complete with Ric Sanders twirling his violin bow in a daft impression of a helicopter), and it would be a heartless Fairport fan who wasn't moved by lighter-waving anthem "Meet on the Ledge". But is this enough? Not enough to make me buy the new album.

On the other hand, it's a shame we only arrived in time to hear the last set of pieces by mandolin-playing support act Simon Mayor and Hilary James, and not only because it's not every day you get to see and hear a mandobass; their sparsely beautiful chamber-folk had an immediacy that Fairport seem to be losing, and Mayor's effortless fingerstyle could beat Chris Leslie hands down.

***

As much as a reminder to myself as a notification to others, more gigs to look forward to over the next few weeks: The London Sinfonietta and Jonny Greenwood at the Royal Festival Hall on March 27th; The Tears at the Junction on April 18th; and, if I can make it to London on a weeknight, there's Momus and The Free French at Bush Hall on Wednesday 27th April.
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Comments
rhodri From: rhodri Date: February 22nd, 2005 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you enjoyed it.

That line is one of my favourites. I can't even remember writing it. That's probably why I like it. Best with punctuation, though:

"Hilariously unprepared but, crucially, prepared to have a go."

The Vichy Government always have that problem, when I've seen them. It even extends to their first album. ""Lift the top end, compress, turn up", I would scream to the soundman if I didn't think they'd punch me.

Oh, and 27th: You mustn't forget Stars In Battledress who are utterly, utterly sublime.
barrysarll From: barrysarll Date: February 22nd, 2005 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't really know what that thing you want to shout means, but my favourite Vichy shows are normally the ones where the keyboard's cranked up loud enough and distorted enough to sound like it's going to break the speakers, the audience or itself. Without the evil sonics, the performance would just feel too much like spoken word, and I don't think it's nearly so effective that way.
atommickbrane From: atommickbrane Date: February 22nd, 2005 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Jaysus I'd forgotten that BASS! (how low can you go) problem - I felt it pounding my GUTS at the start but perhaps someone tweaked something (perhaps Rhodri can tell me what I mean) and the pain lessened. I appreciate the music as pain theory (the rise and sprawl of HORRIBLE NOISE hurrah!!) but er, there's not really ENOUGH music to make it PROPERLY painful, you kno?
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, see, for me the words are the interesting bit. If I wanted to have my guts ripped out by a Casio with an attitude problem I'd, er, well, I dunno what I'd do, because I've never found myself actually wanting that.
barrysarll From: barrysarll Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, the lyrics are important! Probably even more important than the music - I normally get into the bands I really love via the lyrics. But if the right musical setting means I don't hear every word, I'd still rather have that than the music be too unassuming and deferential to the lyrics.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh I agree, but it wasn't a case of "I don't hear every word", it was a case of "I'm only hearing about one word in fifty". And that's just rub. Maybe I'm just going deaf, I dunno. :-/
rhodri From: rhodri Date: February 22nd, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're right - TVG's sound has got to be really raw, and buzzing. But you've still got to hear Jamie, otherwise there's little point.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
*blush* Punctuation noted - sorry!

I see that Stars In Battledress have some mp3s on their site, so I will go and have a listen when I'm on a computer which actually has working audio whatsits ...
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: February 22nd, 2005 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nobody holds a candle to Richard Thompson.

After bellinghwoman took me along to the last Fairport gig, I felt really odd for quite a long time. It was hearing all those songs that Thompson also does, done differently. (Not that they were done badly - far from it - just that they were done differently.)

It wasn't until the Thompson gig itself that my soul was finally at peace again.
rhodri From: rhodri Date: February 22nd, 2005 01:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I was to start investigating the work of Richard & Linda, do you have any suggestions as to where I might start?
(Deleted comment)
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's two answers!
boyofbadgers From: boyofbadgers Date: February 22nd, 2005 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
What hoiho said. Henry The Human Fly, the record Richard did between leaving Fairport and his first one with Linda, is also worth a listen, if only for the sublime 'Roll Over Vaughn Williams'.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: February 22nd, 2005 02:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
What hoiho said.

Though I'd also recommend Richard without Linda if you're not already considering that.
burkesworks From: burkesworks Date: February 22nd, 2005 03:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
...and if you consider Richard without Linda, there's no better place to begin than Rumour and Sigh. Otherwise, hoiho and bellinghman have got it in one.
Linda Peters is still around AFAIK, living in North Yorkshire, working on-and-off with Chris Simpson of Magna Carta, and still knocking back the booze.
(Deleted comment)
burkesworks From: burkesworks Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
She certainly popped up around Grassington quite recently.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
She was supposed to be playing at Cambridge Folk Festival two years ago, but pulled out at the last minute due to problems with her voice. They managed to get Fairport Convention in as a replacement though!
rhodri From: rhodri Date: February 22nd, 2005 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
She's Linda Kenis these days. Lives in Chelsea, or certainly did up to 3-4 years ago. She worked with David Thomas when I was working for his management company. Lovely woman.
julietk From: julietk Date: February 22nd, 2005 02:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
The London Sinfonietta and Jonny Greenwood at the Royal Festival Hall on March 27th

Ah, bother, we're going on the 28th. Still - fancy An Beverage, or even Foodstuffs, before the gig? (not like we live far from the RFH, really) I will have been DIYing all weekend & thus badly need to escape.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds like a good idea! Sort out specifics nearer the time? (I owe you an email anyway...)
julietk From: julietk Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sure - will stick it in my diary now, though, as a reminder.
From: rgl Date: February 22nd, 2005 02:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Emma and I are going to see Jonny Greenwood on the 27th too: seats F27-28, if that means anything to anyone.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
No idea what seats we're in (addedentry has the tickets) but we'll look out for you!
boyofbadgers From: boyofbadgers Date: February 22nd, 2005 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's what's always worried me about going to see Fairport. I love the late sixties/early seventies stuff, but fear a) poor quality new material and b) badly done versions of old classics.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
They don't do the old classics badly IMHO -- but obviously if you want to hear Sandy Denny singing the songs then there's no point going to the live shows!

The new material on "The Wood and the Wire" was pretty good, I thought, but they didn't play much of that this time. "XXXV" kinda passed me by but I see now that it includes "The Crowd" by Anna Ryder (or annA rydeR as she insists on spelling it), which they did on Sunday (with guest vocals from Anna) and it was rubbish.
burkesworks From: burkesworks Date: February 22nd, 2005 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tellingly (no pun intended), the best of the new batch isn't even a Fairport original -- a dark and brooding rendition of Ralph McTell's "The Girl from the Hiring Fair"

Not particularly new; this Ralph McTell song has been part of Fairport's live set for at least ten years or more.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 22nd, 2005 03:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, okay -- never heard them do it before, & I thought they implied that it was off the new album, but I may have got confused (or they may have only just got round to recording it!).
From: mzdt Date: March 2nd, 2005 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
indeed it goes back to the mid eighties - certainly part of the current set at Cropedy 87 & 89. ;-) I actually learnt it around that time, I might struggle remembering all the words now, though.

I've no objection to them carrying on playing anything they like, but it just doesn't work for me - even in the eighties I knew that I was there for the old stuff, not the new.

Having said that, if you're thinking of Cropredy this year, let me know... ;-)
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