Fairport Convention,
(Compass, 2002)

Once there were fiddles and pipes. Then there were Aran sweaters and guitars. Then there were protest singers. But 35 years ago a new light dawned. Folk found drums and electric amplification. In some cases, the beat drowned the muse but with Fairport Convention the marriage was made in heaven and folk found a new audience. Old tunes got new life. New tunes were written and we all could have our own folk music.

Has it really been 35 years since this magical group first hit the airwaves? This is vintage folk performed by a group that defined our love of folk music in a new era. If you have been hibernating for the past 3.5 decades or if you want to recapture the 1970s rebirth of British and Celtic folk music, give XXXV a listen.

"Madeleine" is a great opener either in live performance or on a CD. The beat, the voices and the music interweave with some lovely words that can lift any spirit. "My Love is in America" should not be confused with a similar song, which uses the name "Amerikay." This Chris Leslie song is much more recent and it sounds great, especially with the drum sound.

The band returns to traditional tunes given a new lease of life with a driving beat on "The Happy Man." This started as a Morris dance tune but the group makes it their own. "The Crowd" is a relatively new song written by a lady who spells her name in a magical way: annA rydeR. To my mind this is an anthem of the great folk festivals of the early days of this group when open-air venues, mud and other substances mingled with great music and dreams. There is a beautiful reprise of this track featuring the writer and a less elaborate musical backing on track 14. Listen to both and enjoy a double pleasure.

"The Banks of Sweet Primroses" is another traditional song with that fabulous drum beating out time that adds a new dimension to the sentiments of the song. Folk music is nothing unless it gives voice to the lost and the despised.

One of my favourite tracks on this CD is "The Deserter," written by John Richards. No one who has read of the horror of our wars can listen to this tune without a sense of outrage and understanding as the singer says, "I can't see how murdering somebody could bring peace to some foreign land." We need to hear more songs like this as they tell a real tale with great music and true feeling.

XXXV is a fitting tribute and reminder of Fairport Convention. It will bring their driving folk music to a whole new generation while reminding us of the golden age of electric folk-rock. The insert is well produced with lyrics and some notes on the tracks along with pictures of the performers.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 25 January 2003

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