Folk music is as hip now as it has ever been so it’s timely that Fairport Convention are back on the road because they completely revolutionised this most traditional of genres.
Fairport may have been going 48 years, but once again they are on their traditional Spring tour of smaller venues and according to long serving bassist Dave Pegg they are still keeping it fresh.
“Most of the material is from our new album Myths and Heroes, which came out this year, so we have 9 or 10 songs or instrumentals from that in the set,” says Dave. “But then we do old favourites that Fairport fans expect like Meet On the Ledge, Matty Groves and Festival Bell.
“We’ve never rested on our laurels, so we’ve always coming up new songs, or revisiting old songs with new arrangements. To be honest we’ve always enjoyed treading the boards as we’ve never sold vast quantities of albums or CDs ever in our career.
“There are so many albums we’ve put out, and a wealth of material to choose from, it’s never a problem for us to rings the changes and we’re always willing to have a go at new stuff.”
Pegg is too modest to say his energetic and more fluid basslines dramatically changed how all folk bassists play, and Fairport are still experimenting in their fifth decade as a unit.
“Chris Leslie on our new album plays the harmonica, and does it on stage, and he’s also playing harp which we can’t take on the road! He’d only had the harp for two weeks, and we got him to play it on a track called Man In the Water.
“Chris has written some fantastic songs for the CD and we’ve always used songs from our friends so Ralph McTell has written a lovely song called Clear Water which is especially for us really.
“There’s songs from Anna Ryder, PJ Wright and a friend of ours from Brittany called James Wood. It’s our first album for four years, and we’re really pleased with it, many people are saying it is as good as anything Fairport has done in the past.”
But these folk veterans are no fuddy duddies who can’t bear change – they even flirted with synths in the eighties – and they are pleased to see a new generation of young hotshots like The Unthanks and Sam Lee carry on the tradition.
“I’m very excited as this has happened over the last five to ten years with so many young people getting into traditional music,” notes Pegg. “What amazes me how good these young bands are especially if I compare them to what we were like as 17 or 18 year old musicians.
“There is no equivalent to Fairport as we came from a rock background, apart from Sandy Denny and Dave Swarbrick which came from the folk scene. The Fairport line up, and certainly myself, were already into rock music, the blues and r’n’b so we didn’t have much interest in traditional music.
“No young people did in those days in the late sixties so if you walked down the street with an accordion or violin under your arm you didn’t get a girlfriend. Now it’s different as there are some wonderful musicians and the standard of playing and creativity they’ve come up with is just staggering.
“We always have the winner of BBC Folk Young Performers award at our Cropredy festival, that is coming up In August, and they are always absolutely brilliant. The interest in traditional music is greater than it has ever been and certainly greater than I can remember it.”
Cropredy had grown from a small event that featured various permutations of the many people who have been in Fairport, including Swarbrick and the Peerless Richard Thompson, to a major showcase for bands that rarely feature on the mainstream festival circuit.
“When we started it was me and my ex-wife, and we were the only band with our own festival. We’ve built it over the years to where we sold out last year with 20,000 people on the site.
“We’re very proud of it as there are so many festivals around, it’s become the thing to do, but Cropredy has always been seen as a proper music festival. It’s a very eclectic line up we put on so we this year we have acts like Emmylou Harris, Fish, Level 42 and ourselves. There’s only one stage so you get your place in the field and it’s a very family orientated weekend.
“The reason it is such a success is that people come back year after year to meet up with old friends and many of our younger audience were conceived there.”
Very few bands totally redefine their own genre, but with innovative albums like Liege and Lief, Full House and Babbacombe Lee they sent the aran jumper, finger in their ear folk old guard packing.
“Fairport were labelled was labelled folk rock when Liege and Lief came out in 1969, but it was really the first album in the British Isles that blended rock instruments with traditional tunes and used a violin.
“Fairport Convention has been a big influence for many bands who often name check us in interviews, and I’m sure even people like Mumford and Sons would give us some credit.”
Fairport Convention play Hebden Bridge Trades Club June 2, St Helens Citadel June 4, Bury Met June 6 and the 11th Wirral Folk Festival June 11. For details of the Cropredy Festival go to www.fairportconvention.com/cropredy.php