Fairport Convention A Sense of Occasion Matty Grooves
Gottle O' Geer Bonnie Bunch of Roses Tipplers' Tales Universal
Old New Borrowed and Blue Talking Elephant
On the Ledge: 35th Anniversary Concert/Live Secret
Iconic English folk-rockers Fairport Convention are commemorating their fortieth anniversary this year, and there are a slew of re-issues to help them celebrate it, as well as their new album A Sense of Occasion. The classic line-up of Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie and Gerry Conway is now probably the longest-serving Fairport constellation, and on this new record they keep to their idiosyncratic path with five new Chris Leslie originals (of which the best is the bedded-in live favourite Edge of the World) and a brace of rousing Ric Sanders instrumentals, including the fantastic Bowman's Return. There are some cracking covers, including a brilliant version of Cropredy guest Glenn Tilbrook's Untouchable and Andy Partridge's Love on a Farmboy's Wage, whilst the talented Pete Scrowther provides the group with the rollicking Hawkwood's Army (which showcases Simon Nicol's superb vocals). Fans will be divided by the re-recordings of two classic tracks, but Liege and Lief's marvellous Tam Lin suits the current line-up, and Simon does a fantastic job of taking on the late Trevor Lucas's role in Polly on the Shore (originally recorded on the classic Nine album). In other words, this is a marvellous album from a band line-up that continues to go from strength to strength. I can't wait for Cropredy this year.
The next trio of albums are the last three recorded in the seventies by Fairport, at that time reduced to a trio of Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg, and Bruce Rowland. Gottle O' Geer was their last release on Island in 1976, and it limped out rather than swaggered. The tracks are somewhat half-formed, and a lot give the impression of having seemed like a good idea at the time, although Cropredy Capers, Limey's Lament and Sandy's Song are all worthy additions to the canon. 1977's Bonnie Bunch of Roses saw the homecoming of original member Simon Nicol, and the band's return to trad. arr. with a vengeance. The end product sounds superb. 1978's Tipplers' Tales is loosely connected with drinking, and its wonderful versions of Jack O'Rion and John Barleycorn make it a must-have.
1996's Old New Borrowed and Blue, which has been unavailable for nearly a decade, makes a welcome return on CD. Featuring the Fairport acoustic line-up of Dave Pegg, Simon Nicol, Maart Allcock and Ric Sanders, it is an acoustic blast through the dustier regions of Fairport's back catalogue, with a few choice covers and new material like Maart's Lalla Rookh thrown in for good measure. Finally, On the Ledge catches the current line-up of Pegg, Nicol, Sanders, Leslie and Conway on the XXXV tour, celebrating Fairport's thirty-fifth anniversary. The songs form a great cross-section of the band's history, reflecting all the changes in line-up and musical styles over the years, but with a concentration on the trad. arr. material. With all the recorded banter, the album feels like a night in with the Fairport boys.
Although a lot of Fairport compilations are currently being reissued, for those who have an interest in the band the six releases reviewed here showcase the talents of a group who have never resisted change, but who are still making music that is as good now as when they began. Here's to the next forty years!
The Albion Dance Band Dancing Days Are Here Again Talking Elephant
The first disc of this double album captures the 1976 incarnation of Ashley Hutchings' legendary Dance Band playing at London's Festival Hall. The line-up of Simon Nicol, Shirley Collins, Michael Gregory, Dave Mattacks, and others performed a collection of material from the seminal Morris On album, including Princess Royal, as well as tracks from albums such as Kickin' up the Sawdust and The Prospect Before Us. Shirley Collins' vocals are fantastic throughout. Disc two is a collection of unreleased 1983 studio recordings performed by Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, Jean-Pierre Rasal and Dave Whetstone. Cleaned up for this reissue, these show the first eighties line-up working their way through a great collection of jigs and reels, some trad. arr. and some new. For fans of the Albion Band and trad English music, this is a fantastic release from Talking Elephant.
Dave Pegg and PJ Wright Galileo's Apology Matty Grooves
After enjoying themselves so much on tour last year, Fairport bassist Peggy and Little Johnny England guitarist PJ bring their vast musical experience and talent to this fantastic CD. PJ's opening Everything's Made in China (Fools' Paradise) is a fantastic comment on modern times, whilst songs by Peggy, like Song for Sandy [Denny], Bankrupted and Peggy's Pub, are revitalised. With excellent cover versions of Mark Knopfler's Donnegan's Gone and the Band's King Harvest, this is a brill recording of two mates, who also happen to be fantastic musicians, having a great time together.
Amazing Blondel On With the Show Secret
Another great release from Secret Records, this collection gathers together live recordings, archival material and unreleased tracks from the late sixties right through to the eighties. A trio originally from Scunthorpe, the Amazing Blondel made their name playing instrumentals from the Elizabethan period and releasing their own Elizabethan-influenced tracks. Original members John David Gladwin, Terry Wincott and Edward Baird all appear on this collection, either individually or as part of the ensemble. While they were part of the same genre as Fairport and Span, the band prove here that they nevertheless ploughed their own distinctive folk furrow.
Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band Paradise Found, a Celebration of Charles Wesley, 1707-1788 Park
The legendary voice of Steeleye Span, and a successful performer in her own right, on this record Maddy Prior reunites with the Carnival Band to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley, who wrote over 9,000 hymns. This album includes songs like Come Away to the Skies, Jesu If Still the Same Thou Art, and My God I Am Thine, all reproduced here in stunning form by Maddy and the band, who breathe new life into these old words. Christian songs will obviously not be everyone's cup of tea, yet, listening to this album from a non-denominational stand-point, it is evident that Wesley's work is both uplifting and spiritual, and that no-one is better placed than Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band to interpret it for a modern audience.
Martin Simpson Prodigal Son Topic
Martin Simpson, one of the roots scene's finest guitarists and performers, is releasing a new album this summer. His voice is in fine form, especially on the tracks Batchelors Hall (where he is accompanied by Kellie While), and Little Musgrave (the Appalachian version of the tune better known as Matty Groves). Most moving, however, are the songs written for his family, the hauntingly beautiful She Slips Away, written before his mother died, Mother Love, another lovely tune, written for his daughter, and Never Any Good, a song for his father enhanced by some beautiful vocals from Kate Rusby. This is a stunning album by Martin Simpson, whose reputation only grows with every passing year.
Rock and Pop
The Pirates Shakin' at the Beeb: The Complete BBC Sessions 1976-1978 Sanctuary
The mid-seventies, before the appearance of punk, were a strange musical landscape. The dregs of glam were fighting it out with prog at its most pompous, and there was also a short lived 'pub rock' scene, which allowed bands to return to bluesier, rockier rock-and-roll. What better time was there for Johnny Kidd's backing band The Pirates, Mick Green (guitar), Johnny Spence (vocals/bass) and Frank Farley (drums) to re-form? This double-disc set cherry-picks the band's best BBC performances, with raucous rock like Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, Please Don't Touch, and Shakin' All Over. It showcases the tautness that the Pirates honed through hard work and captures the buzz of playing live, demonstrating that in 1976 there were far more exciting forms of rock than punk, and ones which, arguably, have stood the test of time better.
Roy Wood and Wizzard Look Thru the Eyes of Roy Wood and Wizzard: Hits & Rarities, Brilliance & Charm, 1974-1987 Sanctuary
There have been so many compilation albums celebrating Roy Wood's genius that you have to ask: what does this two-disc set have that the other albums lack? To begin with, there's no feeling of cheap cashing-in on this album. It provides a brilliant introduction to the work of Roy Wood from the mid-seventies to the eighties, when his unique style of song-writing had fallen out of favour. Songs like the brilliant Any Old Time Will Do from the lost solo album Mustard and group material from the greatest Wizzard album that you never heard, Introducing Eddie and the Falcons, make you realise the breadth and depth of Wood's talent, and how shoddily he was treated. With a treasure trove of live and unreleased material, this set shows why Woody is the greatest pop songwriter living in England today.
Edsel Records are releasing the newly-remastered, definitive editions of pretty much everything Ian Gillan, starting with this batch of four classic albums. The music, as expected, is wonderful, the product of a period in which Gillan forged his solo identity away from the member-go-round that is Deep Purple. Mr Universe is the best of this batch of albums, with some quality songs including Roller and the title track Secret of the Dance, while Future Shock and Double Trouble include bonus B-sides and unreleased material and Glory Road comes complete with the second disc For Gillan Fans Only, which I believe is making its first-ever appearance on CD. For fans of English rock in general, and Deep Purple in particular, this is a great selection of music. As someone who already has some of the previous CD releases of these albums, I can safely say that the sound quality is superb.
Rick Wakeman Retro 2 President
Hot on the heels of Retro, Rick's album recorded using his arsenal of older keyboards, samplers, and other patches that were part of his seventies equipment, comes Retro 2. This is a fine collection of ten keyboard-led epics, with Rick doing what he does best: touches of Hammond organ here and Polymoog there, vocodors, and wah wah pedals all give the tracks the classic Wakeman touch. He is supported by Lee Pomeroy on bass, Dave Colquhoun on guitar, Tony Fernandez on drums, and his own daughter Jemma on vocals, while talented newcomer Elliot Tuffin adds the male vocals. Jemma is at her finest on the beautiful An Angel Spoke to Me, but, for me, the best track has to be the atmospheric and epic The Soundtrack, which could have come from any of Rick's early seventies albums. This is a fantastic Rick Wakeman album, one of his best records in recent years.
Badly Drawn Boy Born in the UK EMI
Damon Gough pays homage to Bruce Springsteen with the title of his fifth album (and first for EMI). Starting with the spoken word-introduced Swimming Pool and the narrative-driven title track, this album glides from songs of optimism and euphoria, including Welcome to the Overground and One Last Dance, to more melancholic material (the beautiful Nothing's Gonna Change Your Mind and Walk You Home Tonight). This is Badly Drawn Boy's second finest album, after the rather superb One plus One is One, and shows Gough broadening his musical horizons to create a gentle masterpiece.
Kasabian Empire Sony BMG
Released late last year, Midlands band Kasabian's second CD sees them taking all the best elements from their debut album and kicking it up a notch, making what was merely rocking positively anthemic. Empire, underpinned by dramatic strings, provides a fantastic opener. From there on it is hard to find fault with any of the songs on this well-paced record, from the brilliant Last Trip to the closing track The Doberman, which starts off sinister and soporific before exploding into a maniacal Mexican-influenced stand-off. If anyone saw Kasabian as a one-trick pony, this cracking album proves them wrong.
Jamie T Panic Prevention Virgin
Just Jack Overtones Universal
Lots of exciting new artists and musicians are emerging in England at the moment, and these are two very different London voices. Wimbledon's Jamie T takes the baton passed by Mike Skinner and runs with it on Panic Prevention. With a half-rap, half-singing style, he samples John Betjeman's poem The Cockney Amorist on the single Sheila (the epic Salvador was based on Up the Junction, apparently), creating songs that are all shaped by his own take on the world today. This is a collection of kitsch and sync dramas played out over scattering break-beats, nagging rhythms, and a regional accent that is decidedly London. This is a thrilling, though hit-and-miss, collection. Like a book of short stories, you can dip in and choose your favourites whilst skipping over the ones that don't quite work. It is an assured and intelligent debut, although my Dad would hate it.
Ploughing a similar furrow, but on entirely different terms, Jack Alsopp (otherwise known as Just Jack) on his second album Overtones combines his expertise as a jazz DJ with vocals that neatly capture the fifteen-minutes-of-fame phenomenon on the catchy single Starz in Their Eyes, rampant commercialism on the dark and brass-propelled Lost, the joys of being alive on Glory Days, and the agonies of trying to write on Writer's Block. A superb collection of musicians colour in Jack's sketches. Given his style, approach and musical nous, it is no surprise to learn that Jack was discovered by Chas Smith from Madness, and that his set on Later with Jools Holland last year went down a storm. Like Jamie T and the Long Blondes, Just Jack is an important musical commentator on contemporary life.