Fairport Convention, Spa Centre, Leamington, February 8.
THE evening began with Yorkshire man John Watterson and his one-man crusade to keep the music and humour of singer/songwriter Jake Thackray alive. An easy going performer with a twinkle in his eye, this was a perfect support slot to get the crowd comfortable and in good spirits.
Highlights of his set, which had the audience chuckling throughout, included Tortoise - a tale of confusion between said animal and “crunchy pies” - and the funny and sweet “love song to a dog”, Our Dog.
I enjoyed his little Led Zeppelin spoof, which included snippets of Stairway To Heaven and, for his finale, headliners Fairport Convention walked on and joined in on Sister Josephine, a tale of a transvestite nun. The violins of Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders really added to the overall sound.
From the off, the quality of Fairport was obvious with their flowing, warm, rich sound and each and every varied instrument played to perfection. Their two sets mixed sad mournful tales and upbeat celebratory tunes perfectly, while the banter from the stage and the various greetings and dedications to audience members produced a feeling of real family and warmth in the room.
Highlights of the first set included a beautiful and delicate Fotheringay, with its exquisite acoustic guitar and violin work, Albert and Ted, a jaunty instrumental with cracking bass guitar work by Dave Pegg - which was introduced humorously as a fusion of of country and rap.
The second set included a spirited The Wood and the Wire,’Sir Patrick Spens - a sea faring tale from the bands 1970 album Full House - and, after admitting its inappropriate place in the set, ie not at the end of the show - the vocal harmony showpiece Farewell, Farewell. a number taken from the bands most famous album Leige and Lief.
Mercy Bay, a track from the bands most recent album of new material Festival Bell was for me one of the standout numbers of the evening, an atmospheric true life seafaring tale with the superb lead vocals of Simon Nicol, well-assisted by impressive vocal harmonies by the rest of the band. The performance was also enhanced by impressive, moody stage lighting.
One of the most emotionally charged parts of the evening was the simply gorgeous and heartfelt Who Knows Where the Time Goes, bringing back memories of the great Sandy Denny during which you could not hear a pin drop.
This was an evening of complete musical excellence from a band which is now an incredible 46 years in the business. They generate a warm friendly, almost family like atmosphere into the bargain.