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Album review: Fairport Convention – Rising For The Moon (Folk Radio UK)

August 12, 2013

Fairport Convention - Rising For The MoonFor Fairport Convention, the early 1970s had been turbulent, to say the least: several members came and went (including Sandy Denny) and the halcyon days of Liege & Lief seemed to have been consigned to the dusty attic of British folk music’s history. Small wonder the period has been dubbed Fairport Confusion, although the recruitment of guitarist Jerry Donahue and Trevor Lucas (vocals and guitar), both former members of Fotheringay – the band Sandy Denny had formed in 1970 on her departure from Fairport – saw the beginning of a return to form, cemented by the return to the fold of Sandy Denny during a four night live stint at LA’s Troubadour in early 1974.

This motivated Island Records to commit to Fairport’s next studio recording – what would become Rising For The Moon – and Glyn Johns was brought in as producer. His reputation as engineer and producer for many of the top rock bands of the time preceded him but he may have seemed a slightly leftfield choice for a folk group. However, Fairport’s longstanding openness to other styles served them well and, combined with the discipline that Johns brought to the sessions, it proved to be an inspired decision. The fact that Sandy Denny either wrote or co-wrote seven of the eleven songs didn’t hurt, either.

The outcome was an album which stands the test of time and bears repeated listening nearly 40 years later. Sandy Denny sounds as good as she ever did, the “voice of heartbreak” (as Thea Gilmore described it in BBC4’s 2012 documentary Fairport Convention: Who Knows Where the Time Goes?) well to the fore but never dominating the band, who play with a confidence and tightness that is surely as much a testimony to the numerous rehearsals required by Glyn Johns as it is to the musicians’ individual talents.

That the title track should have been re-recorded by the current Fairport lineup on 2011’s Festival Bell is a good indicator of the strength and longevity of the writing. Stranger To Himself, written by Sandy Denny, is one of those songs whose apparent simplicity belies the complexity of its arrangement and the slow waltz that is White Dress (a Dave Swarbrick composition) had enough commercial appeal to be issued as the album’s only 7″ single. The lengthy closing track One More Chance is another highlight with Jerry Donahue’s guitar grabbing the coda by the scruff of its neck and demanding the listener’s attention until the final note.

As is often the case with reissues of classic albums, a second CD accompanies the original release. As is often not the case, it steers away from the usual ragbag of substandard outtakes and poor-quality demos and instead offers something well worth hearing: a live recording from the LA Troubadour the previous year (1974), where Sandy Denny rejoined Fairport.

Taken from the soundboard recordings made by engineer and studio owner Wally Heider, the sound quality is excellent throughout and the performance is a fascinating snapshot of this short-lived lineup (Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue). The setlist is a typical Fairport mix of songs old and new, traditional and covers, with a fair sprinkling of material from Sandy’s solo albums as well as a song from Fotheringay. Interestingly, contemporaneous Fairport songs seem almost under-represented (one each from Rosie and Nine), although What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief all get a look in with one song from each. Despite the diversity of sources, there is a cohesion to the performance and it’s great to have the chance to hear six fine musicians in top form and, perhaps equally importantly, sounding like they’re enjoying themselves.

Sadly, it was not to last; the notorious revolving door that had become such a feature of Fairport during the early 1970s opened again during the sessions for the album, with Dave Mattacks quitting (to be replaced by Bruce Rowland of Grease Band) and, despite critical acclaim and some degree of commercial success, the recording had put huge pressure on the band. This seemed to make another split inevitable and by the end of 1975, Jerry Donahue, Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas had all moved on to other things, leaving Rising For The Moon as the only studio legacy of what remains an excellent, if overlooked, Fairport Convention lineup.

Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (12 August 2013)

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