09 November 2014
Fairport Convention - 1968-1969 - Heyday: BBC Radio Session
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5
I came into Fairport Convention backwards. I've been a fan of Fariport's legendary guitarist Richard Thompson since high school and caught him and Roger McGuinn live in 1995, but I never really got to the band until a few years ago. Oops. The Convention has the rep of being Britain's prime folk rock band, but folks often forget that they started off as the country's answer to the Jefferson Airplane. With some serious instrumental firepower and Sandy Denny's fantastic vocals, they may be better in a live setting than on their already great studio albums. As a set of BBC sessions, there's a touch of studio work, but these recordings are basically live. The sound quality can be a touch iffy in places, and there are a few annoying on air announcements, but I might peg this disc as the best way to hear Fairport Convention (er... second best - I'd still give to top spot to Leige and Lief).
First off we've got some of the Convention's album tracks coming off fire-breathing here. "Fotheringay" and "Autopsy" sound fantastic, and "Tam Lin" is better than the studio track with Thompson's guitar ripping a hole through the universe. Would've done nice with "A Sailor's Life," but you can't get them all. The value added here is with the cover tunes. Producer Joe Boyd says in the liner notes that he basically told them to piss off with most of their cover choices, but they got them rolling at the BBC. I totally dig their takes on Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and "Bird on a Wire," and they don't do so bad with Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" and Joni Mitchell's "I Don't Know Where I Stand," which they did on their debut album, but without Sandy Denny, who knocks it out of the park here.
Is this actually obscure? Maybe not. But it does need to be better known. I've been properly diggin' the Convention since 2010, but I only came across this in an oddball used record store last week.