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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value package for the Fairport enthusiast, 23 May 2002
By 
Tim Edmonds "tim427" (Minehead) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) (Audio CD)
Collections of out-takes, radio sessions, live recordings and rarities often disappoint, so what should our expectations be of one which comprises some 5 hours 13 minutes of music on four CDs? Relax. This is not an attempt by a record company to squeeze a bit more revenue out of old material, but a labour of love by Neil Wayne and Nigel Schofield in honour of an enduring band whose music spans the generations. The majority of the recordings have not been released before, so even the most avid Fairport aficionado will suffer only a small amount of duplication. Furthermore, this package is not just the CDs - for your money you also get a copy of Schofield's "Fairport unConventional" book (cover price £12.99), an updated Fairport Convention 'family tree' and other paraphernalia.
The content of the CDs can be judged in different ways - the quality of the recordings, their historic interest, and the standard of the performances. It must be said that the sound quality of some tracks is poor, for example "The Deserter" (radio session), "General Taylor" (live performance) and "One sure thing" (demo). Tracks such as these I would not want to listen to very often, but there is just enough in them to make worthwhile comparisons with other versions of the same songs. Another irritation is a few tracks that start or finish abruptly, or suffer from minor recording glitches. Some poor sounding tracks are, however, well worth including for their importance in the musical development of the band, notably an early (1968) live recording of "A Sailor's Life". Having made those criticisms I'm happy to say that the majority of the tracks are of quite acceptable quality and several are very good.
The 'rarities' tag is justifiable because of several obscure and interesting recordings, including the band's first single "If I had a ribbon bow", a radio recording of "The Journeyman's Grace" featuring Richard Thompson, and several songs performed by personnel different from the familiar versions. Probably of most interest are tracks by two short-lived line-ups from 1972 - Dave Pegg, Dave Swarbrick, Roger Hill and Tom Farnell play "The time is near", and Pegg, Swarbrick, Farnell and David Rea play Rea's song "Maverick Child". Also included is a radio recording of another short-lived tounring line-up with Pegg, Swarbrick, Bob Brady, Roger Burridge and Dan ar Bras playing "Hexhamshire Lass" from 1976. Although alternative versions of release material are fine, the most interesting of the out-takes and those that never made it onto the finished albums - Dylan's "I don't believe you" (from the "Nine" sessions) and Swarbrick's "Sad Song" (from the "Rosie" sessions). Also of note are early live or radio versions of songs that later made it onto albums sounding somewhat different, particularly a lilting acoustic rendition of "Who knows where the time goes" from 1968 and a gentle "Rising for the Moon" performed in 1974 with spontaneity rather than slick production.
Any selection of highlight performances from a collection of 72 tracks has to be personal so here are a few of the tracks that stand out for me. The performances of "Time will show the wiser" and "Reno, Nevada" from a 1968 French TV recording have Richard Thompson in sizzling form (this "Reno" makes the version on "Heyday" sound tame). The 1982 Broughton Castle reunion recording of "Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman" also shows Thompson at his best. "Sir Patrick Spens" features Sandy's crystal-clear voice riding above Mattacks's cymbalic waves and is, in my view, superior to the "Full House" version. Although "Farewell, Farewell" is a rehearsal recording of poor quality, it justifies inclusion through a great vocal performance by Sandy Denny. Swarb's 1996 live version of "Rosie" is also a memorable performance, and of the later material there's a strong live (and very electric) "Wat Tyler" from 1992 sung by Simon Nicol. On the 2001 winter tour Steve Tilston was the support act and his 'handover' song was a terrific rendition of "It's now or never" with Fairport backing him. I'm delighted that it's included here, complete with gently restrained violin and mandolin accompaniment.
Now to the 170-page book, which gives a thorough history of the band's personnel, tours and recordings as well as giving detailed information about the tracks on the CDs. My main complaint here is that the size (to fit in the box) means that the book will not open flat, and the text on the extreme right of the left hand pages goes too close to the centre binding so is difficult to read. In the tradition of Fairport album sleeves there is a sprinkling of typographical errors (notably "Gottle o' Gear"). These whinges apart, this is an excellent publication with loads of useful information - I learned a lot. Pete Frame's updated 'family tree', now occupies a poster and is, as ever, invaluable.
This is an impressive collection and represents excellent value for money - no Fairport enthusiast should be without it. Although the range of music spans the lifetime of the band it is probably too specialised for those wanting an introduction to the Fairport experience, who might be better going for a couple of compilations covering different periods and a copy of the latest studio recording 'XXXV'. Neil Wayne and Nigel Schofield have done a brilliant job and deserve thanks and congratulations for a package which gets five stars for interest and value, but the variable quality of the recordings means I can't give it more than four stars overall.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A suprisingly good mixture..., 16 Jun 2003
This review is from: Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) (Audio CD)
...far better than I expected. When a band has been around for as long as Fairport (currently 36 years and counting), and has had as many line ups as they have, you will always suffer from the over obsessive fan. Fairport were better in 1971/1982/1967. Full House was the best line up. They never recovered after Sandy Denny left. Take your choice.
And I too have my favourite - but this boxed set was interesting enough to make me listen right through all four discs. And I must say that it made me think again about my own prejudices about the band. The themed mixes could be a bit hit or miss, but the juxtaposition of different line ups and styles was very refreshing.
The result? Well I'm off to see Richard T on his tour in a few weeks, and will be returning to Cropredy after an absence of several years. So a very compelling purchase in the end.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, great selection, lots of rare stuff, just buy it!, 30 May 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) (Audio CD)
Four themed Cds that work very well together. Lots of early material, there weren't many bands that issued three records in one year and changed the line up to boot. The book covers the history well with lots of insights that other authors have missed. great Peter Frame family tree and a year by year history of Cropredy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fairport milestones and memories., 1 Dec 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) (Audio CD)
For a committed fan who has bought all the albums chonologically, this set is terrific. It charts various major band milestones using alternate takes, live or studio, contemporary with the originals or from subsequent lineups, along with some interesting items not before aired at all. Listening through the 4 CD set was very nostalgic, and although you probably have to be quite a committed fan to get maximum value from the package, the combination of the tracks and the additional posters/booklet etc make this a must for such as meyself. I do thoroughly commend it to those who know and like Fairport, but there may be better starting points for those not so familiar with them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Cheaper by far at Free Reed., 27 Jun 2014
This review is from: Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) (Audio CD)
A wonderful set of left-field and essential stuff here; as someone says, not perhaps a place to start Fairporting. And Amazon isn't the place to start ordering it. You can buy it for £25 over at Free Reed. As far as I know, Free Reed pay their taxes. In the UK. And the don't pay me to write this, I just don't want to see you spending more money than you need to!
See you at Croppers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bonny Bunch of Roses, 29 Dec 2010
By 
Fletch-a-sketch "Fletch" (Wiltshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) (Audio CD)
An epic box set, 5 hours of Fairport from all the lines ups rare and not so rare.
Tracks covering nearly 40 years, from the earliest demos to Croperdy shows of recent times. The box also came with a write in card to request a further disc (Croperdy Guests disc) from the manufacturer.
Yes as has been stated the sound quality is a bit up and down but the musicianship is never less that exceptional, and what you would expect from Europe's foremost Folk/Folk rock band. Further some of the songs have also now appeared as CD extras on their contemporary albums, `If I had a ribbon Bow' on the first album, for instance, on the whole there is more that is unavailable on the box that is now available as extras.
Fans of Fairport should have no doubts and pick this up, you will not be disappointed.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW...all your Birthdays and Christamses have come at once!!, 20 May 2002
By 
carl iredale (halifax, west yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) (Audio CD)
Every so often, a record company will release a product that is truely great in every way. This is such a release. If you are not familiar with Fairport Convention (and why should you be? They are hardly ever played on the radio and very rarely seen on T.V.) this is a fabulous way to submerge your self into some of the gretest music ever written. Fairport have been going so long that this boxed set not only displays some original recording from the dim and distant 60's, but shows how their musical heritage has been passed down the years. Many truely exceptional talents are here to be enjoyed, such as the much missed and stunning Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg, Simon Nichol et al. The track span from shakey, almost pubescent recordings through studio tracks to live recordings from their annual Cropredy Festival. Every single track is either great, beautiful or exceptional (or all three!)
This boxed set comes with a 169 page colour book. This is also of high quality and a cracking (and often very funny) read. Many of the photos used have either never before been seen or not been seen for many a long moon.
So... in conclusion, if you love Fairport, buy this boxed set. If you don't know if you like Fairport, buy this boxed set. If you like music, buy this boxed set. If you happily own a pair of fully functional ears or even only semi-functional ear(s), buy this boxed set. If you like Eminem, it's probably best if you stay away. Sorry.
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Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set)
Fairport Unconventional (4CD Box Set) by Fairport Convention (Audio CD - 2002)
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