From the first gentle guitar notes of "Fotheringay" until the quiet epilogue instrumental "End of a Holiday" this has always been an album that grabs you and doesn't let go. Between these opening and closing tracks of the original 1969 LP (and the 1990 CD release) we are treated to a variety of musical styles, all played superbly with panache and/or sensitivity. There are songs by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, two 'trad/arr' songs, with the remainder composed by various members of the band. This is the album where the Fairport male/female vocalist style, pioneered by Judy Dyble and Ian Matthews on the first album, reached its peak with the pairing of Matthews and Sandy Denny. The other members of the band here are Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings and Martin Lamble, who all contribute high quality playing.
My first listen to the remastered version was a revelation - although the music was familiar I began to hear this album with a new clarity and, in particular, I could distinguish some individual instruments and voices in the mix which were hard to separate previously. For example, Claire Lowther's cello playing on "The Book Song" comes through more strongly. There isn't a bad track here, but my personal favourites are Sandy's exquisite "Fotheringay", a soulful performance of Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine", and the definitive version of Thompson's "Meet On The Ledge".
There are three bonus tracks. "Throwaway Street Puzzle" is a Thompson/Hutchings song that was the B side of the "Meet on the Ledge" single, since when it has been included in a remixed form on the Thompson collection "(Guitar/Vocal)". Pleasant, but not outstanding, "Some Sweet Day" was recorded as a possible single but has never been released until now. Sandwiched between them is a BBC recording of "You're Gonna Need My Help" which has appeared on Volume 1 of Ashley Hutchings' "The Guv'nor". These are 'nice to have' tracks which give additional value-for-money to a classic album that still sounds fresh 34 years after its first appearance.
Following their debut album in 1968, Fairport Convention released three albums in 1969, all of which featured Sandy Denny and all of which are regarded as folk-rock classics. (The other two are Unhalfbricking and Liege and lief.) Sandy actually replaced Judy Dyble, who had been the group's female vocalist in the beginning, but this album does not just revolve around Sandy. In what is now recognized as a star-studded line-up, the male members of the group on this album were Ian Matthews, Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Martin Lamble and Ashley Hutchings. Nobody knows what Martin might have achieved if he hadn't died in a car crash later in 1969, but the other men all made their mark separately or sometimes in various combinations on the folk-rock scene, including (in some cases) further Fairport Convention albums.
The first thing that strikes one about this album is the cover picture, which is the result of doodling on a blackboard. The group were given a classroom to use as a dressing room for a university gig. Given the intricacy of the doodling, they must have had plenty of time waiting to go on stage. After they performed their gig, they realized that the blackboard doodling would make a great cover picture for their album. It is probably not the strangest cover picture that I've seen, but I haven't seen anything else quite like it. Still, it's the music that counts, not the artwork.
At this stage in their careers, Fairport Convention were experimenting with different sounds and styles within the overall framework of folk music but bringing in other influences. Rock hadn't come into their music yet; that came later, especially on Liege and lief. The experimental nature of the album could have made the results something of a mixed bag, yet the end result is a collection of songs that sound great together.
Highlights among the original songs include Fotheringay (a song about Mary Queen of Scots). Meet on the ledge and Book song. There are also excellent covers of She moved through the fair (traditional), I'll keep it with mine (Bob Dylan) and Eastern rain (Joni Mitchell). This release features three bonus tracks not included on the original album, including a cover of Some sweet day (an obscure Everly brothers song) that was once intended as an A-side single but another song was released as a single instead. Nobody has ever had a UK hit with this song, but it sounds to me as if could be a hit for somebody, some sweet day.
This is an excellent album of folk music with other influences. Despite all being released in the same year, the three albums that Sandy recorded with the group all have their own distinctive styles. I suspect that most people would nominate Liege and lief as the best of them, but I'm not so sure. I might nominate this one Still, all of them are excellent so any preference I may have for one over the others is marginal at best.
on 17 March 2004
Fairport Convention's second album was recorded scant months after their debut, but it's light years ahead. The band had improved in every way: the playing and arrangments are tighter and the production is much, much cleaner. Importantly, they had added the peerless vocal talents of Sandy Denny. Not only was she a great singer but she was a pretty decent songwriter as well and the album opens with her beautiful song 'Fotheringay', a haunting portrait of Mary Queen Of Scots in her fortress prison. Pretty much every band member gets some form of songwriting credit, although Richard Thompson was responsible for the bulk of the original songs, showing himself to be a composer of remarkable assurance, especially on the timeless 'Meet On The Ledge' which remains Fairport's set closer to this day. Good as Richard Thompson's songwriting was, it was nothing compared to the dexterity of his guitar work which was truly prodigious. His solo on 'Nottamun Town' is one of the best I've heard, if not THE best. Prior to the release of 'Heyday', 'What We Did On Our Holidays' was the only Fairport Convention album where Sandy Denny and Ian Matthews could be heard together and they harmonize beautifully throughout. However, Matthews evidently felt overshadowed and left the band soon after.
Besides the band compositions, the song list also includes a number of well chosen Dylan and Joni Mitchell covers (their version of the obscure Bob Dylan song 'I'll Keep It With Mine' really is outstanding) and two tradtional numbers, which Sandy Denny presumably brought with her. Neither sounds particularly like the material that would later make them famous: 'Nottamun Town' is an American folk song (Bob Dylan used the tune for 'Masters Of War') while 'She Moved Through The Fair' is a well-known Irish staple. The performances of both songs are exceptional.
Like all of their pre-Liege-And-Lief material, 'What We Did On Our Holidays' will hold strong appeal for lovers of mellow, late 60s, American-style folk-rock. On this album they did it better than anyone else before or since. As with the other recent reissues, the quality of this release is very high with detailed notes, rare photos and some nice previously unavailable tracks. 'What We Did On Our Holidays' should be on the shopping list of all music lovers, right between 'Liege And Lief' and 'Heyday'.
With this album I reckon I'm more likely to be in tune with popular opinion. It's a goodie and, to my mind, reflects Fairport in their early pomp, that is, with Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny now signed up but before Ian Matthews left . The fact that "Trad Arr. Fairport Convention" appears in the writer's credits position for a couple of songs indicates that the journey towards the British folk rock coronation had started but such adaptations fitted well within the context of Fairport music. One Dylan song and one from Joni were included as were eight originals, three of which were from Thompson on his own and two more were collaborations. Apart from the one Joni number the aura of the West Coast had largely faded leaving behind just a set of (mainly) very good songs treated in interesting and imaginative ways.
Let's take the covers first, "I'll Keep it with mine", is a Dylan number which few people had heard at the time. The author's own version wouldn't be made public for many years. Judy Collins cut a good version in `66. Fairport manage to top Judy's waxing with room to spare. This may be the best of all their Dylan covers - in my mind it competes only with "Percy's Song" on "Unhalfbricking". It's Sandy only for the verses joined by harmony chorale singing plus piano to add strength on the chorus. Joni Mitchell's "Eastern Rain" is another obscure number although Joni was picking up fans by this time. Again it's Sandy's voice but set against a backdrop of unusual instrumentation.
Both of the traditional songs are striking. "Nottamun Town" is sung entirely in harmony by the group against a guitar drone - which effect had rarely been heard in English popular music until then - Thompson's break adds a touch of the Indian subcontinent with suitable percussive touches. The song is interesting.. It's originally of English origin, possibly dating back to the medieval period. "Nottamun" is believed to be "Nottingham". It also travelled across to the US at some stage and versions are to be found in the Appalachian Mountains. Bob Dylan would have heard these and used the tune as the basis for his song, "Masters of War" - as the great man later admitted, he was prone to "borrow" tunes in his early days. The other trad song "She moves through the fair" has Sandy in the lead with multiple guitars backing. Again a drone effect is deployed but the percussion is very different than that on "Nottamun Town". We`d heard nothing like either of these two on the group`s first album. I'd also submit that both these performances are a match for most of the later ones when the group were firmly in the folk rock category.
Of the originals there are two big standouts, both of which would be very high on any best-of list for the group. Sandy Denny's "Fotheringay" which is the lead off track, is simply magnificent. After a finger picking into from Richard evoking the Elizabethan era , Sandy launches into the song, and Richard is joined by Simon creating a beautiful framework in support of the vocal. A gentle chorus adds depth. A classic. The other biggie, is Richard's "Meet on the Ledge", perhaps the nearest he's ever got to a rock anthem. Sandy and Ian duet but Thompson matches them bar by bar through to the climax.
Quite apart from his marvellous guitar work which finds its way into every corner of the album - his guitar "voice" changes dramatically song by song - Thompson's song writing has matured immensely from his first outing on "Fairport Convention", good though that was. Of his other songs, "Book Song" co-written with Matthews is a gentle ballad in waltz time with more than hints of a country sound - this being Matthews preference; "No Man's Land" is a bouncy one with accordion and an unusual rhythm pattern - the sort of thing we were to hear more of after he went solo; and "Tale in Hard Time" with Ian on lead vocal, and fabulous harmonies - the sort of song the Byrds might have put on "Notorious Byrd Brothers".
There are surprises everywhere on this album. "Mr Lacey" is a straight medium to fast, thumping twelve bar blues, not at all the sort of thing you'd expect from this band, and possibly counting as their "whimsical" number. But it works. "The Lord is in my place..." has Sandy singing in St Peter's Church, Westbourne Grove accompanied by Richard only on slide guitar. In addition this is one of his co-writes. Is there anything this man can't do? And the final track is a short and sweet, guitar piece from Simon Nichol.
The sources that went to make up this album were many and varied but the overall sound is cohesive and continuous. About the only big sonic surprise we get is in the switch from the gentle "Fotheringay" to the, almost blasting, "Mr Lacey" and I would imagine that's deliberate. Arguably this is Fairport's best ever outing. The follow-up, "Unhalfbricking" also achieved some major highs possibly even surpassing this one at times. But I do feel it was let down in other places.
Of the extra tracks, "Some Sweet Day" is the star. It features Sandy and Ian duetting a la the Everlys, and was written by those fantastic songwriters, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. The fact that they can just toss off something like this is just marvellous. "You're Gonna Need my help" has Richard impersonating Muddy Waters on slide guitar. The other one is also a blues, more up-tempo this time.
These tracks don't add anything of import but are a relaxing way to wind down from the more serious stuff.
Oh, and I love the picture of Sandy on the cover of ZigZag in the notes. What did I do with all my copies of ZigZag?
on 20 June 2000
This second Fairport record sees the first hints of the Folk-rock sound and showcases the wonderful voice of Sandy Denny. From the opening 'Fotheringay' to the whistful 'End of a Holiday', the record posesses an otherworldly charm that the band never quite captured again. Also noticeable for the emergance of Richard Thompson as a songwriter of note. A must-buy for any collection.
Fairport’s second album release was the first to feature Sandy Denny as lead singer plus the classic line-up of Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Ian Matthews, Simon Nicol and the late Martin Lamble on drums, who sadly was killed in a car crash less than a year later.
Here the band begins to find its distinctive sound, as trad-English folk songs are blended with covers of the folk-rock-genre from across the Atlantic penned by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
Highlights are Sandy Denny’s haunting opener ‘Fotheringay’ themed on Mary Queen of Scots (who as we all know was really French!) in her fortress prison, and the rousing ‘Meet on the Ledge’ which became a perennial onstage favourite for the band in all its subsequent incarnations for decades to come. ‘Nottamun Town’ and ‘She moves through the Fair’ are almost pure trad-folk tunes, here endowed with a special poignancy by the sensitive Fairport treatment.
WwdooH is an interesting historical document which reveals the start of Fairport’s short journey to mastery of the new genre the band virtually created: English trad-folk-rock. It still stands up pretty well in the 21st century, and sounds good. The 2003 CD release has three bonus tracks, excluded from the 1969 vinyl release due to lack of space.
on 24 August 2010
After a couple of months of listening this album has grown in my estimation. I was familiar with some of the more well-known tracks from Fairport compilations and Cropredy, but many of the tracks were new to me. It's clear that the band were in transition on this album, but that doesn't detract from the quality. It seems very well balanced between own compositions and covers, folk and "American", so that once the songs break the familiarity barrier they appeal more and more. The best attribute, along with the growing songwriting ability and RT's strong guitar work, is the vocals. Sandy Denny and Iain Matthews voices to me seem to blend perfectly and I think the vocals are probably better on this album than any other. All in all, this album is better than I expected it to be.
on 26 September 2012
I can only echo the praise heaped on this album by previous reviewers - it is an absolute gem.
I bought it on vinyl just after it's release as an impulse buy and I was mesmorized when I first played it, it has an ethereal quiality at times and Sandy Denny's singing is breathtaking. I still feel exactly the same way today about this masterpiece as I did all those years ago. It still sends shivers up my spine.
ps I went to Essex Uni in 1970, which is where the blackboard was created for the album cover and saw Fairport during my years there.
Very much miss Sandy Denny - God Bless Her.
on 24 December 2010
It is not in my nature to revel in past glories. Suffice to say that '69 when this album came out was an exceptional year in many ways. It is the year that Fairport released not only this album but also Unhalfbricking, and Lief and Liege, which is a wonderful tryptic charting the seminal development of the band.In my process of revisiting all of these albums (in reverse order). I had genuinely forgotten how a) eclectic and b)good this album was and is.
I loved the lyrical interpretations of the the folk classics Fotheringay and She moves through the fair, and the lyrical guitar work clearly influences; End of the holidays, and gives all three an etherial, almost timeless quality. The balance on the album comes with the wonderful, driving Mr Lacey which really would not be out of place on an early chicken shack album. The quality mix continues with the wonderful minimilist slide work on the Lord is in the place-loved the coins being thrown at the end! Ian matthews contribution of the Book song is a clear indication of where his early efrorts would lead i.e. the west coast soft rock influence. Finally on the sleve notes to unhalfbricking Ashley Hutchins indicates that one of the tracks is one of the earliest examples of our cultural musical heritage embrassing world music, there is clear evidence of its pre-cursor on this album as well as the suble inclusion of the sitar. The use of the accordian on one or two tracks also has resinances on later albums. The obligatory interpretation of a Dylan track is also here, which was sadly to disappear for the band by the end of '69. A great revisit not nostalgic but a realisation/rediscovery of why i rated this album in the first place. Also still love the cover!!! a must for 60's retro- freaks!
ps -It may deserve a five star rating but in 50 odd years of playing and listening to music I would probably only rate about 5 albums with 5 stars-but this is one comes close!
on 19 November 2014
Early Fairport. Doesn't get any better, does it? "Mr Lacey", a blues featuring some early robots, I mean that literally, doesn't quite fit on this CD and I tend to skip it, though I appreciate the youthful inventiveness there. FC is of course the Worlds Greatest Folk Rock Band, and there are poignant classics to be heard here, "Fotheringay" and "Meet on the Ledge" come immediately to mind, but also very good performances of traditional music chestnuts like "She Moved Through the Fair" and "Nottamun Town", the quality of which is such, that after nearly a half-century of Everybody's College Folk Group rehashing them these are still the versions that resonate. There isn't the intensity of "Liege & Lief " here, nor need there be, but this along with "Fairport 9" constitutes a fine pair of perfect brackets to that masterpiece. Recommended, and not only to FC enthusiast, but to anyone with even a passing interest in folk, trad, or singer-songwriting, I'd strongly, strongly, strongly recommend those three recordings. Thompson, Denny and Nicol on one album? Yup, and all for the price of a single recording. Get it before it goes out of print.