Friday, June 7, 2024

Fairport Convention 2: What We Did On Our Holidays

Bands had to work fast in the late ‘60s, often juggling gigs with studio work and revolving members. By the time their first album weas out, Fairport Convention had already shed singer Judy Dyble, replacing her with one Alexandra Denny, and that made all the difference. Known forever as Sandy, she’d already written a song that was covered by Judy Collins, which we’ll get to soon enough. Ian Matthews was still in the band, but it’s Sandy’s presence, via her rich voice, that drove the sound of What We Did On Our Holidays. (This was the first Fairport album released in the U.S., using the cover shown but no title outside the band’s name. For simplicity, we’re using the British title, since that’s how everybody knows it now.)

She makes her mark right off the bat with “Fotheringay”, an original that sounds like it’s been around for centuries. This haunting portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots imprisoned in a castle is sideswiped by the 12-bar blues of “Mr. Lacey”. (The titular character was an eccentric artist, occasional actor, and inventor, whose robots can be heard taking a solo of their own after the guitar break.) Something of happy medium is achieved in the melancholy “Book Song”, which incorporates swirling harmonies, electric guitar, and even sitar. Sandy’s alone with Richard Thompson’s slide guitar somewhere in a field to hum “The Lord Is In This Place… How Dreadful Is This Place”, a lengthy interlude before Ian’s more rocking take on “No Man’s Land”, on which Richard pounds an accordion. Everything truly comes together on Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, which they probably learned from the Judy Collins version, but wonderfully harmonized.

Doing an obscure Joni Mitchell song was a coup, as her own version of “Eastern Rain” wouldn’t emerge for half a century, and those were from her coffeehouse days. Fairport’s arrangement is meteorologically evocative, with sped-up guitars darting in and out of the mix. “Nottamun Town” reclaims the melody Dylan borrowed for “Masters Of War” and gives it a near-raga arrangement for guitar with harmonies. For contrast, there’s the tinkling harpsichord throughout “Tale In Hard Time”, another strong original from Richard. It’s back to the traditional with Sandy’s wonderful reading of “She Moved Through The Fair”, which is a wonderful setup for Richard’s immortal “Meet On The Ledge”. Still sung today at the close of innumerable folk festivals, this contemplation on lost friends, childhood, and the future never fails to stir. It makes Simon Nicol’s closing “End Of A Holiday” instrumental that much more effecting.

While it’s still all over the place, What We Did On Our Holidays is quite the leap from the band’s first album. Things were starting to coalesce, and they were barely out of the gate. (The later expanded CD issued overseas included three bonus tracks: the bluesy B-side “Throwaway Street Puzzle”, Muddy Waters’ “You’re Gonna Need My Help” from a BBC session, and the outtake “Some Sweet Day”.)

Fairport Convention What We Did On Our Holidays (1969)—

1 comment:

  1. Sandy Denny's voice just makes me melt. Metaphorically.