18 November 2006

Free-form jazz and Fairport Convention

It wasn't designed that way, but it worked out quite well.
I'd been looking forward to seeing the London date in Fairport Convention's annual autumn tour for a long time. I'd been to the equivalent gig in the previous two years, each time with Tony, who'd be glad to come along again; Ben was also keen; Chris was persuaded, although he made clear his reservations about Ric Sanders's violin-playing, and in truth there are more electronic effects than is right for a folk-rock band.
I invited Dave and Mike, and Mike introduced Patrick, so a party of seven was planned. We discussed meeting for something to eat beforehand, but then I looked at the programme for the London Jazz Festival. A free commuter concert given by Lol Coxhill on the South Bank: too good an opportunity to see a living legend to pass up, and Tony, Chris and at the last minute Dave agreed.
Ninety minutes of free-form noodling on the soprano sax isn't everyone's cup of tea, and Tony was the one of us most likely to appreciate it - which made it doubly unfortunate that he didn't show up. The great man took the stage with a drummer and a bassist, which didn't match the billing, so he promised to play solo sometime in the middle. By the time the middle came, Chris had observed that if anyone suggested going for a pizza he'd go along with the idea, and Dave too was content with less than a full quota of the living legend, though we all agreed that the drummer was pretty good. At one memorable point, he lifted up a tea towel that he'd used to muffle some part of his battery and, finding a small gong hidden beneath, struck it almost as an afterthought before putting it to one side.
It has to be said, the pizza was rather better than the jazz, but better still was the main act of the evening. And here's where the unintended consequence came in: Chris's reservations about Ric Sanders did not survive - could never have survived - exposure to Lol Coxhill. When I had first made the suggestion, Chris had initially feared exactly the opposite, that Fairport would pale after the early part of the evening, so it was a pleasure to see the the contrary happen.
My great regret was that Fairport failed to play more than a couple of classics - Now Be Thankful, and the obligatory encore Meet On The Ledge - but it's good to know that after nearly forty years they are still bringing on new material, and that in the past decade or two they have come out with some excellent songs. I think the present line-up has lasted longer - must have lasted much longer - than any previous one, and although there is now only one founding member of the band still there, fittingly it's Simon Nichol, whose family home gave the band the first part of its name.
My guests seemed to enjoy themselves, though after the interval they started to drift away. Our plan to secure a table and enough chairs failed miserably, so we had to contend with a large pillar betwee us and the band. Usefully, however, this enabled Chris to screen Ric from view, and Ben, who announced an irrational aversion to Simon Nichol, could also make use of it.
By the time they reached the encore, our group had been reduced to two - me and Chris - but we left suitably uplifted, commenting on the superiority of Meet On The Ledge to most - almost all - of the songs written since. Richard Thompson certainly knew how to put a song together: the music perfectly matches the sentiments expressed so clearly and beautifully in the lyrics.
So after forty years they are still creating excellent new music, but they also have in their songbook one of the most complete rock songs ever written (and I haven't even mentioned Who Knows Where The Time Goes). Worth catching the last train home (at 0021).

No comments: