Thursday, July 3, 2014


Fairport Convention turned to the rain and the wind and lent their time to this traditional transition.  The addition of singer and songwriter Sandy Denny on their previous album 'What We Did On Our Holidays' had brought a new vitality to their sound.  Producer Joe Boyd considers:   "With Sandy, you had a powerhouse. I think she boosted the band's confidence in a way because she was quite well known as a solo artist. The fact that she chose to join Fairport I think boosted all of their confidence level in themselves as a band. And then she brought her own songwriting, great songs, and then ultimately I think she was really the key person ultimately responsible for introducing them to English folk music, because she had a large repertoire of songs that she used to sing with the band on the road or in hotel rooms after concerts and things." 

Due to the fact that the band had covered multiple songs by Bob Dylan on their first two albums, they were invited to his publisher's office in London to hear new songs from his then-unreleased 'Basement Tapes'. Ashley Hutchings remembers:   "Most of the group went in there, sat around, and put these vinyl, white-label copies on.  And this strange, kind of mish-mash of styles and drawled lyrics came out of the speakers. It sounded kind of subterranean; there was this strange cloak of weirdness covering them. We loved it all. We would have covered all the songs if we could."

For 'Unhalfbricking', they selected three Dylan songs to cover.  The sessions took place in London at Sound Techniques and Olympic Studios with Sandy Denny on vocals and harpsichord;  Richard Thompson on electric and acoustic guitars, electric dulcimer, piano accordion, organ, and backing vocals;  Ashley Hutchings on bass and backing vocals;  Simon Nicol on electric and acoustic guitars, electric dulcimer, and backing vocals;  and Martin Lamble on drums and stacked chair backs on "Si tu dois partir".    Dave Swarbrick added fiddle on "Si tu dois partir", "A Sailor’s Life", and "Cajun Woman" and Mandolin on "Million Dollar Bash";  Trevor Lucas provided triangle on "Si tu dois partir";  Marc Ellington contributed vocals on "Million Dollar Bash".  Singer Iain Matthews would leave the band during the sessions to record his solo debut with only backing vocals on "Percy's Song" in his wake.  The album was produced by the band with Joe Boyd and engineered by John Wood.  Thompson recalls:     "John Wood worked at Decca with the greats, recording “sound senses,” really. Joe [Boyd] always liked to arrange the stereo as if people were standing on a stage — you’d have the drums and the vocal in the middle, and if the guitar player were singing, his amp would be where his vocal is, that kind of stuff. A real “visual” representation...I really like the sound of 'Unhalfbricking'. That record sounds really good."

After the album was finished, the band was involved in a terrible accident.  Nicol recounts:  "We released 'What We Did On Our Holidays' and then recorded 'Unhalfbricking'. At that stage, we were working really hard, constantly on the road, three or four gigs a week. Ian, Richard and I shared a flat in Brent, the others were also in London, so we usually drove back to London after gigs, however far away we'd played. We had a Ford Transit and there was inevitably a lot of night driving...In May 1969 we'd played at Mothers in Birmingham, a nice gig...I had a bad migraine so I wasn't in a seat; I was stretched out on the floor with a blanket over my head trying to sleep off this terrible headache.  When I woke up, the van was doing things which didn't involve the wheels being in contact with the ground: when it stopped moving, I was the only one left in it. All the gear had gone out of the back and all the people had gone out through the windows and doors. It was about half-three in the morning. We'd gone down an embankment beside near the Scratchwood service area.  Everyone was spread out: some moving as they came to; some not moving at all. The emergency services rescued us pretty quickly. Jeannie Franklyn, Richard's girlfriend, was dead by the time the ambulance arrived. At the hospital, they weren't able to bring Martin Lamble back to life...That was a big watershed, I think. In the aftermath, we thought a lot about what to do, whether to call it a day. It had been fun while it lasted but it took a definite effort of will to continue. It had given us a lot but now it had taken away a lot: was it worth it if it was going to cost people their lives?...We all felt psychologically traumatised as well as being damaged physically. But by the time Ashley's face was back together and Richard's bones were healing, we'd decided to rebuild the band and carry on...I believe the crash hung over the band in unseen ways."

Hutchings admits:    "My memory of it is bound up with the terrible car crash.On the back cover we're all eating around a table. The shirt and the leather waistcoat I'm wearing are what I had on when the crash happened. I can clearly remember them being bloodstained. You don't forget things like that."

'Unhalfbricking' went to number twelve on the UK album chart.   The album cover shows Sandy Denny's parents Neil and Edna standing outside their home in Arthur Road, Wimbledon, south London, with the band seen through the garden fence.  Sandy came up with the album title during a game called ghosts that the band would play on their road trips in which they attempted to add letters together without actually forming a real word.

full album:

Side one
"Genesis Hall" (Richard Thompson) – 3:41
"Si tu dois partir" (Bob Dylan) – 2:25
"Autopsy" (Sandy Denny) – 4:27
"A Sailor's Life" (traditional, arranged by Denny, Thompson, Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, Martin Lamble) – 11:20

Side two
"Cajun Woman" (Thompson) – 2:45
"Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" (Denny) – 5:13
"Percy's Song" (Dylan) – 6:55
"Million Dollar Bash" (Dylan) – 2:56

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