Saturday, December 13, 2014

liege & lief

Fairport Convention were loyal and ready in the wake of tragedy to transform traditional folk into a powerful new electric adulteration.  Following their debut 'Fairport Convention', the group had taken on a new singer Sandy Denny and quickly recorded two albums 'What We Did On Our Holidays' and 'Unhalfbricking'  with an increasing focus on traditional British folk.  

On May 12, 1969, the band's van had an accident on the M1 motorway following a gig at Mothers in Birmingham.  Drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson's girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn were killed.   Simon Nicol recalls the effect of the crash on the band:   "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. I think it was one of the unspoken reasons for the next big change, when Ashley decided to leave the band later that year after we had recorded Liege & Lief and relaunched the band to some fanfare and acclaim. Whatever the upfront reasons about musical differences and wanting to concentrate on traditional material, I think the accident was the underlying reason why Ashley felt he couldn't continue with us.     The rehearsal and recording of Liege & Lief was a fantastically productive period for us. As well as getting all the material together, we had to incorporate Dave Swarbrick and Dave Mattacks into the band.   Dave Mattacks had to invent an entirely new way of playing the drums. It wasn't a case of learning what Martin Lamble had been doing and developing that: DM was doing a completely new thing. He was a Mecca ballroom boy, very disciplined, a lot of traditional technique, a very different kind of drummer to Martin who was more intuitive, more shoot-from-the-hip.  Swarb was not only older than us, he was already a star. He'd already worked with us in the studio, of course but suddenly there he was, a fully-fledged member of our fold having broken up a hugely successful partnership with Martin Carthy to throw his lot in with Fairport Convention. He loved it!   We all spent that summer together at a house in Farley Chamberlayne, near Winchester. It was a lovely atmosphere, we found ourselves able to put aside the memories of the crash and the injuries and the loss. When we re-emerged, there was a natural groundswell of sympathy towards us. The launch gig at the Royal Festival Hall got good notices and the album was very well received."

'Liege & Lief' was recorded at Sound Techniques in London with producer Joe Boyd and engineer John Wood.  The sessions featured Sandy Denny on lead vocals;   Dave Swarbrick on fiddle and viola;  Richard Thompson on electric & acoustic guitars, and backing vocals;   Simon Nicol on electric, 6-string & 12-string acoustic guitars, and backing vocals;   Ashley Hutchings on bass guitar and backing vocals;  and Dave Mattacks on drums and percussion.  Before the album was even released Ashley Hutchings had left to form another traditional folk outfit Steeleye Span; while Sandy Denny left to start Fotheringay.    'Liege & Lief' went to number seventeen on the UK album chart and inspired a whole a new British folk rock movement.  

Swarbrick looks back:  "[Sandy Denny] was wonderful. But she could be exasperating. Everybody was... I was exasperating. As I get older I wish she'd been around as long so that she could have learned as much about life as I have. She'd certainly be a lot happier now, I think. At the time, I thought she was maybe destined to get more unhappy as the days went by...I certainly wished that I'd had more understanding then. Those were wonderful times, you know, but they were hard times - people were hard. That's the way everything was then with business...Everybody was growing up, and it was hard. It's hard enough for a single artist, and when you get six together it's really not easy. And it was harder for a woman then than it is now. She had a hard time trying to be herself instead of being what the media wanted her to be...[Recording 'Liege & Lief'] the whole thing was remarkably relaxed, believe it or not. We all lived together in a house prior to that. Very relaxed...I suppose like everybody else, people's personalities were being forged. Richard was always very self-effacing. I think most of that was him being shy as well...You can't say it's the best period. It's the memories and the fun we had. We were mad. Always mad. We've had some wonderful times will all the different line-ups...If you love English music and traditional music, sooner or later you're going to come up against unusual time signatures. So many of them have great time signatures. It's an aspect of English traditional music, and it's one of its most charming ones. That's what I love about it."

Thompson considers:   "Fairport was a band that didn’t want to be the same as other bands, so even in its very early incarnations, when we were doing covers, we tried to do very obscure covers. So when other people were playing blues and R&B in 1965–67, we were trying to find obscure but good songs. We were always interested in lyrics, so we were attracted to singer-songwriters like Richard FariƱa and Joni Mitchell before she was recorded. At a certain point, around 1968, we thought, Well, we’re never going to sing soul as well as Otis Redding and we’re never going to play the blues as well as Muddy Waters. We should be finding our own roots out here in Britain and trying to do a contemporary version of British music. We had to build a bridge between the tradition and popular music, because it had kind of died out in the public consciousness. Traditional music was something that farmers and fisherman did, but it wasn’t even close to the mainstream. So we wanted to contemporize British music, to bring it into popular music. We did it in a slightly studied way, I suppose, but after a while it became second nature. That became the music of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and all those other bands...I mean, from when we were teenagers we were going to folk clubs and blues clubs, we were listening to classical music, we were listening to jazz. We were living in London and we were trying to listen to everything possible. We were really on parallel scenes at the same time, so we knew people in the rock scene and the blues scene, and we knew people in the folk scene. I’m not sure if we were exclusively in one particular club. With Fairport, playing music that stemmed more from British traditions came out of an idea first—before it became a reality it was an intellectual idea.  Then when we started to play that music and Sandy Denny came into the band, we got to know her circle of friends, which included Alex Campbell, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourne. When Dave Swarbrick came into the band, we met the Watersons and Cyril Tawney and people like that. This gave us access to a rich world of folk and traditional music. At the same time, we felt ourselves very much a part of the underground music community in Britain that included our friends in bands like the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Blossom Toes, the Social Deviants, Pink Floyd—...The thing is that Liege & Leif was designed as a project after the accident that you mentioned. We thought, Well, this is the time to do this. We’ve been talking about immersing ourselves a bit more in traditional music, so here’s an opportunity. We don’t have any gigs for a few months, so let’s hide ourselves away and invent this hybrid of traditional and new forms.  So it was conceived very much as a project record. After it was done, we went, There is no point in going back; this is what we should be doing. This is what’s interesting to us. That became the start of the band and, in a sense, it’s still the style of music that I play today. I try to write contemporary songs that are based on traditional models...I suppose it’s what they call roots music these days. Some musicians, myself included, feel connected to a tradition that we can go back to for a long, cool drink of water occasionally. You may get “modern” from time to time, but the modes and harmonies of the old music always ring through. They talk about this a lot in classical music—Debussy told Stravinsky that he had to make his music more “Russian.” And of course all those English composers like Britten, Delius, and Vaughan Williams were always recycling the past. In Fairport, we felt real resonance in the music—it was giving back the tradition to the British audiences. I’m still plowing the same field, but it’s a very large field, and I haven’t seen the end of it yet."

"Matty Groves"

A holiday, a holiday, and the first one of the year
Lord Donald's wife came into the church, the gospel for to hear
And when the meeting it was done, she cast her eyes about
And there she saw little Matty Groves, walking in the crowd
"Come home with me, little Matty Groves, come home with me tonight
Come home with me, little Matty Groves, and sleep with me till light"
"Oh, I can't come home, I won't come home and sleep with you tonight
By the rings on your fingers I can tell you are Lord Donald's wife"
"But if I am Lord Donald's wife, Lord Donald's not at home
He is out in the far cornfields bringing the yearlings home"

And a servant who was standing by and hearing what was said

He swore Lord Donald he would know before the sun would set
And in his hurry to carry the news, he bent his breast and ran
And when he came to the broad millstream, he took off his shoes and he swam

Little Matty Groves, he lay down and took a little sleep

When he awoke, Lord Donald was standing at his feet
Saying "How do you like my feather bed and how do you like my sheets
How do you like my lady who lies in your arms asleep? "
"Oh, well I like your feather bed and well I like your sheets
But better I like your lady gay who lies in my arms asleep"
"Well, get up, get up," Lord Donald cried, "get up as quick as you can
It'll never be said in fair England that I slew a naked man"
"Oh, I can't get up, I won't get up, I can't get up for my life
For you have two long beaten swords and I not a pocket knife"
"Well it's true I have two beaten swords and they cost me deep in the purse
But you will have the better of them and I will have the worse
And you will strike the very first blow and strike it like a man
I will strike the very next blow and I'll kill you if I can"

So Matty struck the very first blow and he hurt Lord Donald sore

Lord Donald struck the very next blow and Matty struck no more
And then Lord Donald, he took his wife and he sat her on his knee
Saying "Who do you like the best of us, Matty Groves or me?"
And then up spoke his own dear wife, never heard to speak so free
"I'd rather a kiss from dead Matty's lips than you or your finery"

Lord Donald he jumped up and loudly he did bawl

He struck his wife right through the heart and pinned her against the wall
"A grave, a grave," Lord Donald cried, "to put these lovers in

But bury my lady at the top for she was of noble kin"

"Tam Lin"

I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair
To travel to Carterhaugh for young Tam Lin is there
None that go by Carterhaugh but they leave him a pledge
Either their mantles of green or else their maidenhead
Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee
And she's gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she
She'd not pulled a double rose, a rose but only two
When up there came young Tam Lin, says "Lady, pull no more"
"And why come you to Carterhaugh without command from me?"
"I'll come and go," young Janet said, "and ask no leave of thee"

Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee

And she's gone to her father as fast as go can she
Well, up then spoke her father dear and he spoke meek and mild
"Oh, and alas, Janet," he said, "I think you go with child"
"Well, if that be so," Janet said, "myself shall bear the blame
There's not a knight in all your hall shall get the baby's name
For if my love were an earthly knight as he is an elfin grey
I'd not change my own true love for any knight you have"

Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee

And she's gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she
"Oh, tell to me, Tam Lin," she said, "why came you here to dwell?"
"The Queen of Faeries caught me when from my horse I fell
And at the end of seven years she pays a tithe to Hell
I so fair and full of flesh am feared it be myself
But tonight is Hallowe'en and the faerie folk ride
Those that would their true love win at Miles Cross they must bide
First let past the horses black and then let past the brown
Quickly run to the white steed and pull the rider down
For I ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town
For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown
Oh, they will turn me in your arms to a newt or a snake
But hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby's father
And they will turn me in your arms into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear not and you will love your child
And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight
But cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight"

In the middle of the night she heard the bridle ring

She heeded what he did say and young Tam Lin did win
Then up spoke the Faerie Queen, an angry queen was she
"Woe betide her ill-fard face, an ill death may she die
Oh, had I known, Tam Lin," she said, "what this night I did see
I'd have looked him in the eyes and turned him to a tree"

"Farewell, Farewell" 

'Liege & Lief' 
full album:

Side one
00:00  "Come All Ye" (Sandy Denny, Ashley Hutchings) – 4:55
05:02  "Reynardine" (traditional, arranged by Fairport) – 4:33
09:33  "Matty Groves" (trad., arr. Fairport) – 8:08
17:44  "Farewell, Farewell" (Richard Thompson) – 2:38
Side two
20:24  "The Deserter" (trad., arr. Fairport) – 4:10
24:49  Medley (trad., arr. Dave Swarbrick) – 4:00
"The Lark in the Morning"
"Rakish Paddy"
"Foxhunters' Jig"
"Toss the Feathers"
28:58  "Tam Lin" (trad., arr. Swarbrick) – 7:20
36:12  "Crazy Man Michael" (Thompson, Swarbrick) – 4:35

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