Sunday, November 29, 2009

Carole's Seminal Albums - #3

This week's album in the "Carole's Seminal Albums" series is Fairport Convention's 1969 ground-breaking Liege and Lief.

It was Fairport's fourth release and was a departure from what had come before; there were no Bob Dylan covers and the West Coast inspired folk-rock was replaced by a totally English folk sensibility.

This was something that had been hinted at on Unhalfbricking's most folky track A Sailor's Life, as well as by the use of Dave Swarbrick's fiddle playing. A session player on that album, he was a full-time band member by the time that Liege and Lief was recorded.

The main source for much of the material on the album was traditional English folk, as documented by Cecil Sharp. The band member who had driven this shift of styles was Ashley Hutchings, who left the band shortly after the album was released to form Steeleye Span and further develop his interest in traditional forms.

Despite the traditional basis for the material, Liege and Lief is an album that is very much an electric piece, graced by the superb lead guitar playing of the young Richard Thompson and driven by the bass and drums of Ashley Hutchings and Dave Mattacks.

It is also the album that came to define a purely British folk-rock tradition, leading not only to the formation of the already mentioned Steeleye Span but also to Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas forming Fotheringay , as well as providing an alternative sound for British musicians to follow than the mainstream American blues and rock and roll palette.

Fairport Convention were not the first folk musicians to play to rock audiences, Pentangle were already a popular band in 1969, but they were probably the first band to really take traditional music and properly place it into an electric setting.

It is also important to put Liege and Lief into the context of the times. The psychedelic period was over, the '60s were coming to an end and in both the USA and the UK musicians were looking at older, more traditional forms, paring back on the excesses and getting back to the "roots". We can see this happening in the music produced by The Band on their first album Music From Big Pink and also on The Grateful Dead's 1970 release, Workingman's Dead. The first Crosby, Stills and Nash album also sees a shift towards more acoustic playing.

Liege and Lief is also an important influence on Led Zeppelin's third album, which was largely composed in a cottage in Wales with no electricity, and also on their fourth album, noticeably on The Battle Of Evermore which featured Sandy Denny duetting with Robert Plant and possibly on Stairway To Heaven as well.

As an aside, Robert turns up on Fairport's 2009 release Live At Cropredy '08, where he gets a huge cheer from the crowd, before performing The Battle Of Evermore with Kristina Donahue (Jerry Donahue's daughter) singing Sandy's part.

Here is the original album, plus the two bonus live tracks that were included on the CD re-issue.

Come All Ye


Matty Groves

Farewell, Farewell

The Deserter


Tam Lin

Crazy Man Michael

Sir Patrick Spens

Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood


treefrogdemon said...

No argument from me!

Chris said...

Or me. I re-acquired it only recently. Brill.

ShariVari said...

Yay! I must admit, i do favour Pentangle, but Liege and Lief is an absolute classic. Matty Groves and Tam Lin are two of the most incredible songs these isles have ever produced.

Makinavaja said...

I bought this a couple of years ago - after reading White Bicycles. Another case of "working back" that has enriched my musical life! Great call!

sourpus said...

The first time you hear Come all ye, its a spine tingler, altho I got a bit tired of it now (honestly). Matty Groves and Tam Lin still rock though.

TracyK said...

I love it from start to finish, and Crazy Man Michael is one of my go-to songs whenever I'm in a ceryain kind of mood. Great choice Carole.

TonNL said...

Great call, Carole! It was the first folk album I ever bought (thanks to my sister, but that's another story...), through it I discovered Richard Thompson, one of my all-time heroes...

PS. now playing (by pure coincidence) the fine Continental Drifters' Fairport/Sandy Denny tribute 'Listen Listen', it even has a fine 'Liege & Lief' inspired cover:

ejay said...

I've been listening to this and it's great. What I've been looking for, albeit not very actively, since I heard Meet On The Ledge. Thank you Carole.

DaddyPig said...

Thanks Carole, I'll have a listen to this when I'm back at home.

In 2001 I made a set of comilation tapes for a friend who was 30 that year and keen on music from the year of his birth. It was really striking how much the folk influence had spread everywhere by 1971 including into the pop charts; as well as Led Zep IV, Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells A Story, and Lindisfarne (Meet Me On The Corner was 1971 spring to mind.

Shoey said...

Afraid English Folk conjours up images of men with beards with fingers in ears & twigs in their pints, with the ability to suck any emotion out of a tune (the Celtic stuff is far more passionate - even before supercharged by the likes of the Pogues). But if you say it's "seminal", will give it a try.

DaddyPig said...

Just listened to the first 4 tracks in between doing some work. They really had a good groove going for this album; as I type I'm liking Sandy Denny's voice and the rathger lovely accompaniment for "Farewell, Farewell".

Good on you Shoey for having a listen. The stereotype of English is based on plenty of unfortunate examples, but this is great.

bethnoir said...

Carole, you have excellent taste. It's a fine album, although I think I listened to it too much as it feels over familiar to me these days and I prefer Joan Baez's version of 'Matty Groves'.
However, Sandy Denny is wonderful, this and her performance on the Fotheringay album are my favourite works of hers.

ShariVari said...

The twigs-in-pints-of-scrumpy image is a difficult one to shake but there's an incredible amount of amazing English folk to be discovered. I always think of it as the music people were listening to prior to the onset of Victorian-style moralism. The two major themes always seem to be sex and death, often in combination. It's a lot less staid than i thought in my youth.

treefrogdemon said...

RT is half Scottish you know...

CaroleBristol said...

@bethnoir - the Sandy album is brilliant too.

bethnoir said...

thanks Carole, I have the Best of the BBC recordings and Who Knows Where the Time Goes by her, which is enough for now, but I'll check that one out when I fancy something different by her :-)

I've been listening to Morris On by Ashley Hutchings this week, it's good!