Monday, 28 April 2008

JUDY DYBLE 1949-still going strong

Whilst remembering Sandy Denny last week I feel I was remiss not to have mentioned Fairport Convention’s first singer as it was JUDY DYBLE’s voice that first hooked me into the band.

I must have bought ‘
If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ shortly after it came out – I had to wait a week or so until Sticklands record shop in Hoop Lane got it in for me (my treasured copy BELOW). ‘Ribbon Bow’ remains a quirkily terrific song with beautiful lead vocals from Judy, subtle jazz guitar, some nice vibes care of Tristan Fry and a longing sigh at the end.

The first, eponymous ‘Fairport Convention’ followed a couple of months later in mid-’68 and this strikes me now as a much underrated collection. The tracks were a mixture of classic American songwriting along with embryonic writing from Fairport members. Fairport’s coverage of US writers was never less than superb and in 40 years no other artists could cover Joni Mitchell, Cohen or Dylan like Fairport.

Taken purely on merits the songs could be broken down into interesting (The Lobster, Chelsea Morning, Sun Shade, One Sure Thing) and inspired (It’s Alright Ma It’s Only Witchcraft, Decameron, If, Jack O’Diamonds, I Don’t Know Where I Stand,
Time Will Show The Wiser). What makes the

selection so good is the seamless meld of folk to jazz
to rock to psychedelia to progressive.

I always thought that
Ian Matthews and Judy (and then Sandy) was the perfect male-female blend; Tyger Hutchings' bass lines were brilliant and unobtrusive; Simon Nicol’s work underscored Richard Thompson’s flights from harsh rock to fluid brilliance and Martin Lamble’s versatile drumming was as near perfect for a young man of 17-18 years old.

Listen to the album and then listen again, more carefully – there is so much to treasure. Finally, listen to the great Harvey Brooks-Jim Glover track ‘One Sure Thing’ and then seek out The Conspirators recent version of that (and buy it) which.....neatly leads back to the Conspirators guest lead singer.....Judy Dyble, voice just as lovely as ever.

Journos and fans alike judge the 1st Fairport album harshly, especially in comparison to the legendary ‘
What We Did On Our Holidays’. Well.....bollocks! After playing the album a couple of times over this past weekend and with riffs worming around my brain, I still LOVE the 1st album, it compares very favourably and it takes me back to the happiest 2-3 years of my life.........

The Holly Bush, Hampstead, walking on the Heath, smelly basketball boots, cotton paisley shirts, earnestly reading Huxley and Sartre, The Everyman, Hampstead, the 102 bus snaking its way through North London, buying import albums from Old Compton Street and....innocence!

Here's a clip of Judy with Fairport from 1967:

Enough of the past. Now, blogging back to the future.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

SANDY DENNY 1947-1978

Occasionally sentimental I may be but I’m not a great one for remembering anniversaries; however I was jolted by an article in The Independent yesterday......

It is hard to believe that today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Sandy Denny - the finest singer-songwriter that Britain has produced - and even harder to recall that it is 40 years since I first met up with the peerless Sandy Denny........

Around the time of mid-range Beatlemania and Psychedelia I first heard fledgling Fairport Convention ‘live’ on my cheap Phillips radio, probably in late ’67 – on one of the David Symonds/John Peel BBC shows. Fairport played an eclectic mix of jug band/blues and West Coast pop which no other Brit group was playing (Butterfield, Joni Mitchell, Byrds, Love, Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane) mixed in with some early self-penned songs. From my radio to my untutored ear they seemed unlike any other British group and I particularly liked their male-female lead vocals.

I remember thinking that this was…
a) they were unique and,
b) my kind of music.
What amazed me was to hear that their drummer was my ex-schoolmate, Martin Lamble.
A month or two on.....and I got a Saturday job in a pharmacy in Golders Green (North London) – and I soon became great friends with a fellow Saturday worker, Helen Cinnamon, who I soon learned was a close friend of Fairport’s. For months into early 1968 Helen kept mentioning that Fairport were appearing around London and that she was hanging out with them and that I really ought to come along to a gig: with each refusal she probably thought ‘what’s his problem?’ Now I have always said - a self-perpetuating myth - that my Mum wouldn’t allow me to go to one of these ‘wild concerts’ (again in my myth) because that could only deprave my middle-class sensibilities BUT the truth is that I was incredibly shy and I just wasn’t confident enough to go on my own.
However, in the summer of ’68, in the wake of impending (and unsuccessful) A levels, Helen started going out with Martin and invited me to a gig in Hampstead where a burgeoning Fairport was playing. By now Fairport had released a single and their first eponymous album which had permanently transplanted Beatles albums from my turntable.

So I turned up with my schoolfriends Roy and Piers to see and hear my first live gig! There couldn’t have been more than about 30 (probably all students and friends of the band) in the audience and initially we were all seated uncomfortably on a hard floor in the dark. They trooped onto a wide stage but kept close enough to one another - Martin back-centre on drums, Tyger Hutchings far left, Simon Nicol in the middle and Richard Thompson far right in the darkness, Ian Matthews front left, and then Sandy Denny front right obscuring Richard. (Sandy Denny had recently replaced the beautiful voice of Judy Dyble as lead singer and I knew nothing about the new addition)

In hindsight, I probably had no idea what to expect but what we did NOT get was any extroversion, cavorting or guitar-smashing. What happened was that I was spellbound throughout the show – I recall the set included Reno Nevada, Suzanne, Some Sweet Day, Morning Glory, Eastern Rain and Meet On The Ledge (Sandy: “Simon’s on violin tonight as they’ve repossessed our piano”) but 3 people stood out for me. Through knowing Martin I was impressed with his versatility as a drummer – moving from great rock drumming and then to imperceptible sensitivity. It was clear that Richard Thompson carried his guitar wizardry slightly under that curly fringe - Paul Ghosh once told me that he slept with his guitar.

But it was Sandy Denny who stunned me that night. She was the focus of a band that previously had no focus – Sandy supplanted Tyger’s prosaic intros with her faltering and nervous (unrehearsed) manner which was also jokey and self-deprecating. And Sandy’s stunning soprano voice lifted the band to another level – the standouts were an aching version of Who Knows Where The Time Goes and (I think Sandy said) the first live and epic performance of A Sailor’s Life.

At the end Helen got us to meet with the band in the way of the 60's when you'd stand around saying nothing much in particular and in my case nothing at all but.......
In 35+ years of watching and photographing concerts NOTHING compares to the magic of that very first concert - halcyon days.

I saw Fairport a half-dozen times in the next couple of years and each time was a thrill and a delight. After their bus crash in 1969, I went off to University, Sandy (and Tyger) left Fairport, and things were never the same again. The Fairport songs from that '67-'69 era were the most unique collection from a British band and have never been surpassed - songs written by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Frank, Dylan, Emmitt Rhodes, The Farinas, Eric Andersen, Leonard Cohen and gradually Fairport members themselves.

Looking back some 40 years now, it’s remarkable to realise……just how unique Fairport was, and considering the quality of the music, to realise just how young they were. Suffice to say that Sandy has left a wonderful body of work, which in the final analysis is the only thing that matters.

Today recalls the genius of Sandy Denny - the finest singer-songwriter that Britain has produced.

(This is a cut-down version of a chapter - on Fairport days - from a book that I’m currently writing)

Here's a clip of Sandy solo:

Here is a link to Bob Harris’s tribute on BBC Radio 2 tonight.....

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Returning blog....

...and returning swallow!
Our first swallow of the summer.
At 7.45a.m. I heard a swallow singing and looked around the garden to find the bird swooping and gliding around and then alighting on a neighbouring TV aerial. Having made that long journey from Europe/Africa (?) the swallow sat on the aerial for some minutes preening itself and occasionally singing. We now await the arrival of other swallows to inhabit our barn, garage and shed. However, there is one proviso - we have a number of pigeons 'take over' the barn during this past winter so the swallows won't have it their own way - but the swallows are more than capable at dealing with the lumbering intruders.

At the risk of being repetitive the viewing of the first swallow has been a happy spectacle of our time in Yorkshire; so much so that I can't recall having ever seen a swallow in our final 10 years in Balham - now, that would have been a sight!
(A few words of thanks for the Comments posting from Elisabeth from Chester County - enjoy your swallows for the summer ahead!)

On a comletely different subject.......
I've spent the winter working on a semi-autobiographical, semi-biographical book - the latter reflecting my involvement in music and latterly my 6 days managing Stephen Bishop's first live performances in the UK.

At present, I might back-burn this book and look at writing a children's book. All of which is fairly surprising as I said I would never, and could never, write a book. Well........
Our holiday last year in the Algarve – horribly over-rated – resulted in ES diving into the swimming pool and swimming around saying, "Look at me, I'm a ******" That one (asterisked) inspiring word gave me an idea for the children's book. And as Mrs R is the nearest and cheapest illustrator in the county, what serendipidity – an illustrated children’s book.

So, I intend to start the book, 'MURPHY THE ******' at the end of the summer.