Fairport Convention – What We Did on Our Holidays
…she stood out like a clean glass in a sink full of dirty dishes – Fairport band member Simon Nicol on Sandy Denny’s audition with the band.
When Fairport Convention released their second album, What We Did on Our Holidays, 50 years ago this month, British folk rock was evolving quickly. By the end of 1969, it would be a full-fledged thing. But at the beginning of the year, the band had yet to take the full plunge. What we have on this album, remarkably the first of three by Fairport that year, is an interesting mix of original songs with then-obscure cover versions as well as their own arrangements of traditional songs. Perhaps the most notable thing the band did on its holiday was hire a new lead singer, Sandy Denny, to replace the departed Judy Dyble. This was Denny’s rather remarkable debut.
What We Did… shows a very young group of musicians with a new vocalist rapidly finding their way, but by no means were they scraping the barrel for material. The opening track is Sandy’s Fotheringay, one of the most beautiful acoustic folk songs of the era. There’s also the straight forward electric blues track Mr. Lacey, written by band member Ashley Hutchings and featuring the stellar lead guitar of 19-year-old Richard Thompson. The Book Song and No Man’s Land remind me of American west coast bands, the former the Mamas and the Papas with a Cajun twist, the latter a mish-mash of early Dead and Airplane.
There’s a nice version of I’ll Keep it with Mine, at the time a lesser known Dylan track which turned out to be a good song choice for Sandy’s vocal and Iain Matthews’ harmonies (only Judy Collins had it on an album at the time; Bob’s versions would see the official light of day on later compilations). They were also the first to release Joni Mitchell’s Eastern Rain – a track which is perfect for either Fairport or Joni (or even It’s a Beautiful Day?). Leaning once again toward English folk, they also put down their own take of the traditional Nottamun Town, a “lost song” from medieval England which ended up passed along through oral tradition to American Appalachia, and whose melody Dylan used in Masters of War in 1963.
Reviews are mostly positive. AllMusic’s Richie Unterberger:
And more than simply being a collection of good songs (with one or two pedestrian ones), it allowed Fairport to achieve its greatest internal balance, and indeed one of the finest balances of any major folk-rock group.
My favorites are Sandy Denny’s original Fotheringay, Richard Thompson’s Meet On the Ledge, Joni Mitchell’s Eastern Rain, and the traditional She Moves Through the Fair – a song I’ve yet to hear a bad version of, with or without vocals. While it may or may not be a cohesive album, I no longer hear it as just a step along the way toward Liege & Leif. It’s a great collection of songs, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with a band releasing a batch of tunes they just happen to enjoy playing, whether they “go together” or not. 1969 had to have been a blur for the group. They would soon experience major adversity prior to the release of their next album just a few months later as they forged ahead, leaving a significant footprint on the music world.
- Mr. Lacey
- Book Song
- The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place
- No Man’s Land
- I’ll Keep It With Mine
- Eastern Rain
- Nottamun Town
- Tale in Hard Time
- She Moves Through the Fair
- Meet on the Ledge
- End of a Holiday