“Wall Of Death” puts quite a spin, literally and figuratively, on the idea of marriage as a wild ride.
There are many albums that are called “breakup” albums even though the biographical circumstances don’t quite ring true. Bob Dylan would remain married to wife Sara for several years after Blood On The Tracks, just as Bruce Sprinsgteen’s first marriage wouldn’t crumble for almost a full year after the release of Tunnel Of Love.
Still, the music on those albums seemed to reveal the fissures of those relationships, fissures that would eventually become irreparable cracks. So it was that Richard Thompson wrote the material for Shoot Out The Lights, released in 1982, a year prior to the actual dissolution of his marriage to Linda Thompson. And yet, as Linda eventually told Rolling Stone, “It was kind of a subliminal thing. I think we both were miserable and didn’t quite know how to get it out. I think that’s why the album is so good. We couldn’t talk to each other, so we just did it on the record.”
The structure on the album, which has come to be regarded as one of the finest of the ’80s, plays into that narrative, with Richard singing one song to seemingly give his side of the story, and Linda then answering with her own take. But it culminates in the two harmonizing on “Wall Of Death,” which, despite the ominous title, sends the album out on an almost celebratory note. For it suggests that a relationship brimming with vibrant emotions, even the negative ones, is preferable to one that grinds along amiably without the highs and lows.
In the world of carnivals, the Wall of Death is an attraction that features motorcycles wheeling around a silo-shaped structure, seeming to defy gravity because of the cylindrical force. Richard makes it a kind of metaphor for liberty: “On the Wall of Death, all the world is far from me,” he and Linda sing in the bridge. “On the Wall of Death, it’s the nearest to being free.”
A mid-tempo rocker with typically tough and lyrical lead guitar from Richard, “Wall Of Death” compares the titular ride to other popular attractions. “Well, you’re going nowhere when you ride on the carousel,” the pair sing in the second verse. “And maybe you’re strong, but what’s the use of ringing a bell.” Also: “The Tunnel of Love might amuse you/And Noah’s Ark might confuse you.”
The most dangerous rides might cause the most tumult but, ultimately, they’re the most invigorating, or so the song implies. “You can waste your time on the other rides,” they sing. “But this is the nearest to being alive.” If you are indeed going to read Shoot Out The Lights as a kind of meta commentary on a crumbling marriage, the last song suggests that there might be recriminations and rebuttals but ultimately there are no regrets.
Note also how the lyrics ask, “Let me ride on the Wall of Death one more time.” Looking at the song on its own, it seems the narrator just wants to go around again. But in the context of the entire album, that line could be read as two people indulging in this last queasy, yet thrilling, go-round before they move on. In any case, “Wall Of Death” puts quite a spin, literally and figuratively, on the idea of marriage as a wild ride.
May 12, 1969 bus crash killed Fairport Convention drummer Martin Lamble and severely injured other members of the group.
As the summer of 1969 approached, the future looked bright for Fairport Convention, as their second album, What We Did on Our Holidays, expanded the band’s audience with a more rock-inflected version of their folk sound. But an awful tragedy nearly destroyed the band just as all their hard work was starting to pay off.
In the early morning hours of May 12, as the group traveled back from a celebratory gig in Birmingham shortly after wrapping up work on their next album, their van veered off the road — and in the aftermath of the crash, Fairport Convention would never be the same. The wreck killed drummer Martin Lamble, who was just 19 at the time, as well as fashion designer and magazine columnist Jeannie Franklyn, who’d been dating guitarist Richard Thompson. Thompson suffered a broken shoulder and bassist Ashley Hutchings was sent to the hospital with assorted serious injuries, while guitarist Simon Nicol, who’d been sleeping on the floor of the vehicle when it went off the road, escaped with a concussion.
“Our road manager and sound guy, Harvey Bramham, did most of the driving although I’d do a bit to relieve him. On this particular gig, he’d been feeling peaky all day, quite unwell,” explained Nicol in a post on the Fairport Convention website. “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. All the gear had gone out of the back and all the people had gone out through the windows and doors.”
With the release of their next album mere weeks away, the members of the group had to decide whether they could even carry on as a unit. “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,” recalled Nicol. “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 were totally fractured, in more ways than one,” Hutchings told the Guardian. “It seemed like I was in hospital for months. When I woke up at the side of the M1, I thought I’d lost my sight. As it was, it was just that both eyes were terribly cut and bruised, and eventually, that improved. But I had a broken nose, broken cheekbone, a lot of head injuries, a broken pelvis, a bad ankle injury. All of those things took a long time to heal. People were asking us about the future, but we couldn’t conceive of planning one.”
“We were very traumatized,” added Thompson. “And there was this feeling: ‘Should we carry on? Has the stuffing been knocked out of us?’ But eventually, we made a conscious effort. We got together and said, ‘Yes, we are carrying on.'” As Nicol put it, “We all felt psychologically traumatized 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.”
While Fairport Convention handled the last few bits of work to prepare their third LP, Unhalfbricking, for its July 1969 release, DJ John Peel hosted a benefit concert featuring Family, Pretty Things, and Soft Machine on May 25 to raise money for Lamble and Franklyn’s families. While they soldiered on, the pall of the accident continued to loom; as Hutchings later told the Guardian, he can’t even look at the cover of Unhalfbricking without thinking about the tragedy. “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,” he explained. “You don’t forget things like that.”
In fact, although the group soon found a new drummer in Dave Mattacks and rebounded to create one of their most successful albums with Liege & Lief later that year, Hutchings was on his way out of the band. “I believe the crash hung over the band in unseen ways,” mused Nicol. “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.”
Fairport Convention’s lineup would continue to change quite a bit over the years, but aside from a hiatus between 1979-’85, they’ve continued to tour and record steadily — and although Nicol is the only original member left, he wouldn’t mind seeing the Fairport name continue after he’s gone. “I’d like Fairport to become the first band to be like a male voice choir, carrying on through changes of personnel but retaining its identity,” he wrote on the band’s site.
“After all, no one bats an eyelid about a brass band playing on long after all the original members are gone. Why shouldn’t there be a Fairport Convention in fifty or a hundred years?”
British Folk Rock 1967-1973 – the tip of the iceberg but an interesting and varied collection from the Grapefruit genre anthology series.
And that’s despite the confession of folk brigand Eliza Carthy (Louder Than Words festival interview, Manchester, 2018) that she can’t stand Folk Rock and has never knowingly listened to a Fairport Convention album.
She’ll not be interested then to hear how sixty tracks gather together the familiar with the less so. Songs that you’ll know from the folk tradition and plenty of others which again, might be less so. If there’s anyone who could lay a claim to knowing all the bands and all the songs then you perhaps deserve a place at the head of the table if not the Eggheads team. Steeleye Span, Ralph McTell Continue reading
Fairport’s Cropredy Convention three-day open-air music festival announce the full line-up of acts appearing at this year’s event.
Fairport’s Cropredy Convention three-day open-air music festival will celebrate its fortieth anniversary this year. Below you can read the full line-up of acts appearing at this year’s event. Over three days (8, 9 and 10 August) Cropredy will present more than thirty hours of live music to an audience of up to 20,000 festival-goers.
Headline acts for 2019 include The Waterboys (Thursday), Frank Turner (Friday); and host band Fairport Convention (Saturday).
Other major acts include Gogol Bordello on Thursday, Seth Lakeman (Friday) and Richard Thompson (Friday).
See the FULL Lineup at: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention – Full Line-up Announced | Folk Radio