That’s all folk — the unconventional birth of Fairport Convention

In an extract from his new memoir Richard Thompson remembers how the iconic band came about, recalls their early gigs and looks back at the motorway crash that killed his girlfriend and their drummer

Fairport Convention

How the band came together
I met Ashley “Tyger” Hutchings through my schoolfriend Brian Wyvill, who lived a few doors away from him in Durnsford Road, Muswell Hill. Brian had been recommending us to each other for a while, so it was inevitable that we should cross paths eventually, and it finally happened one sunny afternoon across a suburban garden gate. You could bet your life that any band run by Tyger in 1966, of which there were several, would have an obscure repertoire. For Dr K’s Blues Band, he used to track down and play B-sides by artists who had been mere footnotes in blues anthologies, and for the Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra he revived the 1920s repertoires of Gus Cannon and the Memphis Jug [ . . . ]  Subscribers to THE TIMES continue

Richard Thompson on the Fairport Convention years: ‘I probably never went on stage sober’

The ex-Fairport Convention songwriter on booze, Irish folk and ‘volatile’ Sandy Denny

Veteran folk-rock guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson is the quintessential journeyman musician. Now 72, his achievements can be best summed up not by Grammy nominations or OBEs (though he has both), but his setlist, a back catalogue that includes classics such as Persuasion, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Wall of Death, Shoot Out the Lights and – perhaps his finest composition – Beeswing, a masterclass in melody, narrative and guitar artistry.

Beeswing is also the title of Thompson’s new memoir, subtitled Fairport, Folk Rock and Finding My Voice 1967-75, which is published this month.

“I think it reflected some of what I felt about the ’60s and ’70s,” Thompson says on a Zoom call from his home in Los Angeles. “There was a rejection of the traditional paths of life: you have to go to university; you have to get a job in a bank; you have to become this straight citizen. There were kids dropping out, saying, ‘I’m not gonna do that, I’m gonna go live in a commune in Denmark.’ You saw people like Vashti Bunyan, who’d get her gypsy caravan and her horses and go off wandering. The chapter called Beeswing is a summation of that spirit, and it seemed a logical title for the whole book.”

The song itself bears such a feeling of authenticity, of lived experience, this reader felt sure it must have had autobiographical origins. Not so, says the author.

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Sandy

She was a tremendous singer. She could do that thing that opera singers can do where they can go from almost a whisper to really loud without any difficulty in the whole dynamic. Also, her voice was incredibly expressive. Expression is something some people can learn, but with her it was just there. Then, Sandy was a very emotional human being. That came across when she was singing. She could inhabit a song completely. In many cases, she could make a song so much her own that no one could sing it afterwards. She even did that with some traditional songs, and she certainly did it with her own songs. What’s the point in doing an interpretation of a Sandy Denny song? You’re never going to sound as good.

Richard Thompson “Beeswing”

‘I’m Afraid She Didn’t Make It’: Richard Thompson Recounts Harrowing Accident in New Memoir

British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson recounts the 1969 van accident that almost destroyed Fairport Convention in excerpt from new book

By David Browne

In the spring of 1969, Fairport Convention had every reason to be hopeful. Dubbed the British version of Jefferson Airplane, Fairport boasted a lineup that included a brilliant, husky-voiced lead singer, Sandy Denny, and a guitarist, Richard Thompson, who was beginning to blossom into one of his country’s finest and often gloomiest songwriters. The band, which also included guitarist Simon Nichol, drummer Martin Lamble and bassist Ashley Hutchings, had just completed its third album, Unhalfbricking; among its tracks were Denny’s soon-to-be standard “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”, several Bob Dylan covers from his Basement Tapes era, and Thompson originals like “Autopsy” and “Genesis Hall.” The music fused rock and roll with age-old British traditional music, sounding like nothing that had come before. 

All that forward momentum halted, as least temporarily, one night in northern England. The band had just performed a show and were on their way home, with Thompson’s American girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn joining them. In this excerpt from Thompson’s Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975 (Algonquin Books, April 6th), Thompson writes about that harrowing ride — the worst nightmare for any touring band, including Fairport Convention in 1969.

Life seemed good, and things were going well with Fairport. Our new album was due out soon, and the word was that we would tour America for the first time later that year. On May 11th, Jeannie came with the band to one of our regular haunts, Mothers in Birmingham, a club we played every couple of months. We shared the bill that night with Eclection, another folk rock band with a female singer, Kerrilee Male. Sandy’s boyfriend Trevor Lucas was also in Eclection. Like Kerry, he had come to the UK from Australia. He stood out in a crowd, being tall with a mass of red hair, and he was a fine singer of traditional British and Australian songs. The show went well, with both bands getting a good reception. Sandy rode back to London with Trevor, while the rest of us piled into the Transit van and headed south down the A6 to the M1. Continue reading