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The Union Chapel is one of this country’s great venues. A place that has the reverence you would expect from a functioning chapel though not so much that it intimidates. It’s forgiving; half-empty or full, there’s always a good atmosphere. But when it is sold out, with a band on a roll and an audience ready to go with them, then it comes into its own, becomes very special.
Everything aligned tonight and resulted in one of this writer’s favourite concerts of all time. It’s not easy to explain why Fairport Convention were absolutely sublime tonight. With two sets of old, new and obscure songs, acknowledgements to friends and colleagues passed but never forgotten.
First things first. Sally Barker may have gained some attention from her performances on The Voice and been backed by Sir Tom Jones but she’s was already an accomplished performer before all that. A set mostly from her new album, she treads a fine line between traditional music and some of the more soulful elements to Country. Fairport are introduced for her final number and from there it’s all them.
They open their set proper with the self-referring Our Bus Rolls On from the new album, and there’s a feeling that the band are energised, not sitting back on any laurels. That’s taken another step by performing the rarely played Richard Thompson number Genesis Hall.
And there’s always the humour and sense of fun, there’s a good-natured banter between the group; bassist Dave Pegg’s chants for fellow Brummies’ Sabbath, and the introduction to The Naked Highwayman by Simon Nicol, who later on gets few laughs with his observations on current politics.
It’s hard to pick highlights from such a consistent performance but Who Knows Where the Time Goes was as emotional as ever, and Ric Sanders’s violin and Chris Leslie’s mandolin on Portmerion just lifted the spirits, Fotheringay too is simply beautiful. It is however their take on Ralph McTell’s The Hiring Fair which leaves the lasting impression.
Bu this isn’t just a wallow in the past, there’s a new album and these songs fit right in. The Devil’s Work is a playful song about DIY, and newbie rocker Eleanor’s Dream is a brilliant foil for the old faithful Matty Groves, and demonstrate what a formidable rhythm section Dave Pegg and Gerry Conway are.
The generosity of the group is palpable throughout with Now Be Thankful dedicated to the crew and their supporting team, various birthday dedications plus Edmund Whitcombe is welcomed (along with Sally Barker) on stage during the encore to play the cornet for an incredible Meet on the Ledge.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Fairport Convention will put on a good show. They are on a long tour so they are going to be pretty well oiled. But there is never any sense that they are going through the motions, or complacency, it feels like a totally unique performance.Share