Fairport Convention - Liege And Lief
I bore you with this little aside simply because that factlet, and the fact that I had heard of Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and Dave Swarbrick (but never linked them with Fairport Convention) were about all I knew about the band. Part of that lack of knowledge was down to lack of interest, I must confess, but part of it was down to the fact I could never pin down what sort of band they were sufficiently to get interested in them. In truth, it was not easy for them. Prior to the release of this album they had survived on mimicking the west coast USA laid-back California hippy music of bands like Jefferson Airplane. After this, they had become Morris dancers. I jest of course (especially about the Morris dancers) but it exemplifies the problem I had.
The change in the band came about because they had, during 1969, lost their drummer to a serious road accident. The shock of this had sent the band into a reclusive introspection about what they wanted to be, and turned them towards traditional British folk music. The resulting album, Liege and Lief, consists of a mixture of self-penned numbers and traditional songs given a make over with modern instruments. On balance, it is the latter which are the more successful.
A self-penned number, a rousing introduction to the new folk world of Fairport Convention, opens the album. "Come All Ye" sets the tone which the album then, disappointingly, lets down with "Reynardine". The character of Reynard, a fox, is derived from French sources but has been adapted across Europe and this is a salutary, yet simple tale of romantic deception is suitable to the character. As a stand alone piece, it is not bad, but as the second track after such a rousing opening it is a bit of a let down. Thankfully, the following track puts the album back in the right tone. The traditional tale of "Matty Groves", seduced by the wife of Lord Donald, is a barnstorming number which ends with a rousing instrumental section and is probably one of the best ever re-interpretations of a folk classic with modern instruments. Closing out the original vinyl's side one is a Richard Thompson penned number, "Farewell, Farewell", a quaint little ballad which is as good an end to a highlight as you can find.
The second side opens with another traditional song, "The Deserter". Now I find this particularly difficult for the rhythm of the song seems all over the place and the tempo is alternately plodding and animated. Maybe I am just not attuned to this which is a pity for it is a tale of betrayal as potentially inspiring as "Matty Groves". Following it with a medley of instrumental Irish jigging was, in my view, not going to rescue the opening of the second side. However, the final two tracks do form a kind of redemption of their own. The traditional "Tam Lin" brings in magic and the faerie world to the album with its tale of a pregnant woman protecting her lover from the wrath of the Faerie Queen while "Crazy Man Michael" is a tale of deceit and malice revolving around the theme of magic once again.
The extended and remastered version of the album I have contains an additional two tracks. The first is a song which would appear later on Denny's own solo albums, the tale of the unfortunate "Sir Patrick Spens" who was erroneously (maliciously?) nominated to be the King's great sea captain when he had neither the experience not desire to do the task, and the plodding and ultimately unsatisfying "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood".
In the end, Liege and Lief is a classic of its genre - modern British folk rock - which fails to live up the label classic except that there is nothing else in the genre around this time which can touch it. Sure it has its highlights and its leading songs. And yes, at times, the narrative in the tales - particularly in "Matty Groves", "Tam Lin" and "Crazy Man Michael" - does more than enough to hold your interest. What lets it down and denies it a higher rating is the simple fact that much of the rest of the album (though I do have a soft spot for "Reynardine") fails to live up to the same standard.
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on 2011-04-02 CharlesMartel Said:
Undoubtedly their best and possibly the leading English folk rock album of the sixties