I had got myself a little confused by days/dates a week ago and, therefore, missed out on seeing Fairport Convention for the first time. Tonight, however, saw me at The Duchess for a kind of spin-off from the purveyors of folk-rock. More on that later.
First to take the stage tonight were Stuart Giddens and Pip Jopling, a folk duo based here in York. Opening their set with Adieu Adieu, Pip’s simple guitar work and Stuart’s occasional melodeon interludes provided a backing to the latter’s folky yet, at times, powerful vocals. The guitar was then replaced by a fiddle for the rest of the set, starting with what was introduced as a sea-shanty. It seemed to me to be a bit slow to be a shanty, but I bow to those with greater expertise. Despite it also being billed as a sing-along, there was no audience participation – perhaps expecting some this early in the evening was a little ambitious. I think the first two tracks were traditionals, but The Sonnet was introduced as written by Pip and The Comedown as written by Stuart. The two were played without a break and either the former, which started out slowly, turned into a jaunty fiddle piece or the latter was a jaunty fiddle piece, I’m not sure where the join was. During gigs I make small notes to jog my memory about things. The one for the next song states that it was “about shagging” and that it was called Blow Me Jack “or another title”, bit I have no recollection what that means. I do remember it was introduced in a light-hearted way but have no other memory about it apart from a vague idea that it sounded more like what I expected a sea shanty to sound like. The last song was The Cuckoo and had a very traditional sound to it, both musically and vocally. Stuart and Pip got a good reception from the audience and, despite traditional folk not being high on my likes list, managed to keep my attention for their short, yet still entertaining set.
Next up was Esiotrot Waltz, comprising the floppy-fringed Sam Brigss and Charlie Tophill (I hope I’ve got those the right way round, both names could apply to either gender, but this was a male and female duo…). Both played guitar and they alternated vocals throughout the set. The first song saw Sam taking the lion’s share, both of vocals – which reminded me slightly of Boss Caine – and guitar, with Charlie playing a lighter guitar line and providing some nice vocal harmonies. Charlie’s vocals for the second song can only be described as lovely, obviously lighter than Sam’s. The first song to be introduced was called, I think, Sanity – it was more lively than the first two and, apparently, there is a dance sequence which goes with it but a practice session ended in a broken bed (!) so we didn’t get to see it tonight. The set continued in the livelier vein with the next song. Once again, I have to apologise for a lack of song titles – I did note down snatches of lyrics for songs that weren’t introduced, but this band are so new (formed in June this year and with, so far, just two likes on Facebook, one being me…) that I can’t find anything on-line. After Hours, however, was introduced and was another lovely song which painted a picture of a couple at the end of an evening together. I got the impression that all these songs were originals, but only the next one was specifically mentioned as being written by, and performed by, Charlie. The set ended with final Sam-sung (puns and everything in this post…) song and, overall, had a pleasant, more modern feel to it that Stuart and Pip’s set.
The Albion Band were formed in 1971 by Ashley Hutchings, who was also a founder member of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. One look at their promotional photos, however, showed that it was unlikely that many of the current line-up were even born in 1971. It turns out that this version, formed in 2011 after the original was suspended as a full band in 2002, was a sort of Albion Band: The Next Generation. For the first time in its history, Hutchings would not be a member, instead passing the baton on to his son, Blair Dunlop, who would be joined by current folk performers from diverse backgrounds, thus retaining the feel of earlier versions of the band. In short, this isn’t the Albion Band your father would remember. Not that my Dad would have a clue who the Albion Band were at all…
Opening with traditional sounding vocals over acoustic guitar and mandolin, A Quarter Hour Of Fame eventually saw the rest of the band joining in, causing the track to burst into electric life and it was followed by a lively and noisy instrumental, one of the “new jigs” for this tour. This was followed by the somewhat headier Ragged Heroes, opening track of the 1978 album Rise Up Like The Sun and a then rallying-call for English folk music, with it’s opening verse of “Songs of hope and tunes of glory / Half remembered Albion Hymns / Rise up Saint George and tell the story / This is where your song begins”. Powerful stuff, with the multi-vocal style adding real-depth to the song. After a track about “having and losing stuff” which, it was said, was something traditional jigged about with, Katriona Gilmore introduced her own Coalville as an attempt to produce a second popular song about a place she had never been to, first checking whether there was anybody in the audience from Leicestershire. (There was, but he didn’t announce himself until after the gig, using social media to confirm the town is indeed a grim place.) Between songs, instruments were often changed (and, this being a folk band, I couldn’t identify most of them, although there were things along the lines of mandolins) and there was some funny and deprecating (not necessarily of the “self” kind) banter, with perhaps a few such occasions showing why drummers shouldn’t be given microphones as Tom A. Wright often interrupted stories and sometimes mercilessly took the mickey out of other band members. Another jig was followed by How Many Miles To Babylon, a ghost story with nursery rhyme lyrics and some incredibly haunting music. It must have been a night for sea shanties, as One More Day was introduced as one and, again, was much livelier than the one performed earlier on. Katriona’s fiddle, playing over Blair’s introduction, drowned out the title of the next song, but it was a traditional English song which ended beautifully with just harmonised vocals over Tim Yates’ bass. Thieves Song brought folk sensibilities right up to date, using the poetry of Hark Hark The Dogs Do Bark in its lyrics to produce a song about hating politicians – Some in rags / Some in jags, do you get the reference? Another shout-out from Katriona showed that there were two Morris Dancers in the audience (at different sides of the stage not, she joked, standing together with nobody else around them…) then jig was followed by a nod to the original incarnation of the band with the playing of a song which was originally a seventeenth century poem set to music by Phil Beer. Then there was a bit of a country vibe to I Was A Young Man, with Benjamin Trott playing lead guitar in a bottle-neck style. The main set was completed by a couple more instrumentals, starting off slowly and gradually moving to something which certainly got the foot tapping. Throughout the set these instrumentals had reminded me of the type found on early albums from Mostly Autumn and I, for one, miss them.
After a short break the band returned to the stage for a much-demanded encore, only to find that Gavin Davenport’s microphone had packed up at the worst possible time, as he was to take lead vocals on what is known within the band as The Horse Song or, more properly Poor Old Horse, another sea shanty, which originally appeared on Rise Up Like The Sun. After taking over Blair’s microphone for the song, he returned to his to find that it had mysteriously started working again. The final song of the night was the final song on the new album Vice Of The People, from which many tracks had been taken tonight. Wake A Little Wiser once again, brings folk up to date and the set full circle as it decries the fifteen minutes of fame given to the heroes of today on shows like X-Factor. I waited until the last note had started to fade before clapping just the twice and practically running out of the door with no time to visit the merchandise desk as my bus home was imminent.
I have said before that traditional folk isn’t really my thing, but I enjoyed immensely the electric folk rock of the Albion Band. Hopefully they will be back soon and, if this performance was anything to go by, next time Fairport Convention play York, I will be making sure I don’t get my dates confused.