Fairport Convention Live At The BBC Review

Live. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Rough-edged for sure, but viscerally exciting stuff.

Sid Smith 2007

A long time ago, in a land far away young people used to spend their evenings huddled over their radios, keenly listening to see if their favourite band might make that night’s playlist. Possibly it would be a track from the current album, or perhaps if they were really lucky, a bespoke session for the likes of Top Gear, etc. To the present generation of internet-savvy kids, such commitment to the laws of chance and expectation evidenced by such vigils seems laughably arcane. It’s all a long way away from the world of on-demand downloads, alternative mixes, fan-club exclusives, extra features, out-takes, remixes et al. Back then though, radio sessions were the only way of following your heroes outside of seeing them perform live or on their latest long-player. Try telling that to the kids of today and they just don’t believe you!

Like many groups of the day, Fairport Convention’s numerous sorties into Maida Vale were an opportunity to lay down something that was very much “here and now”. Often grabbed between gigs, such dates gave an instant snapshot of whatever was exercising attentions within the group. For example, Fairport’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” was laid down a mere month after bassist Ashley Hutchings had gate-crashed the great man’s own (and so far, only) BBC session. Though it had entered their live set, like many of the tracks on this boxset, it had never been formally recorded thanks in part to producer Joe Boyd’s desire to see the band focus on their own writing. One can only guess at the excitement an eager Fairport fan would have felt on hearing its tumbling rhythms fall from a tinny radio speaker during Top Gear.

There have been several attempts in the past to gather all the waifs and strays that were left behind by Fairport during their outings to the Beeb. Privately produced tapes and CDs have been issued from official band sources, whilst the the 2002 expanded edition of Heyday covered 1968/69. The recently remastered studio back catalogue also now has various Beeb items peppered across them as the obligatory bonus material. However, this is the most comprehensive anthology yet boasting everything that is known to exist from the official archive and off-air recordings, brought together in one easy-to-use set spread over 4CDs. Lavishly packaged with authoritative notes by band pal Kingsley Abbott, it provides a well-informed guided tour from the earliest dates in 1967 to the last in 1974.

Whilst the sound quality on the off air selection ranges somewhere between dodgy bootleg to passable rarity, this would undoubtedly be a poorer compilation had these been left off to save the ears of sensitive audiophile-types. The fact that it includes gems such as Judy Dyble’s luminous cover of Eric Andersen’s chiming “Violets of Dawn” makes braving the hiss more than worthwhile. Similarly, the barn-storming version of “Time Will Show The Wiser” knocks its studio version into a cocked hat; rough-edged for sure, but viscerally exciting stuff.

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