British folk rock took root 45-years ago
LONDON (Reuters) - It was hardly Bob Dylan goes electric, but 45 years ago this week saw a major milestone in British folk-rock, a genre whose influence has stretched across the world and is to be found in a whole new generation of musicians.
The midwives of the event in question were the members of Fairport Convention, a group that is still wildly popular and which has spawned many others, from classic bands such as Steeleye Span right through, arguably, to today's Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes.
Back in 1967 when Fairport showed up at a church hall in north London's Golders Green for their first gig, they were pretty much a typical rock band for the era, albeit with a knowledge of folk and a penchant for obscure covers of Dylan, The Byrds and other North American singer-songwriters.
It wasn't long, however, before they began blending traditional British folk music -- all that finger-in-the-ear and dancing-'round-the-Maypole stuff -- with some heavy rock.
There was fiddle and the odd rustic accent, but there was also driving bass, thumping drums and regular bursts of riffing electric guitar.
This came together most famously in the landmark album "Liege & Lief" two years later -- but Golders Green was where it all began.
"Within two years we had seamlessly evolved into a confident group which believed wholeheartedly that we should be doing the equivalent of our American heroes, namely taking the country's traditions and making modern, popular versions of them," founder Ashley Hutchings told Reuters.
"When we made the Liege & Lief album we knew we had invented British folk-rock, and it felt good."
The original members included Hutchings who went on to found Steeleye Span, The Albion Band and its offshoots; Simon Nicol, who is still with Fairport; and Richard Thompson, a master guitarist who Rolling Stone magazine has put at 69th among the all-time greats, just above Jack White.
They were later joined by the late songstress Sandy Denny, bassist Dave Pegg, who is still there after a stint with Jethro Tull, and maestro British folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick.
So jumbled is the history of all the Fairport musicians, who left bands, returned to them, started others and ran a plethora of side projects that some people over the years have tried to create a Fairport family tree.
Among the links, according to one of these "trees", are Jimmy Cliff, The Strawbs, Matthews Southern Comfort, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Soft Machine, and Pentangle.
It's still going on. Hutchings -- to use an expression that no one would have heard of at that gig 45 years ago -- has just rebooted his Albion Band spinoff. This one is being led by Blair Dunlop, his son.
Fairport Convention, meanwhile, carries on almost as if nothing has happened in the interim 45 years. It has three recent CDs out -- a live version of its folk rock tone poem, "Babbacombe Lee"; a kind of greatest hits picked by fans, By "Popular Request"; and some new songs, "Festival Bell".
And each year it hosts Fairport's Cropredy Convention, a three-day festival in an Oxfordshire field that brings in everything from blues to bluegrass, country to reggae and, of course, British folk rock.
(Reporting by Jeremy Gaunt, editing by Paul Casciato)
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