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FAIRPORT CONVENTION - Union Chapel, Islington - 27 May 2017

It’s 50 years to the day since Fairport Convention played their first gig. Clearly, The Cropredy Convention will be the occasion to celebrate that half century, but how to mark the anniversary itself?

For Fairport, the answer was obvious – bring it all back home in an iconic venue situated, like their very first gig, just four and a half miles from the Fortis Green house from which the band took its name. They were on a six week UK tour – their second this year – leaving little opportunity for learning new songs. Sensibly they kept the set simple, treating the full house of friends, fans and Fairport graduates to two sets - the first consisting mainly of newer material, the second a musical mystery tour of classics that spanned the 50 years, from the first track on their second album to the opening song of Fairport 50:50@50. There was a party atmosphere – old friendships reaffirmed; new friendships formed; a certain audience giddiness; lots of namechecks; the enthused singing of Happy Birthday. There were surprises – from the Winter Tour, Sally Barker joining them to sing Rising For The Moon; the sublime Jacqui McShee singing Lady Of Carlisle from the new album live for the first time. For the latter, Simon pointed out that Pentangle also made their debut 50 years ago. Introducing Sally, Peggy recalled recording the album; listing those who played on it with him – Sandy, Swarb, Bruce, Trevor (all lost to us) and Jerry (now unable to play following a stroke). It was an understatedly moving moment in a night of quiet emotion.

We heard a set-list that was more like a wish-list; 19 songs, each of which was an exemplar highlight of what the band has achieved since 1967. With every classic Fairport album represented, inevitably, they ended with their anthem, Meet On The Ledge – today its visionary precision seems even more astonishing from the pen of an 18 year old Richard Thompson.

Fairport Convention - always there when we really needed them, always making songs, even when the hair is growing thin!

Nigel Schofield