History: Dave Pegg recounts Fairport's history
"Gigs are what we do – you get in the van, you drive somewhere, you play to an audience, you have a curry, you get back in the van."
I started out in music, like many of my contemporaries, playing in bands at school during the 60s beat boom in Brum. When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I persuaded my dad to buy me a guitar from Woodruff's, a long-gone Birmingham music shop. I also bought a copy of a book by Bert Weedon called Play in a Day. Years later, incidentally, I discovered that the same book was the starting point for both Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson.
I played guitar in bands at school for a couple of years. We were all into the Shadows, Hank Marvin was our guitar idol. After school, I took a job in an insurance office for a year or so but I was determined to be a professional musician. By then, I'd got heavily into American music, the blues, R&B.
Birmingham was very big on R&B and the city has been the launching pad for some really great bands, great R&B players. One of the foremost was the Spencer Davis Group and Steve Winwood was a sensational musician even when he was only 16. My mates and I would go and see them at least once a week to listen to this fantastic band.Steve was a huge influence on me, and seeing the Spencer Davis Group increased my aspiration to become a full-time musician.
I had the day job in insurance, I was playing and practising more and more, and I was in a little blues band called the Crawdaddies. We used to play all-nighters at The Navigation playing one set at eight in the evening, the second at seven the next morning. It was good because between our sets, we could listen to all these fantastic musicians, see all the great R&B acts.
It was a really exciting time and the music was everything to us. We'd all troop into our day jobs next morning – of course, it showed. For me, the clincher came when I got my first year insurance industry exam results. My employers decided I would be better off as a starving musician than as a well-fed but useless insurance clerk.
At that time, becoming a professional musician was viable because there were so many places to play. Virtually every pub put on live music so you could work six nights a week if you wanted to. Even when I was still in the insurance job I was playing most nights of the week, anyway.
"It'll be the bass, then"
The change from lead guitar to bass came almost by accident, as a result of an audition. One of Birmingham's best-known bands, The Uglys, was looking for a guitarist. I went off to the Carlton Ballroom in Erdington and there in the audition queue was a mate of mine, Roger Hill, a superb player. I remember thinking I didn't stand much chance against him. I was right: I didn't get the job.
But as I was leaving, Steve Gibbons who fronted The Uglys, remarked that their bass player was quitting and asked would I like to give that a go. I told him I didn't have a bass but he replied that if I could get eighty quid together, their bass player would sell me his and I'd be in. That, in a nutshell, is how I became a bass player.
After I left the Uglys I formed a blues trio with Roger Hill and a drummer named Alan 'Bugsy' Eastwood. This was the period when power trios were big, Cream were mega by then and Hendrix was really taking off. Besides, a trio is a great set-up if you play bass, especially if you've also been a lead guitar player.
After that, I teamed up with John Bonham (later drummer with Led Zeppelin, of course) and we formed a band called Way Of life. We did two dozen gigs but we never got repeat bookings because John was so bloody loud! Usually we'd be told to bugger off after the first few numbers. Then John went off to play with Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds which left me looking for a band again.
Ian Campbell and Fairport
I'd started doing sessions in a little studio in Birmingham called Ladbroke Sound. Through that I met Johann Allan who was managing the Ian Campbell Folk Group which ran Birmingham's most successful folk club, the Jug of Punch.
Johann was into American music and was bringing acts over for the Campbell's club. There were some big names – the Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Paul Simon all played the Jug of Punch for fifteen quid.
I had seen the Ian Campbell group on television and been very taken by Dave Swarbrick's fiddle playing. At that time, though, it wasn't the sort of music I was interested in to be honest - I thought folk was all about old geezers with no hair wearing Arran sweaters and singing 'The Wild Rover'.
I did some recording for the Campbells, playing bass guitar on an album. The upshot was they invited me to join the band as a double bass player. Well, I'd never played one before but I got hold of a Czech double bass by swapping a 1962 Stratocaster for it: one of the biggest mistakes I've made, in hindsight.
I played with the Ian Campbell band for over a year and we made a few records. Swarb guested on one, a live recording in London, and he and I hit it off, got on really well, found we had a lot in common. Swarb was very go-ahead, always on the lookout for something new to do in music. I knew he'd done some work for a London band called Fairport Convention, then I heard he'd joined them.
Fairport had recorded Liege & Lief which immediately became a hugely influential album. Within a month or two of its release though, Ashley Hutchings and Sandy Denny both quit so the band was without a bass player. Swarb suggested they give this mate of his from Birmingham a try. Apparently, when he'd told them I was playing with the Campbells they were a bit apprehensive in case I was a died-in-the-wool folkie.
I'd seen Fairport play in Birmingham at Mothers Club, Birmingham's equivalent to Middle Earth. It was my birthday and I remember thinking what a great band they were and how I'd love to play for them. The very next day Ashley left and I got a phone call from Swarb offering me an audition. I got the job and found myself in Fairport Convention. That was nearly thirty-five years ago.
Fairport were doing exactly what I wanted to do. I'd learnt a bit about traditional music during my time with the Campbells and, of course, Fairport were fusing traditional and electric music. I found myself in a group of people with very similar musical tastes to mine, all about the same age, and all with rock music backgrounds. It was really great.
My wife, Christine, and I were living in Sutton Coldfield but we left to move in with the band into an old pub, the Angel in Little Hadham, Hertfordshire. I suppose it was a sort of hippy commune really: Swarb, his wife and daughter; Chris and I and our daughter; Simon and his wife; Richard; Dave Mattacks and his wife; and Robin Gee, our tour manager. And there was only one bathroom!
The local rag ran something along the lines of 'Hippy Invasion in Little Hadham.' The locals didn't know what to make of us at all. One afternoon, we were sitting in the garden playing loud music when the Hertfordshire Constabulary turned up, led by a senior officer. Everyone scurried off to hide the stash. But they hadn't come to bust us: they wanted us to play at the police benevolent fund dance. Talk about relieved: "of course we will, sure, we'd love to."
We suggested we'd put on a police benevolent fundraiser in Much Hadham, a nearby village. We invited a band called Trees and we put the gig on in a meadow opposite a pub. We charged five bob (twenty-five pence) admission and got about three thousand people. It was a great success!
Next day, we were in the garden with the PA blasting again and the police turned up with a dishwashing machine for us. Their fund had done really well out of it and they were delighted. One consequence was that we had no worries while we were away on tour: the police were there every day watching the place.
If you live that closely with a group of people for a year, you really get to know each other, especially if there's only one bathroom. People's characters are set by their early twenties, I think, so the people I got to know then are the same people I know now: certainly Simon and Swarb are. I don't mean small personal foibles: I expect Richard has a bank account now, rather than stashing all his cheques under the bed: he never cashed a cheque in all the time we were there although he was doing lots of sessions and stuff (Swarb, incidentally, was the exact opposite and spent it all before he'd even earned it).
It was a great time, a very happy year. Living together paid off in the music – we were very relaxed when we played and completely at one with each other as musicians. Living like that, everyone got to share each other's musical tastes. You had to because we all had our own stereos and the walls were thin.
At first, I thought Fairport was a rather serious band: I mean, they took the music very seriously, much more so than I'd ever done. But after Sandy left, it became a bit of a lad's band, as if we'd thought 'now she's gone, we can piss about a bit more' and, as I said, we became much more relaxed on stage.
The Angel had been rented by Joe Boyd, Fairport's manager, because it had rehearsal space as well as accommodation for us all. Joe was an American about our own age. He was very influential and he knew everybody including all the big American acts that Fairport were influenced by: The Byrds, The Band, Dylan. He'd produced Fairport's previous album on his Witchseason label.
After I joined, we spent about three or four weeks in solid rehearsals. But, rather disconcertingly, no-one wanted to sing. Just two nights before our new line-up's first gig we were down to drawing straws or tossing a coin to decide who'd sing which songs. Swarb and Richard got lumbered with most of the vocals.
We played that gig in January, I think, at The Country Club in Hampstead. After that we were working more or less all the time. Fairport was well-known and appealed to college audiences who were about the same age as us. So a lot of the gigs were at universities: we must have played just about every one in the UK.
"White goods'll do nicely"
Some of those gigs were verging on the bizarre. I remember we went up to Manchester University because the social secretary, a mate of Richard's, had been let down and needed a band quickly. He was willing to pay us with a fridge – at the end of the night we loaded it into the van with the rest of our gear and took it back to the Angel. I imagine we were the only band to regularly get paid in household appliances.
The first overseas tour after I joined was seven weeks in America in the spring of 1970. The first gig was three nights in San Francisco at the Filmore West supporting Jethro Tull and another band, Clouds. We played Winterland too, and the Troubadour.
The Troubadour gig gave rise to that bit of Fairport mythology about the bar tab. We were doing a week's residency, two spots each night and three on the weekend for which we were going to be paid five hundred dollars. But when we went to collect our wages, we'd drunk so much we owed them fifteen hundred bucks.
The Eagles dropped in nearly every night – they were Linda Ronstadt's backing group then – hoping to poach Richard because he was such a fantastically good guitarist. Linda Rondstadt got up and sang with us, Odetta too. It was great for me because it was the first time I'd ever been to the States.
The first Fairport Album I worked on was Full House. We recorded it at Sound Techniques, a little 8-track studio in Chelsea, with a fantastic engineer, John Wood. A lot of the vocal tracks were laid down while we were off in the States.
Swarb and Richard were writing a lot together, even while we were on the road every night, and they had a lot of material for the next album, which was to be Angel Delight.
Then Richard decided he wanted to leave. I think it was because he was starting to find the group a bit restrictive. He was writing more and more, was becoming a really great songwriter, and he was developing fast as a singer too. I think he had all this stuff he wanted to get out but felt he couldn't in the constraints of a band.
It's not as if we fell out, simply that Richard wanted to go his own way, work on his own. By then, he'd left the Angel and gone to live in London though he would come back a lot and still had a room there.
I thought 'well, that's it' because I couldn't see them wanting to carry on without Richard. We were happy for him because it was obvious that he was going to succeed but I felt it would spell the end. I was the new boy so it wasn't up to me although I felt we should carry on.
We got the impetus to keep going when Swarb discovered a bunch of old newspapers which told the story of a guy called Babbacombe Lee. Swarb reckoned it could be the basis for an LP telling Lee's story in songs with contributions from all of us. We thought 'yeah, you're right, we could do this, it would work'.
So we sat down and started writing stuff. And because we had that focus, had something to stick our teeth into, we decided we should carry on with Angel Delight as well. We wrote the title track, which is about life at the Angel, all very true and a nice fun little piece. We now had the momentum to keep the band going. Those two albums – Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee – were first time that the same Fairport line-up had recorded two albums.
Babbacombe Lee was not an easy thing to perform live because it needed to be played through in its entirety. We toured it as a four-piece; the first half of the show would be Babbacombe straight through; after an interval, a set of other Fairport material. It was a very disciplined exercise and I thought it brought us together in performance.
We took it to Ireland, and had storming gigs in Belfast and Dublin where we had the Chieftans opening for us. The Chieftains were still semi-pro then, they'd never used a PA before, but they were fantastic, sensational: we thought 'wow, we've got to follow that!'. In Belfast, we were in the Ulster Hall supported by the Peat family, a wonderful traditional outfit.
We had gone to the USA again to support Traffic who were on the same label as us, on Island Records. Simon had had to adopt the role of lead guitarist after Richard left: I know he won't mind me saying that that isn't really what he's best at. He's a bloody ace rhythm guitarist, up among the very best but he's not really a soloist. Even so, he'd bought himself a Stratocaster and a Vox AC30 amplifier and we had a bit of the sound of a Creedence type band.
I think that Simon wanted to work on production more, though. He's technically very au fait, he's got a great ear, and he was getting all sorts of offers. He's the sort of bloke who can sit behind a desk and get a great sound almost instantly. He was into that side of it and he wanted to work with other people.
Simon had been pretty involved in the mixing of Babbacombe Lee. A white label of it was sent over from England while we were in America, at a point where we were all pretty bushed, knackered. We listened to it and there was some adverse comment which I don't think he liked. His reaction was, sort of, 'I think it's time to go.'
For me, it was a real blow, very bad, because I thought of him as the last bastion of old Fairport. After all, he was the guy in whose house and garden it had all started. I thought it was probably all over.
Dave Mattacks stayed on for a bit but he didn't want to see Simon replaced. We rehearsed but it wasn't really working out and DM was very much in demand as a session man and he left. He wanted to develop his own career.
Back to Brum
That left me and Swarb trying to hold it all together. We'd moved up to Birmingham again and we got a Fairport line-up together which included some mates of mine. There was Roger Hill and Tom Farnell who was a great drummer. That line-up toured extensively, went to the States, and had a great camaraderie. We got on really well as a bunch of guys but musically it wasn't really Fairport.
There were a lot of line-up changes during that time. It was a very complicated period, even I can't remember it all. I'm sure it's all written down somewhere - if you find out, let me know and I'll buy you a pint. Anyway, none of those line-ups really gelled.
We were still signed to Island and were contracted to do an album, Rosie. We began working on it at The Manor, the studio Branson had recently opened in Oxfordshire. It wasn't working so we scrapped it all, scrapped everything.
We went to Trevor Lucas, an old mate of ours who we'd known for ages and who was Sandy Denny's bloke, and we invited him to produce the album. We went to Sound Techniques, got John Wood in to engineer it. We had Gerry Conway and Dave Mattacks in on drums, Jerry Donahue on guitar. Trevor played on it too.
We had a great time making that album and we persuaded Trevor and Jerry to join us touring, then we got DM back as well. It was a promising line-up, we all got along well as mates and as musicians.
On the road again
It was good to be out playing live, touring Rosie. Fairport was, always has been, a live band, not a band that lives to make records, not the sort of band that enjoys spending six months of the year in the studio. Gigs are what we do. You know; you get in the van, you drive somewhere, you play to an audience, you go and have a curry, then you get back in the van.
That line-up made Fairport Nine, which is one of my favourite albums. It has Jerry's laid back country rock guitar, Swarb is excellent on it, Trevor had written some good things for it. I felt the band had really come together again: it was something new, something as strong as the earlier stuff. I was extremely proud of that line-up, and people really got behind it too, thought it was a great sound.
Sandy and Trevor got married about that time. They went to Australia in the winter because Sandy had got a festival to do there and Trevor, who's Australian, wanted her to see his folks. Anyway, he phoned us: "Come over guys because I've got you on at the festival." Great! We went over, had a wonderful time, and Sandy got up and sang with us. It was magical, electric.
Back here, we played some shows round the UK with Sandy and so she rejoined the band. The result was Rising For the Moon . We had great support from Island Records who always seemed to be on our side despite the fact that we never sold bucketloads of records for them.
At Island's suggestion, we were lucky enough to Glynn Johns in for Rising. He is an incredible producer and engineer. We'd lost a lot of money on a far eastern tour, due to management problems and we owed about thirty-five grand but Island bailed us out yet again.
We were recording the album at Olympic Studios when halfway through the sessions Dave Mattacks decided it wasn't for him. He wasn't getting on with Glynn – surprising in hindsight because they've since become great friends. Mind you, we were getting a lot of stick from Glynn, he was a hard taskmaster, a perfectionist. But for me it was one of the best times I've had in a studio. The whole way Glynn worked was very disciplined, really conducive to getting stuff down.
We were stuck for a drummer and it was Glynn who suggested we get Bruce Rowlands in. He was well-known for his work with Joe Cocker, a great drummer with a completely different style to Dave. In fact, you can hear it on the album, hear that there are two different drummers. Anyway, Bruce fitted in really well; again, it was someone coming in who we all got on well with.
So, all of a sudden there we were with a great line-up again and Island did everything they could in America We did a really long intensive USA tour that year. When we got back to the UK, we played to full houses, including selling out the Albert Hall.
But despite the Island's efforts, despite us working so hard, the record sold no more than any of our previous ones and the tour made very little money for us either – we finished up working hard for six months, going to collect our dosh, and ending up with about three hundred quid each. It was scandalous.
It's the old story. I'm not saying anyone ripped us off but, with other people running your business, money's going out on all sorts of things with the musicians at the end of the line. I thought 'three hundred quid: if I'd been working in a factory, I'd have three thousand by now'. We were all getting frustrated by the financial disarray – everyone in the band needed an income and there were other things we could be doing to make a living like session work, solo projects and so on.
Jerry and Sandy both felt it was too much, too little reward for devoting all their time just to the band, to Fairport. Jerry was in great demand as a guitarist, Sandy always had her own career opportunities beckoning. They felt they had to go. So it was left to Swarb and me again.
End of the deal
Swarb had started a solo album and that became the basis of Gottle of Geer. We got a load of our mates together to play on it, Swarb had plenty of songs for it, and we had a lot of fun recording it. Bruce produced it, Simon Nicol did most of the engineering and got a great sound. It was a bit of fun really but, again, it didn't sound like a Fairport album. Island said 'look, this is going to be it guys; it's the end of the deal.' And it was.
There were certainly no hard feelings either way, Island put out Gottle of Geer as a Fairport album, and that marked the end of the record deal. We thought that was it.
But Bruce, Swarb and I decided that we'd carry on. We'd forget about making records, just do gigs, just get out there and play. Simon was up for that too. By then he was quite keen to get back in the band: he'd had five years doing other things. We had a manager, Phillipa Clare, who was a good hustler, did really well for us. She got us a deal with Vertigo, part of Phonogram. So we started making albums again.
We did Bonny Bunch of Roses at Chipping Norton Studios in ten days, including mixing it, a very quick album. It's very much Swarbrick-influenced with a lot of traditional elements on it as well as cover stuff like Ralph McTell's Run Johnny Run I really like that album a lot.
Everybody was happy because we were going out doing gigs. Bruce had moved to Oxfordshire, Christine and I were in Cropredy, so was Swarb and Simon was renting a place in Banbury. The four of us did another quick album, Tipplers Tales.
But we weren't selling many records; the punk thing was happening, music was changing. There was so much new stuff on the radio, we'd do these college gigs and the room would be full of punks; we'd think 'Jesus, we really are out of fashion; we're too old for this, maybe we should be doing something else'. Added to that, poor old Swarb was getting ringing in his ears, it was driving him nuts.
Then Vertigo said 'sorry guys, we don't want you anymore, we don't want any more albums.' But we weren't having that! I phoned Philippa and said 'tell them we are going to give them the albums anyway whether they like it or not'. Eventually a compromise was reached: they paid us not to make the remaining albums. It was the first substantial sum we'd ever had. It was fantastic for us.
We did our farewell tour in summer 1979, culminating in the farewell concert in August at Cropredy. By then, the festival had sort of started - the first ones had been in Dick and Anne Crossman's garden. We recorded the farewell tour and the Cropredy gig. We wanted to put it out but no-one was interested, no-one wanted to pick up the album.
So Christine and I decided to put it out ourselves and that's when we started Woodworm Records. We were among the first to do that, to set up to record, manufacturer and put out our own work. We pressed 3,000 copies, called it Farewell Farewell. We sold the lot!
So that was the end of Fairport, or so we thought at that stage. The cash from Vertigo allowed us to do stuff we wanted to do at last. Swarb could afford to move to Scotland and I was able to set up the studio at Cropredy.
One day I intend to write a book about it all. There are so many stories. Swarb has his too, he could tell you things I really wouldn't want to see in print, though often his version is completely different to mine. Here's one.
The four-piece (me, Swarb, Simon and Bruce) were booked to play in Shrewsbury, the Music Hall. We set up the gear, did the soundcheck then buggered off down the pub about six o'clock. Ronnie Laine was a mate of Bruce's and he joined us.
Well, we were having a real laugh, we were all drinking, and I'd had a good few pints. Swarb had had lots, certainly as many as me. But he's never been a great drinker. Still, he was having a great time, we all were. Well, we left the pub, everyone was happy; I was happy; Swarb was incredibly happy. In fact, he was so happy he couldn't stand up.
Anyway, we got back to the venue, got Swarb on stage. The opening number we chose was Dirty Linen. It's quite hard on the bass and I wanted to get it out of the way first because after two hours I wouldn't have stood a chance.
As soon as we started Swarb kept leaning on me, he could barely stand up. He was having a great time but I couldn't play with him on my arm. Then he hit me in the eye with his bow. Twice. It bloody hurt, it really did. The third time he caught me in the eye I just saw red, and I smacked him over the head with the bass.
I must have hit the poor sod much harder than I thought because it broke the bass! Honestly, the neck came away. It floored him, he was unconscious. I thought 'Oh God, I've killed Swarb!'. It freaked me right out, I just ran out, got in a taxi and came home. A cab from Shrewsbury all the way back to Cropredy.
I felt dreadful, just terrible. I was thinking it would be on the news any minute: 'Rock star killed by mad bass player'. I tried to phone the gig: I was expecting a call any minute saying he was dead.But as soon as I'd legged it Swarb had come round. He was OK, though obviously it had been the end of the show. Later, Swarb and I apologised to one another, there was no bad blood.
Luckily, the promoter had a real sense of humour. He booked us for a return gig and he produced this great poster, a pastiche of a boxing or wrestling poster: 'Fairport Convention - Seconds Out: Round Two'. The audience came back – well you would, wouldn't you? They probably wanted to see who'd attack whom.
During 1979, I'd been getting messages from Ian Anderson of Tull but I was always too busy to return the calls. Eventually he caught me on the phone. Their bass player John was really ill (it's an awful story) and they were looking for someone to dep for the tour.
I dropped everything because they were really enormous, a big band, it was a fantastic opportunity for me. I was catapulted into a job where I could earn real money at last. On the very last night of the tour, word came through that John had died. We were incredibly shocked. So, sadly, I was invited to join the band and from 1980 onwards, Tull became my full time job.
Ian had taken over the management of the band a couple of years earlier, running everything himself, managing it. It was more than financial necessity, it was so he could control what he did, so the band didn't get lumbered with situations it didn't want to be in, so it didn't get shafted. I thought 'this is what Fairport should've been like' although by then Fairport had ceased to exist.
Actually, I'd been working towards that in the last two years before Fairport called it a day. I'd been increasingly responsible for a lot of making it happen, organising things, getting involved with the tours and the business side. I'd started to take a real interest in running things mainly because it had gone so wrong in the past.
By the time I joined Tull, Woodworm was up and running and we were recording people like Steve Ashley. The festival was growing too – Christine was getting heavily involved in making that happen, in running that.
For the first five years, Cropredy was purely a reunion festival, a Fairport thing. Now and then the band would get together again for the odd gig, usually a New Year bash for a laugh. All these things were being run by us. At the same time, I was working with Tull and having a bloody great time doing that.
It was pretty much non-stop, Tull was out a lot and there was studio work too. But in 1985, there was a couple of months without much happening. We'd been doing things with ex-Fairporters at the Cropredy reunions, various line-ups, experimenting round the Fairport theme. We'd all kept in touch.
We had recorded the reunion bashes and Cropredy and we started releasing them as bootlegs – The Boot, The Third Leg, The '82 Tapes and so on. We put them out ourselves, shifted them by mail order, put the money towards funding the next festival. It worked well, we ploughed it back in, and Cropredy began to get bigger and bigger.
By 1985 we were getting ten or eleven thousand people coming to Cropedy. Paradoxically, when the band was completely inactive, its audience actually grew. That says a lot, doesn't it?
Of course, there was no new material in the reunion sets. We'd play Fairport's back-repertoire at Cropredy albeit with varying personnel. But we felt ready to play new stuff, wanted to in fact.
As luck had it, during my couple of months lull from Tull Simon was around, Dave Mattacks was about as well, and they both had open diaries for a few weeks. The Woodworm studio had expanded and it was obviously feasible for us to do a new Fairport studio album. So me, Simon and Dave started working on what would become Gladys' Leap.
Swarb was in Scotland but we invited him to come and play on Gladys' Leap. But he didn't really like what he heard of it and I think he may have been a bit peeved that he hadn't been invited in right from the beginning. He'd also started Whippersnapper with Martin Jenkins, Kevin Dempsey and Chris Leslie.
Chris was an old mate of ours, we'd known him since we all moved to Oxfordshire. He'd grown up with Fairport's music, been very influenced by the band, especially by Swarb, and he and I had worked together in the past. So as Swarb wasn't up for it, I asked Chris if he was interested in the new Fairport album. He said he'd love to but that he was too tied up with Whippersnapper.
The '85 line-up
We also invited Ric Sanders to come along to play on the album. I'd known him for years: we'd met in musical circles in Birmingham. Ric is from Solihull, I'm from Acocks Green, which are on the same side of Birmingham and my dad had been the caretaker at a school where Ric's dad taught.
Ric plays very differently to Swarb, of course, a completely contrasting violin style, a fantastic player. He came along and played on the recording sessions and it was great. So that was the 'Gladys' line-up. Richard came and guested on one track and Cathy Le Surf on another. It was fun to make, we put it out, the punters seemed to love it. People started saying we should be playing live, get the band together again.
So I asked Ric if would do it and he was delighted. Then I asked Martin Allcock to join the band. Martin's a really great musician. He used to turn up to the festivals, he was always up for the craic, always ready to get up and play. I knew he could play almost anything and that he would be a good guitarist and multi-instrumentalist for the band.
We rehearsed for three days solid, working from a list of Fairport stuff that everybody knew. We went off to do a gig in London, just to see if it would work out, and ending up playing for four-and-a-half hours! It was so good, it was just joyful. We had a really fantastic night. I realised we had the makings of a great band here; the continuity of the old-timers (me, Simon and Dave) combined with the new blood (Ric and Maart).
It was fresh, really exciting. We played a few little dates and I was thinking all the while that we should capitalise on it, should have a full-time band again. Ric and Maart were both writing stuff, composing these great instrumental pieces. I thought we should do something immediately, catch the moment.
So we put out an all instrumental album, Expletive Delighted. I really wanted to show everyone just what these new chaps could do, how brilliantly they could play. We made it at Woodworm, of course, it went together effortlessly, we really enjoyed doing it.
The line-up meant we could tour again, it meant we had new material for Cropredy, it meant there was a Fairport again. So from 1986 on, Cropredy wasn't just a reunion festival any more. We had a band.
We were searching out new material to do, looking for songs because none of us were songwriters. Ralph gave us Hiring Fair, we had Wat Tyler, there was Red And Gold about the battle on the very fields were the festival is held. Once you accept that you aren't going to get the songs from within the band, it opens up endless possibilities. You listen to everything that comes through the post on the lookout for a new song you can do, that fits or which you can adapt to the line-up.
Crest of a Knave
I was still working with Jethro Tull and Ian had come to Cropredy in 1986 and seen Fairport. He suggested we support Tull, be payed to be on their US tour. We thought it was a great opportunity for us. But we needed an album for it, one which would be distributed in America.
So I went to Island Records, told them we were off to the States with Tull, a really big tour, and that I wanted some dosh to do an album. I wanted Island to put it out in the States to guarantee that people in America would be able to get it. Island coughed up about twenty-five thousand bucks or thereabouts.
We'd thought about recording the album at Cropredy but decided it would be too risky. So we went to a studio in Bray and we made the album in a day: we just set up and played it live, though we added some applause from a John Martyn live album. It was called Live at Cropredy although it was actually recorded fifty miles away. But we had a first rate album for the States, and it's a great album, as live as it gets.
So we went off on the 1987 'Crest of a Knave' tour. I was knackered playing with both bands, finishing the Fairport set then going straight on again. Because I was with Tull, I had to fly with them while the poor Fairport guys went with the crew in two motorhomes. It was horrendous for them, it was winter, they had to put snowchains on, or get out in the freezing cold to change tyres and things, drive fifteen hours at a stretch to get to the gigs. How they stuck it, got through it, I really don't know.
The tour made a lot of friends for Fairport, the response was tremendous. We'd have fifteen thousand people in a stadium going for it – in Detroit they even gave us a standing ovation – yet even so the album sold very few copies. Poor old Island never even recouped the advance, but it was a great gesture, it allowed us to do the tour.
I don't want this to sound like some sort of hard luck story, but we spent all our advance, a big wedge of our Cropredy money, and every penny Tull paid us to work our balls off doing thirty dates in the USA. That's the harsh reality of the music business. People outside think it's all booze and luxury – it bloody well isn't ... the stress, the exhaustion, the near-death experiences of driving through snow at 100 miles an hour in a Winnebago with summer tyres on...
Maart also joined Tull, playing keyboards, and did a couple of tours of the States and Europe. In fact, there's been quite a bit of crossover in terms of personnel – Gerry Conway and Dave Mattacks have worked on Tull stuff too.
Maart was getting into all sorts of other things, developing his own ideas. I think that during his last two years, Maart wasn't really happy in Fairport. I think he'd had enough, he wasn't getting on too well with some of the band. I think he wanted to go but he couldn't really say it. Things came to a head, there were some bad gigs, we felt he wasn't really trying for the band anymore. So he split, it was a mutual thing, it was time to move on. It was very very sad, we all love Maart, but musically it was beyond repair.
We had to get somebody else. We were tossing names around and I think Chris Leslie was one of my suggestions. We'd known Chris a long while, he'd helped us out when Ric had put his hand through a window. We all rated him as a fantastic player, a brilliant musician. But he's also a real gent and very very reliable, the sort of bloke who would never let anyone down.
Chris was well known as a violin player, of course, but I knew he was great on the mandolin and I'd heard him play guitar too in the past. We also felt it would be very beneficial too to have another singer, someone to take a bit of the weight off Simon, and Chris is a very fine singer of course. It opened up more vocal choices, more opportunities.
As soon as he joined the band, it became obvious that Chris was a songwriter too. I'd been very impressed by the songs Nigel Stonier had written for Lindisfarne guys and I thought it would be a great idea to try putting him and Chris together. I suggested it to Chris, he went for it, and the two of them came up with some wonderful stuff. Since then, Fairport has had some really great songs Chris has written himself.
Fairport has always adopted identities with the changes in the line-ups. New people bring new things, it grows, even if stuff that no longer works has to go out the window. We were a bit lighter in sound, I suppose, in not having the electric guitar anymore, but that didn't bother us. It's the first line-up we've had without electric guitar but personally I don't really miss that. Besides, Simon is a very good guitarist and sometimes plays electric when we've got the full band with Gerry Conway.
Gerry has been the most recent change, joining us when Dave Mattacks left. We'd known Gerry for years, from the earliest days. He'd been in Fotheringay with Sandy; he'd helped us out at various time and I'd worked with him in Tull. He is very different to DM but as I say the style changes and the band grows. Gerry brought new areas of percussion, congas, bongos and that sort of thing.
It's obviously very important if you're a bass player to have a drummer that you can gel with. Obviously, I work differently with Gerry than I used to with Dave Mattacks. But with someone as good as Gerry, it's not something you have to sweat over, he's such a fantastic player.
Our festival at Cropredy is something we are very very proud of. People love it because it's a really peaceful weekend and they know there'll be a nice atmosphere, they can bring their families, have a good time. I don't think that many people come just to see us, don't necessarily come to Cropredy to hear Fairport. I bet there a good few who don't even see our set at all. There is always a lot of great music, a variety of bands.
The festival has allowed us to do a lot of things, it's been very important to us as a band. For instance, if it hadn't been for the money from Cropredy we could never had afforded to go on the Jethro Tull tour in 1987. There are plenty of other examples like that – it subsidises the far eastern tours and forays into Europe and it pays for our albums as well.
For Fairport, our set at Cropredy is also great chance to play with our mates. We have lots of people up there guesting. We had Robert Plant one year which gave us a chance to run through half-a-dozen Zeppelin songs.
We have always been what we want, the band I mean. Fairport has never been what a record company wanted, never been what others wanted it to be, it's only ever done its own thing. We've never had one eye on what the current musical climate might be, or done simply what was expected of it. In fact, I don't think fashion has had any relevance to Fairport – half the time we'd have no idea what was fashionable anyway.
Fairport is a different band to every fan you talk to. Some people hate this or that line-up, some love so-and-so or hate so-and-so. But there is an element who have been with us since 1967,who always come to Cropredy, who turn out to every winter tour – maybe they just like to hear Meet On The Ledge at the end of the night.
The audience is very important to us. Without them there wouldn't be a band. We don't sell enough CDs to survive, we survive by doing tours. Besides, we are a live band: touring's what we do. I couldn't sit around doing nothing, I want to be out there playing and the same goes for the others, I'm sure.
I've no idea if Fairport would survive if neither me or Simon were in it. I'd hope so. There's more to Fairport than me and Simon – it's something bigger than us. I don't think about the longevity of it much, to be honest, nor how much longer it will last. It's more a case of thinking about what are we doing next week, what's happening next September.
I've been in this band for well over half my entire life and virtually all my adult life. When I joined, obviously I had no idea how long it would last. I never ever could have imagined it would still be going nearly forty years later.
I love gigging, I love playing the bass. Picking a guitar up at home and playing a few songs to yourself just isn't the same as playing in front of people even if it's only down the village hall.
Playing a good gig and pleasing the punters – I can't see I'll ever want to stop doing that.