A Way of Life
Measuring the distance travelled from a schoolboy with a guitar to being the keeper of a legendary band celebrating more than fifty years on the road.
“It’s not a legend to us – it’s just what we do and what we have managed to do.” Simon Nicol, the guitarist and founding member of folk royalty Fairport Convention, is talking about carrying the cross of his calling. “I’m quietly pleased that we have history and a degree of name recognition,” he says. “But I hope never to trade on it for its own sake.”
There’s no danger of that. Nearly fifty years on from their seminal fourth album, ‘Liege & Lief’, Fairport Convention are on the road again and coming to a town near you. The folk-rockers have toured extensively throughout their celebrated career and show no signs of slowing down: “I don’t expect anything special over and above what we deserve as a working band in the swim with our contemporaries,” reveals Nicol. “We ask fans to judge us for who we are, not who we once were.”
Who Fairport Convention are in 2020 are a band who will make your night out go with a song. “Audiences, not postcodes, make the music memorable,” says the guitarist. “The adventure of being on-stage playing music became a way of life, rather than a passing phase. The songs may have developed, but the gig’s the same.” With famous songs such as ‘Matty Groves’, ‘Come All Ye’ and ‘Fotheringay’ still in the set, an evening with Fairport Convention is still a folk music lover’s dream. “Sometimes we even play the nineteen verses of ‘Matty Groves’ in the right order,” laughs Nicol. “There’s a song that never fails to feel completely fresh and exciting.”
The songs may still carry the same thrill, but touring them is a game that has changed a lot over the years and Fairport have had to stay ahead of the curve to keep up with the rest of the ephemera that accompanies making money in the music business in 2019. “The sat-navs have replaced folding paper maps and endless questioning of pedestrians or fuel station queues,” he says. “While the mobile phones mean no hunting for the one smelly phone box that has a working phone in it! These days I always to forget to pack my electric toothbrush – so I have to use the acoustic one.”
It’s that lightness of touch that has kept Fairport in the hearts and minds of music fans through line-up changes, new records and reissues. There may be the light of an oncoming train in the distance, but this is a group whose music lives in the now: “You must remember that I started out being a schoolboy with a guitar, pursuing an ordinary hobby of being in a band with a few of my mates,” says Nicol. “The difference is that I forgot to get a tertiary education, a pension, a career or even something definable as a job!”
Long may they run.
Fairport Convention are performing in the Great Hall on Wed 12 February at 8pm. Book your tickets here.