Fairport Convention, Scrum-Half Bricking: Fairport with Swarb at Derby (Front Row Records, 2003)

In 1969, Fairport Convention released three albums, the second of which had the title Unhalfbricking, which was a nonsense word made up by Sandy Denny during a game. In 2003, Fairport have issued a limited edition live album which was recorded and released to benefit the Belper Rugby Club in the UK in their quest to build a new clubhouse. What else could it be called but Scrum-Half Bricking?

["Scrum half", noun. 1. the player in rugby who puts the ball into the scrum. 2. the position of this player. (The New Penguin English Dictionary, 2000)]

Of course, the band has undergone many changes in the intervening period, with Simon Nicol the only link between the two line-ups. Interestingly though, Dave Swarbrick appears on both as a guest -- just before his joining the band in the first place, and now a decade and a half after his departure. Neil Wayne from Free Reed Records (who have released the Fairport Convention, Dave Swarbrick, and Martin Carthy box sets among others) is also president of the Belper club, creating the link that brought about this CD.

It's often said that FC is more a live band than anything else, which may explain the large number of live CDs they have released over the years. This one is different however, in that a few songs were brought out of retirement for their 2003 UK Winter Tour of which this gig was part, and a couple more rarities were dusted off with Dave Swarbrick's addition to this particular gig. A little strangely, only part of the second half of the performance made it to disc, giving it only 9 tracks and a relatively short playing time of 43:29. A couple of these tracks also have short bursts of unavoidable electrical interference adding unwelcome noise in places. Whilst this is unfortunate, the quality of the performance easily shines through and Swarb's appearances with Fairport are rare these days, thus making their inclusion here pretty essential.

The more unusual inclusions in the setlist include 'Banks Of Claudy', one of the few Maartin Allcock-era songs the current lineup performs, and 'Heart Of The Song' by Pete Scrowther. Those which have become more standard fare such as Ric Sanders' jazzy 'Woodworm Swing' and the Adderbury Morris dance song 'The Happy Man' are a step or two up from their studio versions in terms of energy; no doubt benefiting from a great deal of roadtesting. Even the standard closing song 'Meet On The Ledge' sounds like the band are enjoying themselves, despite the literally hundreds of times they have done the song before! This also features the support act, UK singer Andy Guttridge on light but melodic vocals on the second verse.

Dave Swarbrick's contributions include his lovely air 'My Heart's In New South Wales', which becomes a three-violin arrangement where he is joined by both current fiddlers Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie, and a set of rarely-performed tunes 'Lea Rigs/Dovecoat Park/Balquidder Lasses' performed as a duo with Simon Nicol on acoustic guitar. Swarb's classic song 'Rosie' was also revived for this tour with Leslie on lead vocals; here the composer joins in as accompanist.

The other rarity is Neil Wayne from Free Reed performing a set of Morris tunes on melodeon, joined by the full electric Fairport lineup as opposed to the more acoustic version performed at Cropredy 2002.

Throughout the recording, Dave Pegg switches from electric to acoustic bass with equal efficiency, and Gerry Conway makes his own unique contribution to the Fairport sound with appropriate use of either subtle percussion or loud rock drumming, depending on the needs of the song. Scrum-Half Bricking, recorded at the Derby Assembly Rooms on February 19 2003, is the only official release from this year's winter tour and is a strictly limited edition. Therefore, speed in purchasing is recommended!

[Michael Hunter]

The CD is only available via Free Reed's Web site.
Fairport's Web site is here.