Fairport Convention at Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival, Middlewich, Cheshire, England (June 18-20, 2004)

The small Cheshire town of Middlewich really comes alive for the weekend of the Festival. It centers on the main Marquee and Community Center at the market field in the middle of the town. Fringe events and concerts go on in all the major pubs. The first evening concert on the Friday found Fairport Convention strutting their stuff supported by local trio ‘Queensbury Rules’, so being a long-standing fan of Fairport, it had to be a must-see.

We managed to get a good seat, only three rows from the front. ‘Queensbury Rules’ came on first, sang well, and did a fine job for the warm up. They are a local trio from The Potteries so their warm humour was well received. [Editor's Note: Peter informed your clueless live editor that "The Potteries are the 5 towns that make up Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire. It is called 'The Potteries' because traditionally this is where the main industry is the making of ceramic ware such as Royal Dolton, Wedgwood, and Minton.]

When Fairport took to the stage it was evident from the beginning that they were feeling confident and relaxed. It is not surprising that they sounded well rehearsed, for it's something that only comes about from playing together for so many years.

I don’t think I had realized before, just how good Gerry Conway is on the drums, -- he really pins the songs together and plays the tune,-- never too obtrusive--as some drummers can be--he supplies a rock-steady beat with impeccable tempo and timing. Along with Dave Pegg on the bass he holds the band together. With Rick Saunders on fiddle and Chris Leslie on mandolin they weaved in and out of the songs complimenting each other brilliantly. Needless to say Simon Nicol on guitar and vocals was, of course, superb. Years ago, after the sad loss of Sandy Denny, I remember thinking that they were probably finished and will have lost that ‘magic’. How wrong I was! They as good today as they have ever been--and how!

The repertoire consisted of mainly favorites from the band's long list of previous recordings, plus a couple from the new album, Over The Next Hill. I didn't make notes of the exact playlist. I was too busy enjoying myself. But I seem to remember "Matty Groves", "Crazy Man Michael", "John Gaudie", "Woodworm Swing", "Meet on the Ledge", and "Who knows Where the Time Goes", were all there. Having a copy of just about every recording they have ever made, either on vinyl, tape or CD in my collection, I was able to detect small intricate changes to the rhythm or beat to certain songs as they have matured over the years from the original recordings--but it was all good stuff. One of the most notable changes made was to "Mattie Groves". In this, the opening bars/ intro had been changed from the 1970s recording, (when they had a different line-up), as was the tempo and the rhythm. No problem though, it still sounded damn good.

A brilliant concert, everyone must surely have enjoyed.

[Peter Massey]