Fairport Convention: “Come All Ye”
Fairport Convention is to British folk what the Byrds were to American folk — they took the folk tradition of their native country and turned it into folk-rock, electrifying it in places and adding a rock beat to many of the songs, helping to bring it to a new, younger audience. Fairport Convention was inspired by the Byrds success, and if they did not in turn have similar commercial success, even in the U.K., they certainly did extremely well both artistically and critically, and to this day have a large and loyal following. Only one of the founding members still plays with the group, but there has never been a shortage of excellent musicians interested in joining the band, so they’ve always maintained quality, even if the primary originality of the band departed with guitarist Richard Thompson in 1971.
And although every one of the original members of Fairport was a great musician, it’s Richard Thompson who stands out as the key to their glory years, 1967-1970, both for his guitar playing and songwriting, along with the vocals of Sandy Denny, who joined after their first album and left after their fourth, 1969’s Liege & Lief, considered by many to be the greatest British folk-rock album, period. Thompson’s guitar playing is on a par with any of the great rock guitarists, although he certainly appeared to be more humble than many of those others, allowing his playing to be more of the whole band sound rather than stand out in front. He later let it take more of a center stage when he left for a solo career, but Fairport Convention was always about team play — everyone was on equal footing. Nonetheless, Sandy Denny’s vocals couldn’t help but stand out — their power and beauty could hardly blend in easily with the instrumentation around her. In fact, many classic rock fans will recognize her as the singer of the beautiful female vocals on Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” from Led Zeppelin IV (aka, ZOSO). Fairport’s brand of folk-rock was a significant influence on the direction that Jimmy Page took Led Zeppelin in the early ’70s, and it can be heard quite a bit on both Led Zeppelin III and IV.
“Come All Ye” is one of my favorite of the many great Fairport Convention songs from their classic era, and was the lead track on Liege & Lief. Its stomping beat, great electrified sound, and Denny’s standout vocals make it an unforgettable track on a fantastic album. If you haven’t previously encountered Fairport Convention somewhere in your musical journeys, and this song does anything for you, I strongly urge you to check out any of their first 5 albums (although take note that Denny was not in the group on their first album).