Thursday, July 19, 2007
It All Comes 'Round Again
In early August, I fly over the waves to London, to join the latest Yank tour gang--sponsored by Festival Tours actually, based in Southern Collie-for-neeya--bound for Banbury and Cropredy, and the 40th Anniversary Reunion of Fairport Convention, with the early Liege and Lief-era group (minus Sandy Denny) gathered once again to celebrate folk music and the musicians' own survival!
Those coming back to Cropredy 2007 to play that great classic, the single most important English folk-rock album complete, would be: complex guitarist and genius songwriter Richard Thompson; Albion Band master, the ever-restless dancing-bassman Ashley Hutchings; genial stalwart and welcome rhythm guitar Simon Nicol (the only one to hang with Fairport for most years since the original days); Brit session-drummer extraordinaire Dave Mattacks; and ailing-but-game fiddler Dave Swarbrick, better known as "Swarb."
A few decades on, of course the five players have their own other bands and projects, but the Cropredy call goes out and, every few years, back each one comes again for the annual do, to play for hours and maybe still get choked up (like every fan in the huge crowd) when it comes time to end the night, and the latest festival, with "Meet on the Ledge."
The year I went, way back around 1983, was the first such trip organized by Nancy Covey's tour business, and I can't remember how I heard about it happening. But damn I'm glad I got on board--the group was a small manageable size, the music went on night after night, culminating at Cropredy, and then we all traveled on to Scotland for several days at the bustling and senses-boggling Edinburgh Festival. What a great two weeks!
And then there was the behind-the-scenes intrigue... Ex-Fairporter Richard Thompson had just split from his wife and singing partner Linda Thompson as a result of his having fallen head-over-heels for Ms.Covey, so we sort of caught glimpses of RT hanging around our tour even when he wasn't actually playing! We fans tried to be cool about it, but the gossip and ga-ga amazement ran rampant. Still, it was Richard and his band performing his own rocking new album, Hand of Kindness, plus Fairport's many hours of music at the Festival (captured on a two-cassette pseudo-bootleg called The Boot) that sold us all. Fairport forever!
I have no good excuse for never having gone back in the quarter century since... only the changing aspects of one's life. I met a new woman who became my wife the year after we'd traveled the world during 1986 and '87, I struggled to find enough freelance work, I wound up owning a bookstore for over a decade, the money was never there, my kids and ailing parents needed attention, etc. But, really, I could have made it happen.
I think I just felt that I'd been there and done that, and it had been so special, why risk trying to do it again? Yet this year, with Liege and Lief to be played complete for the first time ever, with the main original band reforming for this 40th year, with me being 64 almost 25 years later... when if not this year?
I'll likely have more to write come mid-August, but for now, here's the poem I wrote after the splendid visit to Edinburgh that first tour so long ago...
From Arthur’s Seat
From this high hill, Auld Reekie falls away
In spreading arcs of sooty stone
Like Stella-painted parallels in grey,
The Gaelic heritage pared down
To cobbled streets and buildings streaked to black
By centuries of soft-coal smoke.
Below the castle walls of history
Edinburgh hides its cultured light
Under a bushel, smudged by this low sky
Leaking light dabs of liquid slate.
No misty spray can scrub its stone, nor yet
Dampen the spirit of its fete.
Whirling in chambers of the singing line,
Through halls of grand dramatic gestures,
Young scholars put off hard Knox for a time
To dance a mad reel with their masters;
And tourists prowl dank cellars of the Fringe
Transformed to something rich and strange:
Shakespeare of course, both mime and costume play;
Ossian, Fisher-folk, and lieder;
Symphonies, comedies, corps de ballet;
Ibsen, Blood Wedding, and Aida;
Noir films and color, Old Jazz versus Newer…
Festival cups run, aye, well o’er!
Over-enlightened, culturally shocked,
I’m up to here in Burns and Scotch,
Jugglers and cabaret, music and Brecht
And Mackintosh… It’s just too much,
Too many good things all at once; and thus
My steep retreat to this still place,
To silence well befitting a high seat
Of wisdom, so withdrawn yet near.
No purple heather holds the hill this late.
Thistle is missing. No Scots burr
Pricks at my thumb, or ear. And here no quaint
Kilt-wearing sort will curb my rant.
King Arthur might have fought here; my namesake,
Northumbria’s ruler, may have lent
The town his name; but I could sooner break
Salisbury Crags as comprehend
How canny Scots combine their “enterprise”
With Socialist priorities.
But stuff that lot: let politicians glut
Their sense on culture like the rest
Of us this August month, and forget that,
Below the Border, worlds exist…
Now from down Holyrood, tunes of some folk
Drift up the air like whisps of smoke,
The spirit of Auld Reekie rising still,
Putting an end to my complaining.
A sudden spear of sunlight splits the pall
Of cloud, magicks the mist to gloaming,
And sparks the wet rooftops to blazing gold.
Edinburgh sheds its cloak of cold
As skirling pipes announce the night’s Tattoo.
I’ll tak’ ma heels doon frae these hielands,
Fling ma’sel’ into festive ballyhoo,
And find some bonny lass whose slogan’s
Scotland’s advice to hearts lost here on tour:
“Noo grief’s awa’, dinna be sa dour!”