An Interview with Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention

By 6th December 2016 Interview No Comments

Interview by Nathan Berwick

Thanks for taking the time out for doing this

 

The tour’s kicking off in January, what can you tell us about the tour

We do, and have done for over 20 years now, a pretty big excursion around the uk in the depths of winter and we play the theatres and the town halls and sort of major venues. We do about 35 shows in about six weeks. It’s our way of reaching out and contacting the faithful and hopefully making a new friends every night too.

It’s sort of a little bit of a pay back because the efforts that people have to make to come to Cropredy every year in the second weekend of august which is, you know, the lynchpin of the year. But it’s great, it’s become an institution.

We see many old friends, and it gets rid of the dark days of the winter for the people that come out to see us.

 

 I certainly noticed there were a lot of dates on the tour, there are (as you said) 35 dates over 6 weeks. It’s a massive tour really, isn’t it?

For a bunch old gits, yes.

 

That’s barely a day off

No, well we take Mondays off now.

In the old days, we once did 42 shows in 44 days when we were younger, but then, it’s what we like to do.

Fairport’s always been about touring and playing live gigs.

We make records, certainly, but they’re more like souvenirs of where the band is rather than an attempt to storm the charts and change our profile generally. It’s always been about the performance on the evening and getting in the van and going off to the next show – we’re a live touring band and fifty years in now.

 

So am I right in thinking that with this kind of show it’s a lot about the performance on the night, as in it might not particularly reflect the record as is.

Well, we do have a new record coming out which we hope to have for sale on the tour – if it comes back from the factory in time.

That is something that doesn’t happen quite as frequently as it used to in the early days, but we do a new album every two or every three years.

It’s half new stuff in the studio, half live material from quite recent performances.

We call it 50/50 at 50, it’s to show what direction the band’s heading in, if you can tell that from a few songs that are fresh to the repertoire and to show what our strengths are in live performance with this lineup.

I could say new lineup, but it’s actually been together for 18 years now, which is far and away the longest existing Fairport lineup ever and if you think about that, that’s nearly 3 times longer than the Beatles had been together.

 

The last time I saw you was in St. Helens in 2014, and you played two sets across the evening. Should we expect something similar this time?

On the winter tour, we do actually take out a support act with us and this year it’s Sally Barker – you may remember her name from the voice a couple of years ago. She was Tom Jones’s pick. She’s an old Folkie friend of ours and it’s great for her – it’s great for all the support acts because they get to introduce themselves to our audience.

Hopefully they’ll bring a few friends who maybe haven’t got round to seeing to Fairport, and over the course of the 6 weeks, of course we get to know each other even better.

There’ll be some interaction between us I hope she’ll end up singing one or two songs with us.

We’ll certainly be playing something with her, that’s kind of become another tradition on this winter tour.

We’re kicking off in Glasgow at the opening run-up to the Celtic connections festival, which is a big deal up there.

We’re including a show or two in Ireland, which is a place we’ve not been for a couple of years, then it’s business as usual around the rest of British Isles.

 

You mentioned that there’s a lot to do with bringing the tour around to repay old fans that have been with you for a long time and making friends along the way. I know personally Fairport Convention has been something that’s passed down from my father, much like most folk music is passed on through the generations. Do you think that bringing a support act helps include newer audiences?

It just broadens the net and makes it a bit more interesting. Sally’s a very strong performer in her own right as well being somebody with an incredible vocal talent. She’s got great taste in songs and writes some good stuff too. there’s a lot of interest and good stuff on display in the evening.

The thing about Fairport is that you’re not alone in that you’ve grown up aware of the band through your parents interest. There are a lot of youngsters that don’t know about any lineup previous to this one. You don’t have to be an expert in the history of the band to enjoy what we do because when we go on stage as Fairport Convention now, fifty years in, we’re not fooling ourselves (or anybody else) that we’re teenagers.

We’re not pretending we’re the same people we were when we made those early records. The music has grown with us. We’ve changed, the music’s changed, but it’s still essentially the same band and some of the earlier songs are still the same songs. If we ever became a tribute band to Fairport Convention – I’d be leaving, I’d be off.

 

With all of the lineup changes, I think everybody brings something different as well and that is where it all keeps moving forwards, isn’t it?

Every time you do have a lineup change, we’ve never changed and sought to replace who’s left.

It’s always been about “Well, what can we do here? How can we take the band into another area by utilising the talents that the new person brings along?” and that’s been a watch word and it’s been a very successful one and I’d recommend it to anybody who finds that the band is up for a change or somebody wants to move on to something else or heaven forfend some disaster befalls you and you lose somebody.

Change is opportunity and we’ve always made the best of it.

 

With the Radio show that we do at Radio Hud, we have a section called “Prog Snobs” where we play progressive styles throughout the ages. We like to try and introduce listeners to different elements of progressive music and Fairport often make appearance on the show. What would you recommend as to what you’d recommend to try and get new people into Fairport Convention?

Well there’s a fantastic band that started around the same time as us in California called “Love”. I don’t know them? They were fronted by a songwriter and Singer called Arthur Lee. And their first self titled album, I think it was just called “Love”, it might be called “Seven and Seven Is” But the track seven and seven is off that album, is a real kick in the arse. It’s a fabulous track, and it certainly doesn’t sound 50 years old. If you want to play that with my hearty endorsement, then please do!

 

I shall do!

I was going to ask as well, over the 50 years of Fairport, what would you say has been your proudest moment of favourite release with the band?

I’m hugely proud that the band is still here and without achieving and significant business success, we’ve become part of the landscape of the country musically and socially. There’s something about the name.

Only this morning, do you know the daily mash?

There’s a great article in the daily mash, today, about how a hipster cafe in Kilbourne is now playing Fairport Convention tracks to drive out the worst kind of hipsters.

So you know, they wouldn’t use that name in that context unless we had come to mean something. That we’re part of the public consciousness.

So I’m very proud of that, that we can have the mick taken out of us is something that to be deeply proud of, so that’s pretty up to date.

 

With the prog snobs clientele that we have, a lot of us are very into the music tech sides of things. With wormwood studios and your latest release of Myths and Hereos. Across the time of your recording, how do you think the process has changed, wether as a unit or within the studio itself.

Oh, it’s changed several times since I started, you know.

It was unbelievably primitive by today’s standards, but on the other hand it was much simpler. And simplicity in itself is sometimes a good thing.

Nowadays, if you’re not careful you can become bogged down in the choices.

I appreciate the technology and the cleanness and the control, the detailed control that we now have when we’re in the studio but I’m determined not to let it mask the essence of the performance so that it doesn’t become an end in itself.

 

At the end of the day, I suppose performance is the most important part of the recording

Well, it’s a toss up between that and the material. The material is probably the more important of the two if you got the red hot pliers out I would have to say the material more than the performance but they’re a close second.

 

You can catch Fairport Convention at Cropredy Festival in August 2017 and on their WinTour 2017

 

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