- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Fairport Convention didn’t play or behave like a band with storm clouds hovering overhead Sunday evening at the Birchmere.

Indeed, the godfathers of British folk rock — just a couple of years shy of 40 years as a band — gave every indication that they’re enjoying themselves and their music more than ever.

This despite the fact that the recent divorce of bassist Dave Pegg from his wife of 43 years has taken a heavy emotional toll not only on the Peggs, but also on the rest of the band.

For the past 25 years, Christine Pegg had been the chief organizer of Fairport’s highly successful Cropredy Festival. The future of the event, which attracts 20,000 fans annually to Oxfordshire, England, is now in doubt. The divorce also forced the sale of the band’s home base and recording studio (Woodworm Studios).

Still, the music has endured.



During its Birchmere engagement, Fairport culled material from each decade in its history, breathing new life into everything it touched.

The current lineup, together for about six years, has jelled into one of the finest ensembles in the band’s history. That’s saying a great deal, considering that the Convention has included such legendary British folk rockers as Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Ashley Hutchings and Dave Swarbrick.

Vocalist/guitarist Simon Nicol, Mr. Pegg and violinist Ric Sanders have been the core of the band since it was revived after a short hibernation in 1986 with the brilliant “Gladys’ Leap” album. They’ve since been joined by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie and veteran drummer Gerry Conway (formerly with Pentangle and Cat Stevens).

There are fewer guitar fireworks now than when Mr. Thompson and Mr. Nicol were playing together in the 1960s and early 1970s. But the harmonic vocals, instrumental arrangements and diversity of musical styles make this arguably the most multidimensional Fairport ever.

This was ably demonstrated at the Birchmere in the choice of material — ranging from the jazz-swing instrumental “Woodworm Rag,” to the haunting, multilayered folk ballad “The Hiring Fair.”

“I’m Already There” is probably the best of the lot and one of the new album’s (the band’s “Over the Next Hill,” just released last month ) few “traditional”-sounding tracks.

The band encored with its anthem, “Meet on the Ledge,” a bittersweet song of divergent paths converging once again, leaving us with the promise that “it all comes ‘round again.”

No one knows that better than Fairport Convention.

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