By 1974 Fairport Convention were far removed from their trailblazing days as the band which largely introduced folk rock spawning a whole new rock subculture. A revolving door syndrome had seen members come and go and the departure of Simon Nicol in 1971 saw them with no original members. Fiddler Dave Swarbrick took up the baton of leadership for a few albums before the arrival of guitarist Jerry Donahue and guitarist/vocalist Trevor Lucas (both from Fotheringay, the band Sandy Denny had formed on her departure from Fairport) introduced a less folky sound and even some transatlantic influences courtesy of Donahue’s guitar. The return of Denny to the fold in ’74 produced a frisson of delight in the music press with high hopes for this gifted line up and their new album. Sadly Rising For The Moon was beset with difficulties with drummer Dave Mattacks quitting during recording and it turned out to be the swansong for Fairport Convention with their next album credited to Fairport which saw an end to their time on Island records.
Island Records have unveiled this “deluxe” edition of the Rising For The Moon album having given facelifts to many of its predecessors. It comprises the original album along with demos and unreleased songs coupled with a complete live set from the LA Troubadour that apart from some Denny songs has never been officially released. Listening today to the album there’s a schism between the songs Denny brought to the sessions and the earthy folkiness of Swarbrick’s offerings. Swarbrick continues in the vein of his Babbacombe Lee or Rosie songs with his distinctive voice and fiddle playing to the fore although there are no jigs or reels on offer here. Denny on the other hand lends a majestic feel on the seven songs credited to her as the band abandon the Brummy Swarbrick’s inflections and go into full fledged FM rock mode. The closing song on the album One More Chance is a would be epic with flailing guitars and it’s not too fancy to imagine that had this been picked up on then Fairport rather than Fleetwood Mac could have become a colossus in the States. Stranger To Himself is a nod back to classic Fairport as Denny delivers a folky narrative over a martial beat while Dawn and What Is True build on the style she forged on her solo albums. Strangely enough the song chosen as a single release and perhaps the most successful one here is the Swarbrick penned White Dress, a delicate love song that has Denny singing at her lilting best. A live studio rendition of White Dress is the highlight of the additional material on the studio disc showcasing Denny’s vocals perfectly while the band excel in supporting her while the alternate version of Dawn is less dramatic allowing Denny’s voice to shine.
The live disc is a welcome addition to the ever increasing Fairport archive and while it features some vintage material such as a cracking version of Matty Groves, a Swarbrick driven Hen’s March Trough The Midden and an excellent She Moves Through The Fair they spend much of their time delving into Dylan’s dustbin coming up with fine versions of Down In The Flood and Knocking On Heavens Door. Denny sings several songs from her solo albums including Solo and Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. Trevor Lucas waltzes in for The Ballad of Ned Kelly (a song from his Fortheringay days) and has a go at introducing our American cousins to the genius of Richard Thompson with a rendition of Down Where The Drunkards Roll. Their version of John The Gun pulls out all the stops and is the best live version from them that we’ve heard with Swarbrick’s fiddle rasping away. Topping it off they offer rollickingly good versions of That’ll Be The Day and Six Days on The Road that sound as if they would have had the audience on their feet and allow Donaghue to show off his chops.
While this release is probably a must for any Fairport completist it’s fair to say that the live album is a glistening bait for any waverers and on a personal note it reminds us of seeing this very line up at Glasgow Uni where we were surprised to hear them playing Six Days On The Road expecting to be dancing to fiddle tunes for most of the night.