Well one man he drinks up his whiskey
Another he drinks up his wine
And they’ll drink ’till their eyes are red with hate
For those of a different kind

That all sounds a bit 2016 to me but no, this is a lesson from our ancient ancestors from 47 years ago, Fairport Convention Unhalfbricking.  The middle LP of the three they released in 1969, bands having to do a proper job of work back then in medieval times, this has always been my favourite one – long before I learned about the crash that gave it such resonance and Sandy Denny’s own, too short, life.  Subject matter? unwanted babies, doomed romances, a drowned sweetheart sailor – funnily enough I love Unhalfbricking for its sheer joie de vivre.

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Let’s run the good ship 1537 aground on the biggie here, ‘A Sailor’s Life”, 11:13 of sad lamenting the happy-go-lucky life of a sailor, his abandonment of a shore-based chick* and the subsequent report of his death.  The only song here by the prolific ‘Trad. arr’**, cleverly it is also the least traditionally folk sounding of all here.  At around the 6 minute mark Fairport abandon all pretence of folksiness and unfurl their freak flags, flying them high and proud over a 5 minute stomping freak-out that would have done any of their west coast^ contemporaries proud.  Richard Thompson cuts loose brilliantly, shadowed, equally brilliantly as it happens, by Dave Swarbrick on fiddle – sounding much more like, the divine, Jean-Luc Ponty than any hedgerow fiddler of antiquity.  If only they’d thought to sign that Swarbrick chap up as a full-time member.

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Which is not to say there aren’t any folk kicks to be had here on Unhalfbricking, drop your needle on the opener ‘Genesis Hall’ for that, wonky opening chords aside it’s as traditionally folky a tale as you could want, albeit one named after a London squat that had been raided and closed down by the forces of law and order.  Look past Sandy Denny’s angelic tones and this is a tale of intolerance , oppression and a desire to fight back, the verse after the whiskey and wine one above is,

When the rivers run thicker than trouble
I’ll be there at your side in the flood
T’was all I could do to keep myself
From taking revenge on your blood 

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Sandy Denny’s own ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ is about as close to sacred music as I own^*.  Thompson’s perfectly understated guitar underlining the main action, which is very much THAT VOICE – no wonder she was the only vocal guest on any Led Zep album.  It’s just a perfect song, perfectly sung and played – easy; go on bands why don’t you all do one? I love the meditation on the migrating birds and the transient nature of time/intransigent nature of love/nature.  No wonder, umm, folk keep voting it one of the top folk songs ever.  if I didn’t have 37 songs already pegged for my funeral I’d add it too.

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For me though Unhalfbricking is a great example of a great English album, made in idealistic thrall to the US, looking across the Atlantic for the explosion of ideals, ideation and ideas, as all those great 60’s bands did.  Just check out the rip-roaring fun they’re all having with ‘Cajun Woman’.  What Fairport started to do with Unhalfbricking was to look back at an uniquely English tradition and repurpose it and reinvigorate it, in a similar manner to the way the like of Dylan and the Band were doing with the American tradition, to discover their own vernacular.  It’s this historically unique hybrid stage that I find the most interesting, just like the Stones circa Let it Bleed.  Ahh, Bob Dylan …

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Mr Dylan supplies no fewer than three of Unhalfbricking‘s 8 tracks^^.  Fairport were one of the beneficiaries of the Basement Tapes song surplus, Dylan’s publishers called them in and offered them several and they chose three great ones – ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’, ‘Percy’s Song’ and 1537-fave ‘Million Dollar Bash’.  I rather like ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’, Dylan’s cri de lit, but it was the work of near genius to translate it into French, with the aid of a couple of fans between sets, to create something not-cajun, not-Dylan, not-folk and totally Fairport – fun, playful and easy on the ear.  ‘Percy’s Song’ and its tale of a futile attempt to persuade a judge to rescind a friend’s 99-year jail sentence is a charming piece, melodic and melancholy, although the subject matter takes on a bitter bright hindsight given the band’s own fortunes:

A crash on the highway flew the car to a field
Turn, turn, turn again
There was four persons killed and he was at the wheel
Turn, turn to the rain and the wind

Clocking in at only 2:56 I wish ‘Million Dollar Bash’ was ten times as long.  I only have to hear the opening chords to make me grin from ear to ear – the band all taking different verses and vamping it up for all their worth is a treat, if this doesn’t at least make you sway around a bit then you have no soul.  This is pure fun, naievetie almost – the band clearly having an undisciplined blast and definitely the right way to close the album.

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Except on these last few listens I find myself very much haunted by the Sandy Denny track ‘Autopsy’ and its’ tale of recriminations and relationship-gone-bad blues.  The spritely music somehow becomes overwhelmed by her voice, slows and gives her the space to slice and dice her target, ‘You must philosophize / But why must you bore me to tears?’, those pure tones sound, for once, cold and bleak – the difference between admiring a peak on the horizon and spending a winter’s night on it.  Needless to say the production by, the ever-reliable, Joe Boyd and others, is flawless – everything captured sharp, separate and warm.

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The cover, of course, adds so much to the tale and the overall perfection of Unhalfbricking.  Denny’s parents pictured outside their garden fence, looking staunchly respectable and normal as a bunch of long hairs clutter up their lawn in the background, the church of St Mary’s in the distance*^.   No band name, no album name.  A perfect cover and an eloquent memorial to drummer Martin Lambie who died in the crash that May, along with Jeannie Franklyn, a friend of the band and Thompson’s girlfriend.

Fairport rebuilt themselves of course, cutting a whole album of songs by Trad. arr next on the stunning Liege And Lief, but for my money I prefer Unhalfbricking for it’s mix of cultures, good times and naievetie.  Perfect.

721 Down.

*it’s the oldest story in the book: Boy meets chick, boy runs off to sea, persistent chick builds boat and follows him, boy drowns just off ‘yon green island’, chick (probably) drowns herself – you’ve heard it a million times before.

**I hear Trad lives in a huge house these days, with a speedboat and heliport and everything with all those royalties from everyone’s LPs.

^I’m talking California, not Ilfracombe here.

^*and I type that, knowingly, as someone who owns in excess of 40 AC/DC records.

^^41.375% as I worked out without the aid of an electronic abacus.

*^the oldest memorial within which dates back to 1537, in fact. True story.  To think the US edition only got circus elephants.

24 thoughts on “Trad. arr 1537

  1. Always preferred those non-electronic abacus(abacuses?)(abaci?!) to their newfangled counterparts.
    On the 1001 – Liege & Lief was marvellous and if this one is “perfect” – I can’t wait!

    Like

    1. Ha, I’d go for Abacii – I think the extra ‘i’ just oozes ‘classy but understated’.

      This is just a real treat, plus it was a great opportunity to feature my garden fence that I built this Summer, like actually built, from bits of wood – using tools like a real man. True story.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 37! It’ll be like a Springsteen gig, there will have to be intervals and snack vendors! I do genuinely want ‘The Harder They Come’ by Jimmy Cliff though, it continues to inspire me that one. Oh and ‘Sex Dwarf’ by Soft Cell too, because it makes me giggle.

      Like

  2. Fabulous review, Joe. Although I don’t enjoy the Dylan Arr. Fairport numbers as much as you, entirely aligned on the rest.

    Who knows where the time goes? How many albums deserve immortality on the basis of one sublime song? Indeed, how many songs of such transcendent melancholic beauty are there?

    (PS> I’m seriously off 4 Men With Beards re-issues. Hope this one is OK)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot Bruce, that’s kind.

      I don’t think there are that many totally transformative songs of ultimate wonder and power (TSOUWAP) out there. I don’t half love this one though – although I do listen to Million Dollar Bash more often.

      It’s a good pressing this one, a good sounding release. Have you had 4MWB problems?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Merry Crimbo to you too Sarca!

      I hope you do give it a go – I just love this one, it’s a bit looser than Liege and Lief (which, believe it or not, I don’t own yet … I know!).

      Like

  3. That’s a great photo of you and Mrs 1537 outside the Gates Of Fairport Convention! Heard the name of this band obviously but haven’t really heard them.
    Also of note it’s good to see Trad did not get hosed by bad deals if he has a heliport and speedboat! One of the few back in the day that made out ok….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great read and ingenious pictures! I bought this after discovering Liege & Lief and I was a bit worried that there was less songs here by Mr. Arr. and more by Mr. Dylan. But turns out I loved it anyway. Great album, especially on a lazy Sunday. Or indeed, a lazy day off! In fact I might go and put it on just now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Scott, very kind of you. If I had one criticism of Trad, it’s that yes he has got that old-time sound down to a tee – but isn’t it about time he wrote some more modern sounding tracks?

      Liked by 1 person

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