Listening to Fairport Convention in 2014 – as they approach their 47th birthday as a band this May – adds a fresh, if faintly poignant spin to the term victims of their own success.
Having been firmly at the forefront of a previous great leap forward in UK folk music – complete with blossoming cross-genre hybrids and burgeoning mainstream popularity – and thus broken the ground for today’s manifestation of those very same phenomena, Fairport aged 46-and-three-quarters fall manifestly far short, by any objective measure, of the now-prevailing standards that they originally helped to set.
To be brutal, much of the current line-up’s musicianship would barely have passed muster in the average Scottish teenage session, while their once-pioneering folk-rock material, for the most part having failed to develop much in at least a quarter-century – unlike, for instance, that of long-departed founder member Richard Thompson – sounded crashingly dated.
But for the paying audience, of course, objectivity was beside the point. They were there to keep the faith with the once-wildly glamorous band whose key numbers soundtracked their own giddy youth in the 1960s and 70s, and Fairport’s set contained sufficient echoes of their hallmark red-blooded harmonies and rock’n’roll abandon (plus a saving degree of self-deprecation) to let happy collective memory fill in the gaps.
By these criteria, the band’s annual Scottish visit was a job well done, while their opening act on this year’s tour, northern English singer-songwriter Edwina Hayes, was a captivating bonus, combining both clarity and intensity of expression in finely-wrought contemporary ballads.
Rating: * * *