Not so much a band as a force of nature, Fairport Convention brought their annual Winter Tour to the rather reverential atmosphere of the Festival Theatre.
A more or less permanent fixture on the folk rock scene since their formation in 1967 the Fairports – who ‘did for real ale what the Grateful Dead did for LSD’ – are in truth best suited to a summer’s day with a flagon of beer and space to jig to the upbeat elements of their set.
They have a loyal following – you could probably have counted the number of first-timers in the audience on the fingers of one hand, this reviewer included – and that loyalty was surely tested at the opening of their set by a large chunk of their 1971 ‘folk rock opera’ Babbacombe Lee.
If you ever needed an explanation for the rise of punk, this rambling, interminable ‘concept album’ guff was it.
After the interval, however, the Fairports showed that they can still cut the old English mustard. The gig lifted off with a stirring Mercy Bay, off their new album Festival Bell, written by multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, a relatively new recruit with drummer Gerry Conway, who has brought new creativity to the band of veterans Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and Ric Sanders.
It’s to Fairports’ credit that they showcase rising stars in support, and award-winning duo Kat Gilmore and Jamie Roberts did, as Nicol said, raise the bar.