Aged 15 and in the throes of a short-lived U2 obsession – The Joshua Tree was the best album ever for a summer at the very least, the musical equivalent of a pair of black jeans, a flat-top haircut and a misguided strut down the high street – I bought the freshly minted Island Story compilation, a bit of self-congratulation for 25 years of quirky eclecticism from the label that always insisted white men could dance to reggae. The U2 contribution was ‘With Or Without You’, which I had anyway, so Lord knows what I thought I was getting. An intro to more impossibly earnest chest-beaters with ringing guitars and unforgivable headgear? Turned out to be an intro to Jim Capaldi, Pete Wingfield, Bob & Earl and Fairport Convention. And I was grateful.
Like any kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I nurture a natural suspicion of folk music. Where are the synths, the make-up, the safety pins and the snarls? Get these guitar-fumbling drips away from me! My stance has softened now, but Fairport Convention – at least from a distance – threw another problem into the mix: Q Magazine and their bewildering worship of Richard Thompson. I’m sure he’s brilliant and everything (this is 15-year-old me speaking, but it might as well be me, here and now) but I haven’t heard anything, and besides – he has a tidy beard and astonishing taste in shirts. If I drop my guard now, I’ll be championing Little Village and The Robert Cray Band within minutes.
Chaos and joy define Fairport Convention’s French Cajun and French language version of Bob Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’. Sandy Denny’s woeful accent (worse than Jane Birkin’s in the serendipitously adjacent entry) and her “Come on, children, join in!” schoolmarm-ish tone could be a turn-off, but I prefer to get involved. Anyway, you can only love a song that makes a tumbling stack of chairs meld seamlessly into the percussion. Junior swanned around the kitchen and didn’t get involved herself until the last few bars, but I think we can put that down to reticence – she’s obviously tired of grown-up rock mags prostrating themselves in front of Thompson too.
Hey, maybe he really is great.