This week’s album in the “Carole’s Seminal Albums” series is Fairport Convention‘s 1969 ground-breaking Liege and Lief.
It was Fairport’s fourth release and was a departure from what had come before; there were no Bob Dylan covers and the West Coast inspired folk-rock was replaced by a totally English folk sensibility.
This was something that had been hinted at on Unhalfbricking‘s most folky track A Sailor’s Life, as well as by the use of Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle playing. A session player on that album, he was a full-time band member by the time that Liege and Lief was recorded.
The main source for much of the material on the album was traditional English folk, as documented by Cecil Sharp. The band member who had driven this shift of styles was Ashley Hutchings, who left the band shortly after the album was released to form Steeleye Span and further develop his interest in traditional forms.
Despite the traditional basis for the material, Liege and Lief is an album that is very much an electric piece, graced by the superb lead guitar playing of the young Richard Thompson and driven by the bass and drums of Ashley Hutchings and Dave Mattacks.
It is also the album that came to define a purely British folk-rock tradition, leading not only to the formation of the already mentioned Steeleye Span but also to Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas forming Fotheringay , as well as providing an alternative sound for British musicians to follow than the mainstream American blues and rock and roll palette.
Fairport Convention were not the first folk musicians to play to rock audiences, Pentangle were already a popular band in 1969, but they were probably the first band to really take traditional music and properly place it into an electric setting.
It is also important to put Liege and Lief into the context of the times. The psychedelic period was over, the ’60s were coming to an end and in both the USA and the UK musicians were looking at older, more traditional forms, paring back on the excesses and getting back to the “roots”. We can see this happening in the music produced by The Band on their first album Music From Big Pink and also on The Grateful Dead‘s 1970 release, Workingman’s Dead. The first Crosby, Stills and Nash album also sees a shift towards more acoustic playing.
Liege and Lief is also an important influence on Led Zeppelin‘s third album, which was largely composed in a cottage in Wales with no electricity, and also on their fourth album, noticeably on The Battle Of Evermore which featured Sandy Denny duetting with Robert Plant and possibly on Stairway To Heaven as well.
As an aside, Robert turns up on Fairport’s 2009 release Live At Cropredy ’08, where he gets a huge cheer from the crowd, before performing The Battle Of Evermore with Kristina Donahue (Jerry Donahue’s daughter) singing Sandy’s part.
Here is the original album, plus the two bonus live tracks that were included on the CD re-issue.
Come All Ye
Crazy Man Michael
Sir Patrick Spens
Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood