FAIRPORT CONVENTION-RISING FOR THE MOON.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION-RISING FOR THE MOON.

Rising For The Moon, which was Fairport Convention’s tenth studio album, proved to be a landmark album for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it was the last album to feature the ethereal beauty of Sandy Denny’s vocal. This was Sandy’s swan-song. Another change was that Jon Wood, Fairport Convention’s regular producer, was replaced by Glyn Johns. Then there was the fact that Rising For The Moon featured no traditional material. For purists, this rankled. Music was changing though. So was Fairport Convention’s lineup.

The lineup of Fairport Convention that featured on Rising For The Moon, included band members past and present. This included Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks and Dave Swarbrick, remaining members of the classic early seventies lineup. They were joined by Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue, three formers of Fairport Convention who in 1975, were members of Fotheringay, she short-lived British folk-rock group. Drummer Bruce Rowland, who joined Fairport Convention in 1972, was the other member of the band who featured on Rising For The Moon, which was recently rereleased by Island Records as a Deluxe Edition. Would all these changes affect the quality of music on Rising For The Moon?

DISC ONE.

Fairport Convention hadn’t released a studio album since October 1973. Since then, music was changing, and changing quickly. Prog rock, disco and Philly Soul were all growing in popularity. Folk music wasn’t as popular. So for Rising For The Moon Fairport Convention decided to change tact. Gone was the traditional music of previous albums. It would be replaced by an eleven track album, Rising For The Moon which saw Fairport Convention’s music evolve.

For Rising For The Moon, Sandy Denny penned Rising For The Moon, Stranger To Himself, What Is True, After Halloween and One More Chance. Sandy cowrote Dawn with Jerry Donahue and Let It Go with Dave Pegg and Dave Swarbrick. Night Time Girl was a Dave Pegg and Dave Swarbrick composition, while White Dress was written by Dave Swarbrick and Ralph McTell. Trevor Lucas wrote Iron Lion and cowrote Restless with Peter Roche. These eleven tracks became Rising For The Moon, Fairport Convention’s tenth studio album since 1968.

Recording of Rising For The Moon took place at Olympic Sound Studios during September 1974, with further sessions taking place in February and March of 1975. The line up of Fairport Convention featured vocalists Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas who also played rhythm guitar. The rhythm section featured drummer Dave Mattacks, who quit midway through the sessions. His replacement was Bruce Rowland, who joined lead guitarist Jerry Donahue and Dave Pegg who played bass and mandolin. Dave Swarbrick played violin, mandolin and dulcimer while Glyn Jones produced Rising For The Moon, which showcased Fairport Convention’s new sound.

This new sound, that featured on Rising For The Moon, saw Fairport Convention dispense with the traditional music of previous albums. This Island Records and the band hoped, would be Fairport Convention’s breakthrough album. 

It wasn’t. Rising For The Moon was released in June 1975 and stalled at a lowly fifty-two in the UK album charts and just number 143 on the US Billboard 200. This was hugely disappointing. The anticipated breakthrough never came with Rising For The Moon. Fairport Convention looked like never enjoying the commercial success and critical acclaim their music deserved. Maybe the problem was that Rising For The Moon was an album released at the wrong time. Was that the case?

Opening Rising For The Moon is the title-track, where scratchy fiddles combine as Fairport Convention fuse Americana, folk and country. They set the scene for the ethereal beauty of Sandy Denny’s heartfelt vocal. It paints vivid and evocative pictures, while behind her guitars weep and the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Later, harmonies sweep in, while the weeping guitar and fiddles play important roles. However, Sandy, who was making her Fairport Convention comeback steals the show.

Trevor Lucas takes over the lead vocal on Restless. His melancholy, Restless vocal suits the song. It’s as if he’s lived the lyrics, and is the rolling stone in the lyric. Strummed guitars, fiddles and harmonies accompany Trevor’s vocal. With a sense of inevitability, he sings “I guess I’ll be on my way again.”

White Dress features an eclectic combination of instruments that accompany Sandy’s on this beautiful paean. Mandolin, viola, violin and autoharp all played by Dave Swarbrick join strummed guitars and a bass that meanders along. It leads an arrangement, that has an understated folk sound. This allows Sandy’s vocal to sit centre-stage. Her vocal is tender, hopeful and shyly seductive as she sings: “kiss me” and later, “come from the window, let’s climb the stairs.” That stops you in your tracks. You’re smitten by this soul-baring, paean featuring the ethereal beauty of Sandy Denny.

Let It Go is a jaunty, swaggering fusion of folk and rock. From the opening bars, you’re hooked. Mind you, with lyrics like “there’s no excuse for torture,” that’s no surprise. From there, Trevor, like a preacher, asks people to “Let It Go.” Whether it’s grievances or arguments, “Let It Go” Trevor proffers. Living is more important. If only life was that simple? Trevor’s strident vocal is full of confidence, as he looks to the future, not the past. Behind him, the rhythm section, plus piano and percussion provide a jaunty folk-rock backdrop for this almost anthemic track with its idealistic lyrics. 

There’s a dark, moody sound to Stranger To Himself. It has a much more traditional folk sound. Percussion and acoustic guitar accompany Sandy’s thoughtful vocal. It’s as if she’s turning back the clock, regressing to another time and place. Instantly, it’s another century, Sandy using her musical palette, paints vivid pictures, pictures that unfold before your eyes. You can see the characters and scenes unfolding during this evocative, melancholy and mysterious track.

With an organ panned hard right and filters added, What Is True unfolds. Abruptly, an acoustic guitar is panned left. They set the scene for Sandy’s ethereal, impassioned vocal. Crystalline, it soars above the arrangement, as she questions, probes and asks “What Is True?” Meanwhile the rhythm section, lead by the bass guides the arrangement along. Space is left within the arrangement, allowing it to breath and ensuring nothing overpowers Sandy’s heartfelt, impassioned, vocal masterclass.

On Iron Lion, Fairport Convention sound not unlike the Rolling Stones and The Eagles. Early on, the song’s structure sounds like The Eagles’ Take It Easy. Play the two songs side-by-side and you’ll surely agree. Later, Fairport Convention sound like the Rolling Stones. Indeed, the longer the track progresses, the stronger the comparisons are. Apart from Trevor’s vocal and the fiddles, the comparisons are quite startling. Especially when Fairport Convention unleash their searing guitars and embrace the rockier side to their music.

Dawn sees Fairport Convention throw a curveball. As the track takes a brief rocky detour, you think we’re about to hear another rocky track. We don’t. It’s all change. Just meandering, chiming acoustic guitars accompany Sandy’s soul-searching vocal. After her impassioned, evocative vocal, the track takes on a rockier sound. The rhythm section, complete with moody bass and searing guitars join harmonies in adding to the drama and emotion of this potent fusion of folk and rock.

After Halloween has a thoughtful, wistful sound. Strummed guitars, percussion and wandering bass accompany Sandy’s melancholy vocal. Full of emotion, sadness and regret at her relationship breaking up. Whether it’s pragmatism or bravado, Sandy sings “tears are made of salt and water.” It’s obvious she doesn’t believe that. Her hurt runs much deeper than that, on this heartbreakingly beautiful breakup song.

Hissing hi-hats and the rhythm section join scratchy fiddles on Night-Time Girl. It’s a track that sees Fairport Convention look to their past for inpspiration. Sounding not unlike a square dance, Trevor sings and call and response. The rest of Fairport Convention add singalong harmonies, to a track that although infectiously catchy, saw the band regressing rather than progressing.

The piano lead One More Chance, which briefly, sounds like something from Carole King’s Tapestry, closes Rising For The Moon. Sandy Denny making her Fairport Convention, saves one of her best until last. Combining power, passion and emotion she breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. Behind her, the rest of the band play around her. They’re content to ensure she sounds good. That’s almost an understatement. Sandy wrote, played piano and sang the lead vocal on what’s one of the highlights of what could’ve and should’ve been Fairport Convention’s breakthrough album.

DISC TWO

That’s not the end of the Deluxe Edition of Rising For The Moon. Far from it. There’s still a live disc of material. For Fairport Convention fans, there’s some both their traditional sound and several of their classic songs. Recorded at the LA Troubadour in February 1974, this gives newcomers to Fairport Convention the opportunity to hear how good a live band they were.

Among the real highlights of Fairport Convention live in Los Angeles are a cover of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Then there’s She Moves Through The Fair, John The Gun, Hampshire Lass and Ballad of Ned Kelly. These are just a few of the many highlights of Fairport Convention live at the LA Troubadour forty years ago. Quite simply, essential listening to Fairport Convention fans new and old.

Although Rising For The Moon although was meant to be Fairport Convention’s breakthrough album, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that wasn’t the case. Folk music was no longer as popular in June 1975. Disco, Philly Soul, prog rock and rock were all much more popular than folk music. That’s why Fairport Convention ditched their traditional folk sound. In its place, it was folk rock all the way. Only Night-Time Girl, which sounds like a square dance, is a reminder of Fairport Convention’s past. The rest of the album was essentially folk rock, albeit with occasional detours via Americana, country, pop and rock. Sometimes, Fairport Convention sound as if they want to be The Eagles or the Rolling Stones. Mostly though, they’re trying to make the commercial breakthrough that never came.

This wasn’t helped by drummer Dave Mattacks who quit midway through the recording of Rising For The Moon. He wasn’t the only member to leave. Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue left Fairport Convention for good, after touring Rising For The Moon. Fairport Convention continued, albeit a shadow of its former self. Short-term replacements joined and left, what seemed like an ever-changing lineup of Fairport Convention. However, losing Sandy Denny for good was almost fatal. 

It had been bad enough losing Richard Thompson, but losing the ethereal beauty of Sandy Denny’s vocal was just too much. Sandy wasn’t just a lead vocalist, but she was also a songwriter. She wrote five of the songs on Rising For The Moon songs and cowrote two other songs. Her voice could bring a song to life. It breathed life and meaning into a song. Her voice paints evocative, emotive and atmospheric pictures. Indeed, the songs Sandy sings lead vocal on, are the best on the album. Trevor vocals are good, but nowhere near as good as Sandy Denny, who was Fairport Convention’s secret weapon on what could’ve and should’ve been their breakthrough album. 

Sadly, Rising For The Moon wasn’t Fairport Convention’s breakthrough album. Instead, following the release of Rising For The Moon, Fairport Convention fragmented, becoming a mere shadow of their former self. Rising For The Moon which was recently rereleased by Island Records, was Fairport Convention’s last album to chart until 1988s Red and Gold. It reached just number seventy-four in the UK charts and failed to match Rising For The Moon, which marked the end of an era for Fairport Convention.

Fairport Convention will forever be remembered as a band who could’ve and should’ve reached greater heights. What stopped them from doing so, were the constant changes in lineup. If Fairport Convention’s lineup had remained the same, who knows what commercial success and critical acclaim might have come their way? Maybe then, Fairport Convention might have enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim their talent warranted? Despite the constant changes in lineup, Fairport Convention enjoyed some commercial success, but not the commercial success they should’ve enjoyed.

Rising For The Moon, one of Fairport Convention’s most underrated albums, marked an end of another era for Fairport Convention. Following Rising For The Moon, Fairport Convention lineup changed yet again. What should’ve been their belated breakthrough album Rising For The Moon, marked an end of era for Fairport Convention. At least that era ended on a high, with the underrated Rising For The Moon showcasing Fairport Convention’s unique brand of folk rock. Standout Tracks: Rising For The Moon, Stranger To Himself, What Is True and After Halloween.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION-RISING FOR THE MOON.

1 Comment

  1. Spider

    Wonderful Review of this Wonderful Album !!! My Favorite Track is “Dawn” !!! 🙂

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