Fairport Convention - Unhalfbricking - Review
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critics' view

Arriving in July, “Unhalfbricking”, so named on account of one of Sandy Denny's contributions to an inexplicable on-the-road word game, was the second of three albums from Fairport Convention in 1969. The sleeve was shot at the suburban home of Denny's parents, who stand awkwardly in the fore ground while the group themselves are half hidden behind a trellis fence. It’s clear this group are not quite normal. I like this.

For this release they were: Sandy Denny (22, vocals, harpsichord); Richard Thompson (20, electric and acoustic guitars, electric dulcimer, piano accordion, organ, backing vocals); Ashley Hutchings (24, bass, backing vocals); Simon Nicol (18, electric and acoustic guitars, electric dulcimer, backing vocals) and Martin Lamble (19, drums).

Although enthusiastically received, it was a bittersweet release for the group. Recorded between January–April 1969, the work was soon overshadowed by a tragedy on 11th May 1969. Just two months before the album was released, drummer Martin Lamble and guitarist Richard Thompson's girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, were killed in a car crash as the band were returning from a concert in Birmingham. Simon Nicol later said: “That was a big watershed, I think. In the aftermath, we thought a lot about what to do, whether to call it a day. It had been fun while it lasted but it took a definite effort of will to continue. It had given us a lot but now it had taken away a lot: was it worth it if it was going to cost people their lives? Martin was only 18 or 19 years old. He would have gone on to have been so much more than just another drummer, another musician: there was something very special about him.”

There is much to admire here, most especially with the opening one-two. “Genesis Hall”, written by Richard Thompson, is delivered as a plaintive waltz and tackles some gritty business as the writer explains: “Genesis Hall was the name of a building in London that was occupied by squatters. The police went in and were far too brutal in evicting the people. My father was a policeman at the time, and although he was not involved in this operation, I could see the situation from both the squatters’ and police’s points of view. This was conflicting for me, and I tried to express that.”Si Tu Dois Partir”, a French language version of Bob Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, immediately follows and serves as a great fun way to lighten the mood. It shows hearty imagination and does the song a great service.

A Sailor’s Life” closes side 1; here the group demonstrate a fine sensibility for the old traditional, and are completely uninhibited in reframing it in a moody, late 60s environment. During the course of the 11 minute epic drag, we learn that a young woman is fretting about the non-return of her sailor lover, sweet William. She sets off in a boat to find him, eventually finding out that he has drowned. In her grief, she herself re-enacts the drowning in an attempt to rejoin him in spirit. It was Sandy Denny who learned it in her solo career and brought it to the table. The group are wholly terrific around Sandy’s vocal, and with Dave Swarbrick guesting on violin, the eerie mood is perfectly represented. Every member contributes excellently. The album loses its way slightly here and there; the ramblers “Autopsy” and “Million Dollar Bash” are a bit too close to AOR convention for my liking, but, still, there is much to take from this set and my grumbles are relatively minor.

Martin Lamble was gone too soon but no-one can take “Unhalfbricking” from him.

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