Fans at this year’s Fairport’s Cropredy Convention festival enjoyed three days of live music from acts including Brian Wilson, and The Travelling Band.
Ric Sanders of Fairport Convention celebrated his 33rd year with the band this year and said: “It’s a wonderful event, we’re very proud of it, we’re lucky to have it. It’s the central point, the big focus of our year, the Cropredy Festival, when we get all our pals along, all our Fairport friends. We book all the people we like. It’s a festival that was created by the band, a festival created by musicians, there’s no big corporate input into this festival.
“The origins of the festival started in the mid to late 70s, when they just used to have impromptu performances, not on this site. I was a friend of the band’s, because I’d played in other Fairport-connected bands like The Albion Band. I actually came to the Cropredy Festival on 4th August 1979, which was Fairport’s farewell festival, because Fairport had decided to call it a day. It was a difficult time for the band in a number of ways. The late, great Dave Swarbrick was suffering hearing problems from playing loud electric music – he used to play the fiddle (my predecessor) – and also at the time it was Punk music, going into New Wave, going into New Romantics, it wasn’t a good time for a band like Fairport to be making a good living in the music industry. So they decided to call it a day for all sorts of reasons.”
Ric added: “A year later, in 1980, they thought it would be nice to have a reunion on the festival site, and there were more people at the reunion than there were at the farewell concert! And so they did that every year, and every year more people came. Then in 1985, Dave Swarbrick had formed a band called Whippersnapper and didn’t want to do the Fairport thing any more. Dave Pegg, Simon Nichol and the drummer Dave Mattacks, the three members of Fairport, had got some new songs they wanted to record which seemed like they were obviously Fairport songs. So they recorded the album Gladys’ Leap, and a few of the songs needed fiddle on them. They knew me – I’d been playing with The Albion Band, with Soft Machine, my own jazz rock groups and so on – so they asked me to do a session on the album.
“I played on three tracks, Richard Thompson played on some tracks, the singer Cathy Lesurf sang on one track. The album came out and it was very, very well received. It was decided to do a few dates at the end of 1985, a few live dates, with a new line-up, and we recruited the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock. And for the next eleven years we had that new 5-piece line-up of Dave Pegg, Simon Nichol, Dave Mattacks, Maartin Allcock and myself, and we just went from strength to strength. Dave Pegg had joined Jethro Tull in the meantime and we used to tour as an opening act for Jethro Tull. So we did big American and European tours, touring at that level, which was a very interesting thing to do, but doing our own smaller concerts as well. Each year the festival would grow and grow, and grow and grow, until we’re here in 2018. Amazingly this is my 33rd year or so in Fairport and I couldn’t love it more.”
As a self taught fiddle player, Ric admits that it is not a natural rock-and-roll instrument. He added: “It’s not one of the mainstays. The instruments that define rock and roll are lead guitar, drums, bass guitar, saxophone, that’s the staple diet in instrumental terms. Then on the periphery of those, you have left-field instruments like the violin and flute. When I started playing I was self-taught, I wasn’t taught classically. I took up the fiddle seriously when I was about 17. I was 15 in 1967, listening to Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, and I heard what the Beatles were doing then. I loved them anyway but when I heard them doing that – ‘All you need is love’ – I wanted to be part of that whole thing, part of the counter-culture. And so I grew my hair long, I bought some shades, I became vegetarian back then, vegan now. I wanted to be part of a change. It’s been very sad since the 60s to see the world slip back, to see these right-wing parties springing up. I hate to see someone like Donald Trump as one of the most powerful men in the world, we’re in deep trouble. There was a great optimism in the 60s and I hope that comes back, I hope things turn again that way.
“I wanted to play music. I had a fiddle, so I took up the fiddle not because I particularly wanted to. I would probably have taken up the guitar if I’d had one, maybe keyboards, not drums (too much to carry). I was hearing some great electric violin players, mostly American guys, like David Laflamme from the group It’s a Beautiful Day, Jerry Goodman from The Flock, and an amazing guy called Don Sugarcane Harris, who I heard first playing with Frank Zappa. Sugarcane played the violin and made it so close to the blues harmonica or sometimes sounded like a soprano saxophone. I loved jazz, I loved everything that Miles Davis did, and John Coltrane, and I loved the sound of the soprano saxophone, which has a similar range to the violin. When I joined the band Soft Machine, I was actually replacing a guy called Alan Wakeman (Rick Wakeman’s cousin, I believe) who was a brilliant soprano saxophone player. They didn’t find another soprano sax player, but the violin fulfilled that role. And so I was very happy to join Soft Machine in the late 70s. At the same time, I joined the Albion Band, which was a Fairport offshoot, so it was a very exciting time for me. I was in my early 20s and I was with one jazz rock group and one folk rock group, that were both very successful, in the days when both had recording contracts with Harvest/EMI. So it was an exciting time for music. I’ve never seen the violin in classical terms, I know my limitations in that field. I just try to use it as melodically as I can. A lot of what I do is improving because I have a jazz and blues background, that’s where my heart is musically. But I have a great affection for folk music.”
Photos by Richard Chidwick and Max Schofield