Features: Ten out of forty!
In our anniversary year, Chris Leslie reflects on his decade in Fairport Convention
As 2007 dawns (writes Chris Leslie), I have completed my tenth year in Fairport Convention. And wow, what an amazing time I've had so far!
It is great to be a part of something that I have followed and loved since my school days.
I remember my first gig and being welcomed so warmly by the audience at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury: that was my first real introduction to the enthusiastic and generous fan following that Fairport is blessed with.
My first tentative song writing offerings were cradled into the band's rehearsals and out they came sounding like 'proper' songs – the joy of working with such fab musicians. The other band members have certainly inspired me to carry on writing more songs when that elusive muse hits me, and I thank them so much for that encouragement.
Touring has taken us all over the world, again with lovely audiences everywhere we play. Welcoming the New Year in Australia a few years ago was particularly unforgettable. What a gathering that was – musicians, dancers, Tibetan Buddhist monks, with the blessings of aborigines for the use of the land for the festival site. Just magical.
We played other gigs after the festival in Australia, sometimes with the temperature up at 40 degrees – boy, did I feel like a Pommy, albeit a happy one. The Blue Mountains were incredible, as was Sydney, Rotnest Island, not to forget a singing greengrocer called Elvis Parsley whose shop was called 'Grapeland.
Tokyo was the first place I went with Fairport where I couldn't read any of the signs. And there was so much to read! Every available space seemed an opportunity to advertise something. Tokyo had a very futuristic vibe to it – think Blade Runner! The Senso-Ji Buddhist Temple was beautiful.
Fairport pays regular visits to America and Canada – a lot of very long drives and a very varied experience depending on the state you're in ( if you'll pardon the pun).
One highlight of any trip to north America is meeting the many dear friends the band has over there. For example, there's Brian O'Malley in Chicago. He's great company, he has such a love and ear for music, and tremendous knowledge of the Irish music scene over there.
I remember some terrific nights in Chicago such as the occasion we met up with the brilliant Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill who came to our gig. Afterwards, we all went on to a music session but I left my fiddle in our hotel (a very rare occurence) because I thought I wouldn't know any of the repertoire. It was a fantastic night with some brilliant musicians who played many of my favourite tunes... oh, I wished I'd taken my fiddle! Next time!
I've been to Ireland with the band a couple of times. What a musical and fun-loving place. One particular event comes to mind. It happened outside a music shop in Black Rock. Ric and I were looking at fiddles (well fancy that!) and chatting to the owner, talking about all the great fiddlers whose playing we loved. We happened to mention Sean McGuire whereupon the shop owner said: "He's outside now, getting into his car". We ran out, introduced ourselves and had a chat. It was real serendipity. He is sadly no longer with us which makes our meeting even more precious. I have a country made fiddle I bought that day as a reminder.
Another great experience has been playing music with so many past Fairport members at Cropredy. That is quite something for me. Being Swarb's vocal support in the Full House line up a few years ago was a joy! I've also had the opportunity to play with the wonderful Dan Ar Bras, both in Brittany and at Cropredy. Playing Super Tramp numbers with Roger Hodgson was fab too and it was lovely to play and sing with Beth Neilson Chapman and Glen Tilbrook. I've even been a 'stunt double' vocalist for Robert Plant at pre-Cropredy rehearsals one year.
None of this would have been possible had I not become a member of Fairport Convention in December 1996. Nor would many other wonderful things. So a huge 'thank you' to Simon, Ric, Peggy. Gerry, and Rob (and, during my first year, Dave Mattacks) for inviting me to join the band and for and making me so very welcome.
Here's to the next ten years!