B12 Solipsism

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Liege and Lief

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“Liege & Lief” (Fairport Convention)

Liege and Lief has long been a favorite of mine, dating back to the vinyl record era. Still probably in my top 20 favorite albums, if I made a list and checked it twice. Apparently, an “expanded” version is about to come out, with a second disc of crap that wasn’t good enough in 1969, but now will be used to lure suckers like me into repurchasing the album (for the third time!)

John Harris on the story of Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief:
In 1969, reeling from the shock of a tragic car crash, Fairport Convention recorded an album that would change British folk for ever. John Harris hears the story of Liege and Lief.
… The spark for Fairport taking this watershed turn was the Band’s 1968 album Music from Big Pink, the record that – along with Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes bootleg – brought about a widespread musical volte-face, in which what remained of psychedelia was replaced by a new rootsiness. Among the rock aristocracy, its influence was evident in the Beatles’ ill-fated back-to-basics project Let It Be, the Rolling Stones’ purple patch that began with Beggars Banquet, and Eric Clapton’s decision to call time on Cream.

In Fairport’s case, it convinced them that their early dalliance with transatlantic influences was best forgotten. “Music from Big Pink showed us that Americana was more suited to Americans, and we needed to explore Britannicana, or whatever the equivalent of that was,” says Thompson. “They seemed to nail American roots styles so well, and blend them so seamlessly: country, R&B, blues. At that point, we thought, ‘We’ll never be that good at American music. We should be looking at something more homegrown.’”

Just as Big Pink evoked what the writer Greil Marcus later called “the old, weird America”, so Fairport resolved to connect themselves with an arcane, semi-mystical side of the UK’s history that pop culture had left untouched. Regular trips were made to Cecil Sharp House, the traditional music archive near Regent’s Park in north London, where Hutchings in particular spent hours spent sifting through lyrics and sheet music. “You could hear things as well: old tapes, and vinyl – and cylinder recordings, which people like Vaughan Williams and [composer and folk archivist] Percy Grainger made,” he says. “After that, it wasn’t difficult to believe in those songs and kind of live them.”

The result was music full of a drama that oozed from the traditional songs at the album’s core – the Scots ballad Tam Lin, the Victorian press-gang vignette The Deserter – into the smattering of originals. In terms of emotional power, Liege And Lief peaked with Matty Groves, a 17th-century murder ballad in which a female aristocrat goes to church and seduces the titular peasant lad, only to be informed on and find her outraged husband at the end of the bed. The hapless Groves is challenged to a duel that he promptly loses, and his corpse is joined by that of his lover. The song ends thus: “’A grave, a grave,’ Lord Darnell cried, ‘to put these lovers in/ But bury my lady at the top, for she was of noble kin.’” Christianity, sex, class and murder – not many groups, it was fair to say, did this kind of thing.

sort of the anti-Syd Barrett, in other words, though Pink Floyd wasn’t alone in recording twee tunes:

“There was a lot of airy-fairy, very whimsical stuff happening in the late 60s,” says Ashley Hutchings. “We never really felt part of that. When we made Liege and Lief, it was like Bergman was coming in to direct it. It was The Seventh Seal, not Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was magical, but the magic was elemental.”

More here, including Richard Thompson saying:

“I haven’t listened to it that much, but I kind of know it. I don’t actually need to rehearse it. I could sit down and play it today – I just remember the whole thing, for some reason. It’s just … locked in.”

Written by Seth Anderson

June 12th, 2008 at 11:01 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

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