Fairport Convention are a British folk rock band, formed in 1967 by guitarists Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol, bassist Ashley Hutchings and drummer Shaun Frater (with Frater replaced by Martin Lamble after their first gig.) They started out heavily influenced by American folk rock, with a setlist dominated by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell songs and a sound that earned them the nickname "the British Jefferson Airplane". Vocalists Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews joined them before the recording of their self-titled debut in 1968; afterwards, Dyble was replaced by Sandy Denny, with Matthews later leaving during the recording of their third album.
Denny began steering the group towards traditional British music for their next two albums, What We Did on Our Holidays and Unhalfbricking (both 1969); the latter featured fiddler Dave "Swarb" Swarbrick, most notably on the song "A Sailor's Life", which laid the groundwork for British folk rock by being the first time a traditional British song was combined with a rock beat. Shortly before the album's release, a crash on the M1 motorway killed Lamble and Jeannie Franklyn, Thompson's then-girlfriend; this resulted in the group retiring most of their prior material and turning entirely towards British folk music for their seminal album Liege & Lief, released the same year. This style became the band's focus ever since. For this album Swarbrick joined full time alongside drummer Dave Mattacks. Both Denny and Hutchings left before the year's end; the latter replaced by Dave Pegg, who has remained the group's sole consistent member to this day; Thompson would leave after the recording of 1970's Full House.
The 1970s saw numerous lineup changes around the core of Swarbrick and Pegg – Nicol being absent for the middle of the decade – and declining fortunes as folk music fell out of mainstream favour. Denny, whose partner Trevor Lucas had been a guitarist in the group since 1972, returned for the pop-oriented Rising for the Moon album in 1975 in a final bid to crack America; this effort failed, and after three more albums minus Denny and Lucas, the group disbanded in 1979. They played a farewell concert in the village of Cropredy, Oxfordshire, where they had held small concerts since 1976, and this marked the beginning of the Cropredy Festival (since 2005 known as Fairport's Cropredy Convention) which has become the largest folk festival in Britain, with annual attendances of 20,000.
The band was reformed by Nicol, Pegg, and Mattacks in 1985, joined by Maartin Allcock (guitar, vocals) and Ric Sanders (fiddle, keyboards), and they have remained active since. Allcock was replaced by Chris Leslie in 1996, and Gerry Conway replaced Mattacks in 1998, with this lineup remaining unchanged since and marking the longest-lasting of the group's history. Their 28th studio album, 50:50@50, released to mark their 50th anniversary, was released in 2017, and they continue to headline Cropredy each year.
Despite little mainstream success – their only top 40 single being "Si Tu Dois Partir", a French-language cover of the Dylan song "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" from Unhalfbricking – Fairport Convention remain highly influential in British folk rock and British folk in general. Liege & Lief was named the "Most Influential Folk Album of All Time" at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2006, and Pegg's playing style, which incorporates jigs and reels into his basslines, has been imitated by many in the folk rock and folk punk genres. Additionally, many former members went on to form or join other notable groups in the genre, including Fotheringay, Steeleye Span, and the Albion Band; along with solo careers, most notably Thompson and Denny. Sandy Denny's career ended with her death in 1978, though she is now regarded as being amongst Britain's finest female singer-songwriters; her song "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" – recorded by Fairport on Unhalfbricking – has become a signature song for herself and the band.
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