Fairport Convention

Gladys' Leap

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Though their annual reunion concerts meant that they never really went away, Fairport Convention (now down to a trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Nicol, bassist Dave Pegg, and returning drummer Dave Mattacks) officially reconvened in 1985 for this, their first proper studio album in seven years. A good album in its own right, Gladys' Leap was also important for establishing a tradition that was adhered to on the following decade's worth of Fairport Convention releases (i.e., the tradition of bringing in modern British folk composers to help with the songwriting). On this album, it's legendary folk artist Ralph McTell who rises to the formidable challenge of writing with the band who practically invented British folk-rock; he ends up co-writing not one, but two genuine Fairport Convention classics, "The Hiring Fair" and "Wat Tyler." Both these terrific story songs sound as authentically old English as any of the band's traditional numbers, and are sung and played with flair and passion. The rest of the album isn't bad either: former Fairport Convention member Richard Thompson stops by to write one number and play some hot guitar on another, Cathy LeSurf shows up to sing her own poppy "My Feet Are Set for Dancing," and future bandmember Ric Sanders is on hand to play violin on several tracks, subbing for the absent Dave Swarbrick. About the only thing on the album that doesn't work, in fact, is the alternately boring and lumbering "Instrumental Medley '85," in which Dave Mattacks' drums are way, way too far up in the mix. But other than that, Gladys' Leap is pretty good Fairport Convention -- which, as any British folk-rock fan knows, is high honor and praise indeed.

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