Come All Ye: The First Ten Years is a curious selection for a mammoth box set to commemorate the 5Oth anniversary of Fairport Convention, the British folk-rock act who changed everything. It's huge, with seven discs that house 121 tracks and nine hours of music; what's more, 55 of these selections are previously unreleased. That last fact should be enough to grab the faithful by the throat and get them to the shop and plunk down their hard-earned dosh. This box was compiled and produced by none other than Andrew Batt, the man with the fussy ear who helmed Sandy Denny's beloved collection I've Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny (bring it back into print, man!), and the glorious deluxe edition of Fairport's Rising for the Moon.
The box includes healthy selections from the band's first 13 studio albums through 1978's Tippler's Tales (nothing from The Bonny Bunch of Roses though); but none are in their entirety. The bulk contains outtakes, alternates, BBC sessions, live material (like a killer "Sweet Little Rock 'n Roller" from the Troubadour in 1970, or "All Along the Watchtower" from 1975 in Norway), rarities. etc. Some of these appeared with less-than-optimal sonics on the 2010 Sandy Denny box set, or as bonus tracks on various album reissues (again without this level of audio quality). One example of the treasure to be found within is on disc seven where Denny delivers a harrowing live version of "Down Where the Drunkards Roll" weeks before it appeared on Richard & Linda Thompson's I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. Disc three contains a television performance of songs from the film The Man They Couldn't Hang that are more ragged and more expressive than the ones that appeared on the "Babbacombe" Lee album. Disc four holds unreleased tracks from an unreleased album that included Canadian David Rhea. Another Denny gem, the original version of "After Halloween" is far superior to the officially released one.
The final two discs contain full concert recordings. Number six is live from Fairfield Hall in December 1973 and offers a version of the traditional "Days of 49" followed by a burning "Fiddlestix." Disc number seven was cut in the U.S. at L.A.'s Troubadour in 1974. Opening with Bob Dylan's "Down in the Flood," it flows through Trevor Lucas' "Ballad of Ned Kelly" "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," and Denny's classic "Who Knows Where the Time Goes." That show, and the box, end with the unlikely rave-up of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day." There are dozens upon dozens of selections punters can argue over. What it all amounts to is that in part or in its entirety, Come All Ye: The First Ten Years is essential listening. For fans, all of this is necessary, for the curious, start with the studio offerings (there are two fine offerings entitled Five Classic Albums, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) or the double-disc Gold from 2008.