Who knows where the time goes...

Fairport Convention, inventors of folk-rock, are still having fun in a field, 30 years on

There must be something in the water in Oxfordshire, where the ageing folk-rock legends Fairport Convention live, that gives them the longevity for which so many groups yearn. It is either that or the Hook Norton beer that has seen them through 30 years in the music business almost unscathed. Their marathon career is even more amazing when you hear them confess to being one of the least marketable bands around.

Fairport were a bunch of teenage friends who played for fun in the Sixties. Together they invented folk-rock and lived in a commune. After a flourish of success and some obligatory rock-star doses of personal tragedy (the deaths of singer Sandy Denny and drummer Martin Lamble), the band seemed washed up in the late Seventies, when a lot of us were thumbing through punk LPs, working out what to buy with our first record tokens. But they re-formed soon after and are still on stage 30 years later.

Next weekend, in a field in Cropredy, a village north of Banbury, they will once again host their annual summer festival - a date in every folky's diary since as long ago as 1979. This year 18,000 people are expected, and Fairport will be playing on both nights (not just headlining the second) in order to get through as much as possible of the mass of material they have churned out during the past three decades.

Over a breezy lunch in the garden of the Mason's Arms in the Cotswolds, outside Chipping Norton, the band's kingpin and laconic bass player Dave Pegg attempts to sum up the band's history. "I was trying to work out the other day what our combined age is now. It's about 225. That's a bit scary, isn't it?" he says, devouring a king prawn. "Thirty years," he muses. "So many things happen to you." He lights a B&H, scratches his stubble and tries to remember some. How about the commune where the band lived at the end of 1969 with their various girlfriends and an ever increasing number of road crew?

"It was an old pub, The Angel in Little Hadham in Hertfordshire, where the band could rehearse and live. There were about 18 of us in there in the end, with one kitchen and one toilet. The kitchen was occupied 24 hours a day, as was the toilet."

One afternoon the band were relaxing in the back garden with various mind-expanding substances, when they had a visit from five of Little Hadham's boys-in-blue who had been watching the commune for several weeks. "We all thought, `Oh, Christ, it's a bust'," Pegg recalls. "But they'd come to ask if we'd play at the Police Dance in a field opposite the Nag's Head. It was our first outdoor gig, it cost six shillings to get in and they gave us a washing machine as payment."

This has always been the point of Fairport - it's a bit of fun. It is not uncommon to see the band incoherent with laughter on stage at some witty aside. Since their first gig at St Michael's Church, in London's Golders Green, on 27 May 1967, the Fairport concept has always focused on having a good time rather than spinning huge amounts of money. The band's vocalist and guitarist Simon Nicol says the marketing men did grapple with them, but "they fairly soon gave up on us". They live comfortable rural lifestyles and drive powerful cars but there are no mansions in the Caribbean or private jets. There was never any desire for stadium extravaganzas or hotel wrecking. It was only ever meant as an elaborate jam session that began among teenage friends and went on rather longer than planned.

Fairport are unique. Of all the bands that have been going for 30 years, while the others have had a major amount of mainstream success, they have relied on treading the boards, often in small venues like the Stratford- Upon-Avon Civic Centre, to pay the bills. "If we had had the success of, say, the Stones, I think we would have gone our separate ways by now," says Pegg. "As it was, we had to carry on working and for us it became our own kind of little art form."

And there is no sign that they are slowing down. Cropredy takes almost a year to plan, courtesy of Pegg's wife, Christine. Each winter there is a UK tour, often at least one foreign tour, and many one-off gigs around Europe. In 1996, Nicol logged 140 hotel rooms and 43 plane tickets. The only time he starts to feel old is at the Cropredy bash when fans queue at the guest tent for autographs, weighed down with scores of Fairport album covers, and he realises just how long the band has been around.

"The age thing really isn't a problem," he says. "I hope I'm doing my job better now at 46 than I was at 18. I don't see why music should be solely the preserve of young, inexperienced kids. It's good to have them around but when it comes to craftsmanship you need experience."

Fairport have been through many personnel changes over the years (Pegg is the only one never to have left), but the sound has remained constant and is as strong as ever on their new album, out this week. Its title? Appropriately enough: Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

Cropredy is on 8, 9 Aug; tickets available at the gate

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'