Fairport Acoustic Convention, 100 Club, London

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The Independent Culture

Devotees of the current freak-folk revival know better, perhaps, than to seek out their venerated forebears, Fairport Convention, in this rare, intimate excursion from their Oxfordshire base. Instead, a crowd old enough to remember them creating English folk-rock with Liege and Lief (1969) settle in.

Simon Nicol is the last link to the original band. The late, wild, singer Sandy Denny, the folk-rock instigator Ashley Hutchings, and the great guitarist-songwriter Richard Thompson are long gone (though the latter two guest sometimes).

Thompson's spirit is soon invoked, with the elemental doom and redemption of 1970 single "Now Be Thankful", and "Genesis Hall", a pro-squatter song addressed to his policeman father. Nicol gives social context, conjuring brief ghosts of counter-culture battles.

Fairport Convention without their mavericks recall their US inspirations The Band when they ploughed on, rudderless, minus Robbie Robertson. But Nicol's presence in the van-crash in which the Convention drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson's girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn died in 1969, to which Liege and Lief was a healing response, is authenticity enough.

Gerry Conway, the artful percussionist in Denny's band Fotheringay, is beside him, both seasoned, sly old birds now. The latter-day Soft Machine violinist Ric Sanders, and Chris Leslie, now the main instrumentalist and songwriter respectively, complete a line-up that feels like a genuine Convention more than a cash-in, and the new album Sense of Occasion fills the set.

Leslie's "Spring Song", inspired by a Cornish trail, finds comfort in folk verities of season and landscape, while "The Fossil Hunter" is the tale of the Victorian palaeontologist Mary Anning. There's a breezy, danceable swing to a playing that rarely settles into straight folk.

Patchy readings of McCartney's "Here, There and Everywhere" and Gershwin's "Summertime" show a pipe-and-slippers side. They finish, as they usually do, with Thompson's "Meet on the Ledge": only an ember of the old days, perhaps, but with sparks still worth catching.

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