Liege & Lief is the heart-warming 1969 album from The Fairport Convention.
Possibly the first major British folk-rock album, it combines the nostalgia of traditional British folk with hints of electric guitar; another step towards the growing dominance of electric instruments in every nook and cranny of the musical sphere.
Suffused with drama, passion and eroticism, it comprises a mixture of traditional folk music (‘Reynardine’, ‘The Deserter’, ‘Tam Lin’) and original compositions (‘Come All Ye’, ‘Farewell, Farewell’, ‘Crazy Man Michael’) written and performed in Fairport’s electric take on the folk style, creating a work that is both familiar and new, traditional and forward looking.
Recorded in the aftermath of a tour-bus accident that had killed drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson’s girlfriend, the band wrote and recorded this album in 1969, however before it was released both Hutchings and Denny had left band: Hutchings to pursue traditional music with Steeleye Span, and Denny to form Fotheringay.
‘Come All Ye’ opens the album, and for me this was the greatest moment of a truly great album. I’m not very well-versed in folk music, so I had little expectations going in to Liege and Leif. This track creates a feeling of welcoming the listener back into a community that they have always been a part of, but perhaps not visited in a long time.
Like many of my generation (the ‘Millennials’) I was born in the 80’s in a mid-sized industrial English city and grew up with the usual cultural markers: Noel Edmonds House Party, Panini football sticker albums and the dream of owning a Sony Playstation. Looking back on my childhood I can see there was something missing and listening to this opening track I felt that this might have been part of ‘it’. This lively warm and welcoming folk music creates a sense of history and belonging. I can’t explain exactly how it does this, but that was what I felt.
As the album progressed the stories of love, mystery, danger and injustice unfold, and I was drawn deeper and deeper into the nostalgia. Matty Groves gives the account of an extra-marital affair that ends in the death of both lovers at the hand of the cuckold husband. Reynardine an encounter between a beautiful woman and a “sly, bold” man who entices her back to his castle, and The Deserter; a tale of a man repeatedly forced into the army when he just wants to be free. All these songs adding to the tapestry of a long deep history of England that we have lost as part of our shared cultural memory, but many of us quietly long for.
That said, I haven’t yet left behind my city home for a simpler life in the country; growing my own food and making my own clothes out of hemp sacks, and spending days rambling across the hills and forrests getting into adventures. But this album opened a window to me and gave me an idea of a different way of life. Maybe one day I will.
I really enjoyed the album, and at the time of recording the podcast I must admit I fired out a rating of five stars, however having had a little more time to consider and considering the fact that I haven’t had an inkling to listen to it again in the time since recording, I have revised this to a four, and at a four it stands.
Trak of the album: ‘Come All Ye’