From Airplane wannabes to folk-rock deities...
WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS
No one did more than Fairport to loosen English folk from its traditional moorings. In the late ’60s, they were almost solely responsible (Pentangle were up there, too) for removing fingers from ears and acting as a hothouse for folk’s rising stars.
The most remarkable feature of these pre-Liege & Lief reissues (each coming with bonus tracks) is how little they’ve dated. In particular, 1968’s eponymous debut, too often dismissed as inferior, is a startlingly assured eclectic treasure. The twin vocal pairing of Ian Matthews MacDonald and Judy Dyble (later of Matthews Southern Comfort and Giles, Giles & Fripp respectively) inevitably drew comparisons with West Coast counterparts Jefferson Airplane, while its mixture of covers and originals pooled from influences as far afield as Coltrane, Ewan MacColl, The Byrds and, most prominently, Dylan are psychedelicised by Richard Thompson’s acid guitar licks.
By 1969’s What We Did On Our Holidays, Dyble had been replaced by mercurial ex-Strawbs singer Sandy Denny, arguably the greatest female voice these isles have produced. Again drawing from blues, rock, cajun and folk, it successfully seeded perennial classics (“Fotheringay”, “Meet On The Ledge”) alongside more Dylan and Joni Mitchell retreads.
The same year’s Unhalfbricking was a revelation, unique from its cover sleeve (Denny’s parents in perfect Middle England repose outside their Wimbledon home) to its streamlining of folk roots with electric rock. Inspired by The Band’s recent tapping of all things earth, Music From Big Pink, its standout track remains the revolutionary reappraisal of trad staple “A Sailor’s Life”, electrifying folk music forever and, though follow-up Liege & Lief was their radical zenith, never bettered before or since.