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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Written in granite: From Home To Home

Fairfield Parlour only released one album during their short life (they recorded a second, a concept album, but we'll perhaps leave that for another time). Except that they'd already released two before they started... Let me explain: FP had previously traded under the name of Kaleidoscope. I hope you're paying attention because this is complicated by the fact that there was another group of the same name in San Francisco, featuring David Lindley. The UK Kaleidoscope's first album, Tangerine Dream (hmm, that'd make a great name for a group, wouldn't it?) had its moments but was very much of its time (it includes songs with titles such as Please Excuse My Face, Flight From Ashiya and The Sky Children and there was a single called Jenny Artichoke), it's a good but not remarkable album. Their second, Faintly Blowing, hints at something much more, it incorporates a folkier influence, there are echoes of their friends the Moody Blues but we're not into prog territory just yet.

The band then changed their name and their style fairly dramatically. Whereas Kaleidoscope was very much a psychedelic proposition, with the mark of 1966-7 all over them, Fairfield Parlour (perhaps they ought to have gone for something not quite so easily confused with Fairport Convention?) was a different beast. For most of the sixties there'd been this bizarre crosstalk between the UK and the USA, with each apparently wanting to be the other. Then The Band made Music From Big Pink and The Band and Fairport (that's Fairport) made Liege And Lief and it was turn and turn about. Typically Ray Davies had been ahead of the game with Village Green Preservation Society (not to mention Face to Face, Something Else and singles such as Waterloo Sunset). Suddenly there were people in Britain prepared to admit they'd had British childhoods which hadn't started with Elvis, Buddy Holly, et al. Fairport (...) went right back to folk songs dug up at Cecil Sharp House. All of a sudden it was possible to get a record deal writing very English songs. We'll deal with Bill Fay in a later entry in this series, but for now let's look at the FP album, From Home To Home. Musically it's not too far removed from the early Moody Blues albums, except that there's far more restraint. Don't get me wrong, I'm very fond of In Search Of The Lost Chord, in particular but, let's face it, drummers should NOT be encouraged to write poetry. I'm sure that somewhere there's an exception that proves the rule but if so I've yet to come across him or her (and I think it's far more likely to be a her). The lyrics on FHTH are really very fine indeed. The opening Aries is simply superb, kicking off with the beautifully down-to-earth image of "I used to collect cigarette cards..." and ending "and somewhere that I've never been, it's still raining". In between Peter Daltrey unfolds a vignette of growing up in England in the late fifties and early sixties. Oh and it's got one hell of a chorus. The mystery is why the song is called Aries, the word appears in the chorus shorn of all context. Any ideas anyone? There is, of course, a song called Emily. No English album of the time was complete without one. But this is one of the best and most intriguing. Musically the basic template is acoustic guitars, cleverly constructed songs with wonderful choruses swathed in Mellotron. It's interesting how it was the British groups that took to the Mellotron – although it was built in Birmingham, I suppose. Suddenly though there was genuinely British-sounding pop and rock music. Now a lot of this music made at the end of the sixties and in the early seventies did lay the foundations for the excesses of the next 5-6 years but personally I'm fond of a bit of excess, especially when it's done with panache. And this was one of the most extraordinary periods of invention in popular music, rivalled only by the end of the following decade. In both cases, 1969-72 and 1979-82, suddenly it became easier for people to make records. In the former case because record companies were so confused as to what might sell that they bankrolled all sorts of unlikely projects and in the latter suddenly there were lots of small, independent record labels putting out records. In both cases ambition eventually got the better of people, but not before some truly great records had been made. And, make no mistake about it, From Home To Home IS a truly great record. There's not a weak track on it and the lyrics are a million miles from the brigades of pixies and elves which were marching across the plains and about to carry all before them. But then the best of the prog that grew out of this period doesn't deal in Tolkein, or lost Tibetan scrolls... Perhaps we should have a look at the first few Genesis albums, with the focus on Peter Gabriel's lyrics because their subject is... England. But there'd been people who'd got there before him; Ray Davies, Bill Fay, all those anons who wrote the ballads Fairport had been digging up and taking for an electric jig and reel... and Peter Daltrey. Hmm. I don't appear to have concentrated on Fairfield Parlour as much in this piece as I'd intended, so perhaps this might be one to return to. Just look at the album sleeve, though, they'd come a long way from psychedelia, hadn't they? And although the trip had been short, just a couple of years, it'd been a mighty strange ride...

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