‘He was a voice in the night’ - folk-rock legends Fairport Convention to play at John Peel Centre
PUBLISHED: 19:00 04 March 2020
Fairport Convention guitarist Simon Nicol recalls the influence John Peel had on him and the band ahead of their gig at the Stowmarket venue keeping alive the DJs legacy.
The John Peel Centre in Stowmarket is to host Fairport Convention in May - a band long lauded as English folk-rock royalty.
An early champion of the band was John Peel, who first inspired them and later promoted them as they established themselves in the late 1960s.
Founder member Simon Nicol said he was looking forward to playing the venue continuing the work of a hero who became a friend.
"I remember John with massive affection and I was very saddened when he suddenly left the stage with no warning. It was such a shock," he said.
Paying tribute to the work of the centre in continuing the work of the DJ in championing new and emerging talent as well as providing a stage for established acts, Simon said: "The amount of knowledge that man had about music and musicians was no small beer. It's good that it has been preserved."
In the mid-1960s John Peel was hugely influential with his Perfumed Garden show on Radio London, playing music such as classic blues, folk music and psychedelic rock, particularly new music emerging from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Growing up in the capital the teenage Simon was a regular listener.
"John Peel was a voice in the night," he said.
"He was a fantastic source of inspiration musically, who introduced me and my peers, many of whom were in Fairport, to a lot of the music I think you could say was absolutely seminal in our development, those early West Coast singer songwriters and the funky little bands that he turned up.
"Then he started on Radio 1 and with great forces and bigger budgets behind him he started to be able to promote the music he loved and believed in so strongly.
"He was able to do a tremendous amount for young up-and-coming bands, some of whom became full-time professionals like myself.
"He was one of the first people I met professionally who I thought 'This guy's a star'.
"Not only had he been influential in listening to and hearing my music, this was someone who was really famous.
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"As a 16-year-old in a band it was a big deal for me. The fact he had a lot of time and respect for what we were doing gave me an early sense of real appreciation and feeling like a grown-up."
The rest is history. Their seminal 1969 album Lief and Liege put Fairport Convention at the forefront of the genre and they have remained there ever since.
Their honours include a "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the 2002 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards while Liege & Lief was voted 'Most Influential Folk Album of All Time' by Radio 2 listeners.
The 2020 line-up is Simon on guitar, bassist Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie on violin, and drummer/percussionist Gerry Conway.
This January saw the release of the new album Shuffle and Go, the band's 30th, to positive reviews.
Tracks from the album formed part of the set for their 2019 winter tour and Simon said they had enjoyed the fun, but also the challenge, of unveiling new material to fans.
"You've got an arrangement that's similar to the recorded version but you still don't know if the punter is going to be able to take it on board at one hearing," he said.
"That's what you're asking them to do when you debut a lot of songs and this time round we performed 10 out of the 13 tracks, eight of which were totally unknown to the audience. But they were fantastic all the way through on the tour, and we were energised by it.
"I'm cock-a-hoop about the situation the band is in at the moment and it's largely down to the reception that the record got, I find it very energising."
Life on the road still galvanises the band: "There's still that tingle. It's Fairport's ethos," he said.
"We don't make records to make money and then grudgingly go out and promote them. We're a working band that occasionally takes stock, needs to enlarge its repertoire, makes a record then you realise 'Ooh, that's a good job', and we've topped up the tank again.
"I completely enjoy that connect with the audience. It's my life, y'know?
"It would be dreadful to think that the van was never going to pull up at my door again and I don't jump in with a suitcase."
Fairport Convention are at the John Peel Centre on Saturday May 9. Tickets are £25.