Although they’re often known as English traditionalists, Fairport Convention started their career more influenced by American groups like Jefferson Airplane than by traditional folk. Guitarists Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol, drummer Martin Lamble and bassist Ashley “Tyger” Hutchings would all stay with the group through their transition into folk, but singers Ian Macdonald and Judy Dyble were both gone from the group by the time their next album was released. While both do a good job here, they’re no match for the incomparable Sandy Denny who took the band to a new level when she joined for the next record. It’s the group’s other major force, 18 year old guitarist Richard Thompson, who takes a lot of the spotlight here, already showing an uncanny ability to deliver effective guitar work in a range of styles.
Fairport Convention isn’t a focused debut, with a slightly confused mix of styles and sources, with covers of Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Emmitt Rhodes songs, along with a somewhat incongruous mixture of originals. Highlights include the opening pair of covers – Emmitt Rhodes’ ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’ and Mitchell’s ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ – both delivered with enthusiasm. The covers are well selected – the only one that’s really a standard is Mitchell’s ‘Chelsea Morning’, and this version is both superior and recorded two years prior to Mitchell’s own interpretation. Thompson’s ‘Decameron’ is the best of Fairport’s compositions, a gentle and pretty folk piece. Each side of the original vinyl ends with a whimper; Dyble’s piano spotlight ‘Portfolio’ is obvious filler, while ‘M1 Breakdown’ is the British equivalent of the throwaway car song you’d expect on an early Beach Boys record.
There’s obviously a ton of potential here, and some great moments, but Fairport Convention is unfocused and inconsistent enough that it’s more interesting as a plot of the group’s rapid development than as a strong record in its own right.