Fairport Convention: Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Chris Leslie was only 14 years old and years away from writing “Fossil Hunter” or any other Fairport songs when his older brother John met Pegg in 1970. While chatting, Pegg invited him to bring his younger brother to his home for a visit.
Although Chris Leslie was young, he was already well-versed in all things Fairport.
“Most of my friends were carrying around Pink Floyd albums and Led Zeppelin albums— I was carrying around Fairport albums,” says Leslie. “I liked Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, too, but I thought Fairport was so cool.”
Although Fairport were a support act for Pink Floyd, it was Fairport’s merging of styles—not Floyd’s psychedelic explorations—that caught Leslie’s ear.
“I loved it,” says Leslie recalling his earliest memories of Fairport. “I heard all the different influences in the music and they just really intrigued me. I didn’t know what they were, but I knew it was a band with character—which was what I loved.”
So loved, in fact, that when his older brother John learned to play guitar, Leslie did, too. But it was the fiddle music including that played by Swarbrick—who later became his mentor—that won Leslie’s heart. It seemed only natural that when John Leslie bought a fiddle and began to take lessons, Chris could hardly contain himself.
“When I was 13, he was 18,” Leslie says of their age split. “He’d be around town and I was still at home. I used to sneak in his room and open the fiddle case and get it out and have a go at it. It’s a funny thing because I took to it quite easily in a very rudimentary way. I probably made a terrible sound, but the concept seemed quite normal to me.”
Playing fiddle music became something of an obsession for Leslie.
“It was ever so new at the time,” he says today. “I had no background in folk music. The music might have come from Mars as far as I was concerned. Now, I realize I was always very linked to [folk music] being a European. The music’s been around this area for a long time but at that particular moment, I didn’t know that. I was just moved by it. It made my heart beat faster. I used to take [my fiddle] everywhere. Every free moment I had, I just played.”
About 40 miles from the Leslies’ Banbury home, another young Fairport fan was so intrigued by the band’s music that he, too, taught himself to play fiddle. Like Leslie, Ric Sanders’ prodigious talents led him to delve deeper into music, forming fledgling bands and playing area clubs.
“I got into all that sort of jazzy rock end of progressive rock,” says Sanders. “I’m not a singer, I’m just an instrumentalist—but I always loved folk.”
Sanders decided to write Hutchings a letter expressing his admiration for the Albion Band, another electric folk band, which Hutchings formed in 1971. The Albion Band, ranked just after Faiport and Steeleye in British Folk Rock importance, has just reformed with Hutchings’ son, Blair Dunlop, taking the lead.
“Ric wrote to me in the ‘70s,” remembers Hutchings. “That’s very unusual for musicians to do, but Ric wrote a letter to me saying if you’ve ever got a spot in the Albion Band, I’d love to join you. There was an opening [later on] and he did join and then graduated from the Albion Band into Fairport. And he’s still there playing with them.”
That, says Sanders, was a day that he never thought would arrive.
“It was a delightful shock when I got a call from Fairport,” says Sanders who Pegg also recruited. “When I went along to rehearse with the guys, I already knew all the instrumentals because I had learned them for fun.”
Sanders dismisses press reports that he was disconcerted when Leslie—who had been a member of Swarbrick’s post-Fairport band Whippersnapper—filled the slot that opened when multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock left in 1996.
“I was thrilled,” he affirms. “It was the happiest day of my life. Every time we got together, we talked about doing an album together.”
Calling Leslie the only true multi-instrumentalist in the band, Sanders says that his fiddle counterpart applies the same passion that he used to teach himself fiddle to almost everything else that he has an interest in.
“I have never known anyone to embrace everything with such energy and skill as he does,” says Sanders reiterating other band members’ remarks about Leslie discovering an instrument—from banjo to mandolin to Native American flutes to bouzouki—and almost immediately teaching himself to play. “That’s just what he does.”
Indeed, Leslie’s musical prowess is well respected throughout the music community. Martin Barre, best known as the lead guitarist for Jethro Tull, talked about sharing a recording session with Leslie.
“I took two or three takes to get a good one and he would come in and play once and that was it,” Barre says. “It was perfect and absolutely effortless.” He pauses when told that Leslie doesn’t consider himself a songwriter or a virtuoso player: “He is. He is a monster talent.”
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