Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fairport Convention: Polly On The Shore

It’s been a while since I featured Fairport Convention with a Traditional Tuesday selection, so I am going back to October 1973 to their ninth LP appropriately titled “Nine.” This is one of those albums that a number of folk have deigned to the trash heap. I am one of not of that opinion, as I always liked this LP. Though it doesn’t have the continuity of “Liege and Leif” or a conceptual them as “Babbacombe Lee,” I like every cut on the album.

“Nine” was released at a time when Fairport was without an original member. This was the second album for the band with Australian Trevor Lucas and American Jerry Donahue and the three Daves: Swarbrick, Mattacks, and Pegg. Lucas replaced Simon Nicol on guitar and vocals and Donahue was the first member solely dedicated to lead guitar since the exit of Richard Thompson following the release of “Full House.” Both came from Fotheringay – a band that contained two-time Fairport member Sandy Denny and future Fairporter Gerry Conway.

The Daves had all been with the band for some time. Swarbrick came on the scene as a guest on “Unhalfbricking” became a full member of the band with “Liege and Leif” – the same album that saw the emergence of Dave Mattacks as the replacement for drummer Martin Lamble who was killed in a motorway accident in 1969. Pegg joined with the next LP, “Full House,” and has remained with the band ever since.

The two newer members of the band really shine on our featured cut “Polly on the Shore.” Lucas’ wonderful deep voice was my favorite aspect of Fotheringay. Even though the major attraction for most was his wife Sandy Denny, I tend to be partial to Lucas’ voice on that bands’ only album.

That partiality extends to Fairport cuts like the traditional “Polly on the Shore” where Lucas takes hold of the lead vocal parts. At one time I thought if I ever had a son I might consider “Trevor Lucas” for a first and middle name as I just liked its ring. I have been blessed, however, with daughters.

Here’s two versions of the song – the first being a mono video that syncs the studio recording of “Polly on the Shore” to a live performance.

Here’s the studio version in stereo which has better sound quality than the above.

To “B” or not to “B” Bend

Jerry Donahue is no Richard Thompson, but Richard Thompson is no Jerry Donahue either. Both brought different styles to the band and Jerry’s tasty American influenced country-rock licks gave a new dimension to the lead work on Fairport’s albums. When I first heard Jerry Donahue play, I thought he was using a Parsons/White Stringbender.

Now marketed as the B-Bender, the product was added to Fender Telecasters to give the guitarist the opportunity to sound like he was playing a pedal steel. This intricate mechanism that was partially developed and used by The Byrds Clarence White required extensive routing of a Telecaster to achieve the effect on the B string.

The product was eventually licensed to Fender and they offer a Clarence White signature model Telecaster that features the B-Bender as part of the guitar’s original equipment. Prior to this, it is estimated that co-designer (Byrds’ drummer and machinist) Gene Parsons custom fit 2,000 Telecasters for the mechanism.

I was wrong about how Donahue accomplished his pedal steel influenced licks. While the B-Bender filled a void, it was limited to bending only one string – the B. If you listen to Jerry’s playing, he is bending nearly all (or maybe all) of the strings on his Telecaster. This was all done without any routing, retrofitting, or redesign of his instrument. Jerry’s technique is fascinating and the following video shows how he does it. Jerry is one of the best, but sadly, little known electric guitarists.

Polly Redux

Simon Nicol does a nice job on this 2007 release on Fairport’s 40th anniversary CD: “Sense of Occasion.” I never realized how much Simons vocal register was in the same range as the late Trevor Lucas. Nicol, who rejoined Fairport in 1976, is the only original member.

Bassist Dave Pegg is the only member who has played on both versions of “Polly on the Shore.” Other members contributing to this recording are Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie, and Gerry Conway. Conway guests on “Rosie” and was a member of Fotheringay with Denny, Lucas, and Donahue – it all comes round again.

No comments:

Post a Comment