Interview with Simon Nicol & Dave Pegg
|by Chris Groom and Reinhard Groll|
|left to right: Simon Nicol, Gerry Conway, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie|
Fairport Convention's first gig ever took place in June 1967, at Golders Green, London Church Hall. The group plays mainly cover versions at various "underground" venues in London. At one gig they meet American producer Joe Boyd, who is establishing his own production and management company, Witchseason. In Nov the same year he produced the group's first single and in Jan 1968 the band plays its first major gig at London's Saville Theatre, supporting Procol Harum. In June the same year the group's debut album 'Fairport Convention' is released and only a month later their singer Judy Dyble left, Sandy Denny joins the group and Fairport Convention begins to incorporate more traditional English folk influences.
Their next album 'What We Did On Our Holidays' [left] is released in Jan 1969 and again, only six months later, in July they released 'Unhalfbricking' [right] and it was the first time where we find a connection to Lindisfarne.
According to the liner notes of Lindisfarne's great live CD "The Cropredy Concert" from 1994 (released in 1997) -what is probably the best source to find out about the special relationship between the Lindy's and the Fairport's- their friendship began when Lindisfarne supported the classic 'Unhalfbricking' Fairport line-up on numerous U.K. college and club dates. [more further details please check the liner notes of Lindisfarne's Cropredy CD].
Now, more than 30 years later, we are in the 21st Century, both bands are sharing the same (co)-songwriter Nigel Stonier (co-writing with Chris Leslie for the Fairports as well as with Rod Clements for the Lindy's) and -much to our delight- both bands are still touring and for all of their US-activities they even share the same booking agency - Real Good Music, headed by Pat Garrett (www.rgmbooking.com).
All in all thousand good reasons to talk to Dave Pegg and Simon Nicol not only about the past but also about the current and future Fairport Convention and The Dylan Project, featuring Steve Gibbons.
Simon, can you recall the first time you met Lindisfarne? Can't give you a precise date, but it was Manchester, the University (which was a regular gig for many years) and it was wintertime. We must have been staying overnight as we all went out for a curry after the gear had been packed away and I had a Rogan Josh. Well I must have done as that was my favourite at the time. And our mutual admiration was expressed in a happy atmosphere of lager, laughter and Indian food.
How was the audience reaction in those days? On one side the 'having fun and a splendid time for everyone' crazy bunch of lads from Newcastle, as opposed to the more 'serious and traditional folk orientated' band from London.
Fairport was not then nor has it ever become a 'serious' outfit, bent on proselytising 'folk' music; whatever that is. We take playing seriously (most of the time) but I hope we've never taken OURSELVES that way.
I've recently read that musicians mainly remember the drink and food from a gig/tour rather than the concert itself. Well Simon, bearing this in mind, are there any recollections from that one remarkable week in San Francisco?
As you see from my answer to #1, your supposition is correct. But memory is not infallible and I can't remember ever spending as long as a week in San Francisco. If I had, I would as it has always been one of my favourite places to be. If you actually mean the week's residency at the Troubador in Los Angeles where we ran a bar tab for the 12 sets we played in 1970; the story is already well-disseminated that we ended up owing the management $1500 after they had deducted our fee. Mind you, the fee itself was piss-poor and the drinks over-priced. And we were generous tippers to the leggy waitresses. [Simon's right it should mean to be L.A. [RG]]
Simon, how did you come to produce Jack The Lad's album "Rough Diamonds"? Were you asked by the band or was this a decision/ recommendation from the record company?
I think it was the record company who asked me, but obviously only after lengthy discussions with the band members, some of whom already knew me and some of whom didn't.
Rough Diamonds was much less traditional-orientated than the previous two albums. Was the 'new' style already defined before you went with them into the studio or was it developed during the studio sessions?
It developed - the band was going in that direction and I certainly had an open mind rather than the whip hand. I didn't even spend a lot of time comparing what had gone before: I listened to what they wanted to do with the material under consideration and tried to find a way to get that on tape as unaltered as possible.
Dave, you brought Lindisfarne to Cropredy in '94. Do you see any chance of bringing them back again to the festival?
Certainly, we are big Lindisfarne fans in Fairport and we love the new line up so there is a possibility although I don't know when. Next year is our 35th Anniversary so it's all going to be Fairport based. We would love to have them back one year.
Talking of Cropredy, who makes the final decision about who is invited to play at Cropredy? Well, it's probably myself along with Christine [Pegg]. We get about 600 CD's and videos sent to us every year and it is very difficult to pick what amounts to about 15 acts to go on the Festival but ultimately it is myself.
The Lindisfarne biography book recalls the story of the two bands meeting for a post-gig Indian meal. What is your version of the infamous 'curry house' incident? And if it's not too painful, do you recall Alan's follow-up?
Yes I kind of remember that curry house incident. We were playing at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, I think, and we all finished up in a curry house around the corner and for some reason Fairport must have left without paying the bill. This wasn't the intention. What happened is that many years later at Nostell Priory Festival was very influential in getting Lindisfarne to play on that Festival. It was a Jethro Tull gig and I said that we must have Lindisfarne as they will go down really well, as they are a great band. After their set I went to congratulate them and went into the bar tent. Unfortunately Alan picked a fight on me and accused me of running out of the curry house in Manchester, which I think was in the year 1970. Punches were exchanged. I think he was a little drunk and I certainly was drunk and probably very high after the Lindisfarne set. It wasn't our intention to escape from the curry house without paying. We're not that kind of a band.
Did the two bands often cross paths in the early seventies? Ray Laidlaw mentioned a night in Croydon where LF were playing the Greyhound and FC were over the road at the Fairfield Hall, with the Fairports going over to jam after-hours
Yes I think we did from time to time. I can remember going to the Greyhound after Fairport had played at the Fairfield Hall and I think we did get up and have a knock. We were great buddies and hopefully still are.
I remember reading that Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks was a session man on Ray Jackson's first solo single 'Take Some Time'. Do you know of any other LF/FC studio connections?
No I don't unfortunately. There are not any that come to mind.
(In fact, Rod Clements provides a fairly consistant link - both Peggy and Rod have played bass for Ralph McTell, while Rod played lead guitar in a Pentangle line-up that included Gerry Conway).[CG]
The Lindisfarne performance at Cropredy was a very special evening. Did you get to see their set, and what is your view of it?
I did see the Lindisfarne set at Cropredy. It was a great. As I said earlier, we are all great fans of theirs. It was ironic that this was the last appearance that we saw of him [A. Hull] with Lindisfarne.
What are the chances of another LF appearance at the festival in the near future?
We would love to have them back. Alan Hull will never be replaced. He was a great talent, a wonderful songwriter and a great singer.
There is a more recent LF/Fairport connection - in the form of songwriter Nigel Stonier, who has contributed to the writing on both HCTN and The Wood & the Wire. He seems to adapt perfectly to the style of whichever band he writes for; how do you rate his contribution to the FC repertoire?
Nigel Stonier is a great producer, writer and musician. He has really been very beneficial in helping with Chris Leslie's songwriting. The two of them have written some great songs together which seem to fit the Fairport repertoire really well. I hope they'll work more and more together in the future.
Have Fairport ever considered covering an Alan Hull song? And do you think it would work? For example, I imagine Simon could really get his teeth into the lyrics of Marshall Riley's Army and it has a ready made fiddle part for Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie. I don't know. Being a non-singer in Fairport it's usually up to Chris and Simon which songs they pick to cover. Now we have Chris writing so much we tend to prefer to do his songs.
left: Ric Sanders; right: Chris Leslie
Some of the best gigs I've spent in the company of both LF and FC were in the Half Moon in Putney - is it true that you have a bass made out of the wood from the original bar?
Yes I do have a bass made out of the wood from the original bar. My good friend Ralph McTell was passing the Half Moon Pub, which used to be his local. We all used to drink in the Half Moon in Putney. One day Ralph was passing and they were renovating the pub. They had thrown the old bar out and it was in a rubbish skip outside. Ralph bought the wood from out of the skip. He got Tom Mates to make a bass and he and the Fairports bought it for me for my 50th birthday. Ralph has a 6-string electric guitar made out of his as well so we have matching Half Moon Putney guitars.
At one point Dave, you were touring with both FC and Jethro Tull; presumably the workload became too great - have you left the Tull camp for good?
The workload did become too great and that is why I left the Tull camp to concentrate on Fairport. I am very busy with Fairport. We still do an awful lot of work. Helping to run the festival and running the record company in our studio here has meant that I couldn't play with both bands, which I did do for about 15 years. It took a lot out of me. I lost my hair in the process. Have I left the Tull camp for good? Well I haven't been asked back. Let's put it like that. I still remain friends with everybody in Jethro Tull and still have the utmost admiration for them. I am very proud of my time that I spent with them. I would love to do a tour, such as a farewell tour or a special event tour, if I were asked. I certainly wouldn't refuse.
If money and availabilty were no object, which special guest band or solo artist would you like to have at Cropredy?
I personally would love to have James Taylor on. I am a big fan of his. Cropredy gets harder and harder every year and costs more and more. It's very difficult to pay out large amounts of money for acts. It would cost a fortune to bring James over but I would love to have him one year. I would also love to have Livingstone Taylor whom I am also a great fan of. Livingstone makes great records and is a wonderful performer. Perhaps one day. It would be my dream to have Livingstone and James on the same bill.
Simon has said that no one ever really leaves Fairport which is a comforting image of members jumping on and off the bus at regular intervals - but do you think the band can carry on indefinitely, even if say, you and Simon decided to hang up your guitars for good?
Well who knows what is going to happen with Fairport? Perhaps the band would carry on if I left or if Simon left or if Simon and I left. I don't know. We are very much a cottage industry. Woodworm Records tends to run Fairport. However I have no plans to leave the band.
The Dylan Project
Fairport Convention acoustic
Three different names/concepts, but, more or less, the same backline. Not easy to understand or separate, unless you are a die-hard fan. Even your website doesn't tell the different between the electric and acoustic variation of Fairport. What's different? Simply no drums, no electric guitar?
Some of the repertoire of the 5-piece and 4-piece DO overlap, obviously, but this is because the audience demands and expects a recognizable skeleton of material, but the songs sound and as importantly FEEL very different in the two situations. Acoustically we are closer to the audience physically and emotionally - the scaling up to include the drums and a larger PA makes the gap across the footlights inevitably wider - and the impression is one of being lighter on the feet, more flexible, more spontaneous. Each style of presentation has its strong points though, and the variety is in itself stimulating. If we haven't done a gig with Gerry for a while, it's doubly enjoyable! And the Dylan thing is completely separate, with a completely different repertoire and Steve fronting it.
But what about The Dylan Project? Isn't it difficult to market? Actually it's Steve Gibbons, supported by FC. But how do you explain -in advance- that it's a) no simple Dylan coverband b) not just Steve Gibbons and c) certainly not Fairport Convention ?
A concert review of TDP at the Zodiac Club, Oxford, in July 99 by Lars Nilsson "explains" you this way. "It is hard to describe The Dylan Project. They are not a "regular" band - perhaps "pick-up band" would be a better way of describing them - and they are not simply a tribute band."
Well the Dylan Project is something we really enjoy doing and is a break for Simon and I and sometimes Gerry Conway. It gives us something else to do and it's nice to get away and play some different kind of music. The Dylan songs are so fantastic and Steve Gibbons interprets them so well. It's not really a covers band. It's something we all really enjoy doing. We hope we bring our own interpretations of the Dylan songs when we do our live performances.
How did TDP came into existence ? Was it Steve Gibbons idea, who was looking for a backing group and thought about asking his mates from the old days? [In the 60's Dave Pegg played with Steve in his band The Uglys, including Led Zeppelin's John Bonham - long before FC].
The Dylan Project came into existence because on Christmas two or three years ago Steve Gibbons was playing in a little pub in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, with Roger Hill who used to be in The Uglys.
I was talking to Steve afterwards (he has always been a big Dylan fan) and he said that he wanted to do an album of Dylan material. Simon and I both had some time, as did P.J. Wright, who plays guitar with The Steve Gibbons Band and that is how it came about. We just started going out on tour. We enjoy playing at little venues as well so we o out as a four piece without drums and keyboards. We can do little folk clubs and tour all over the place. It was a one-off gig at Cropredy with Rabbit.
On the excellent "Live at Cropredy Festival 1999" CD, we hear John 'Rabbit' Bundrick (of Who fame) on keyboards. Was this a one-off gig with Rabbit?
Rabbit is currently busy with the Who. If we ever got a big gig we would love to have Rabbit involved again if he was available.
Listening to that fantastic concert, one never gets the idea that this has been a one-off gig. The team playing is superb. How long did you have to rehearse? Everyone of us know Dylan tunes, but it's unbelievable that all of you already knew the whole repertoire.
How long did we rehearse for the Dylan Project? We have only ever done a couple of days rehearsal because most of us know the songs. The fun is just having a bash. A lot of things happen spontaneously with The Dylan Project. We rehearsed for this years Cropredy Festival and got four new songs, i.e. new for us, including a song from the Wilbury's album, Dirty World, which is great fun to play but only works with drums.
Who had the idea to include "Twist & Shout" within "Like A Rolling Stone"? It is so perfectly woven into the performance, it can not have been a spontaneus thing.
The idea of doing Twist and Shout came from Steve Gibbons. He just went into it, again spontaneously.
Who puts together the setlist?
The set list is put together by all of us really and we have a different set list for Festivals where we usually play for an hour and 10 minutes, and hour and a quarter or an hour and a half. When we do our gigs we like to play for two hours. Hope that this explains the Dylan Project and that some of you will come and see us this October.
Simon, let's go back in time more than 30 years. On each of the early Fairport albums we find at least one song written by Bob Dylan. Did this happen oly because lack of original material or where did your special liking for Dylan tunes come from?
We did include a lot of original material in the early days, (perhaps too much if you look at the very first album) but we got into the habit of including little-known or rare Dylan songs really because we had access to the Basement Tapes through Chappel Music and the songs were too damn good not to use.
The Greenman review mentions that TDP doesn't perform any songs recorded by Fairport Convention. On purpose or by chance?
By chance. His repertoire is so big as to be practically inexhaustible.
Simon, I'm not familar with all the Fairport material (not easy with more than 50 recordings), but it is unusual that the guitarist of a band doesn't appear on the list of main songwriters. This reminds me very much of Lindisfarne's Simon Cowe who subordinates his own playing to the groupsound. No dissoluting solo trips, no exhibiting of his (and yours) excellent talent. What's the question? I think the secret to becoming a songwriter with your own style is working your way diligently through a thousand songs and then tearing them up, hopefully discarding the clichés with the paper. This would take too much effort and application than I have. The alternative is to record stuff which will years later sound like juvenile tripe to your own ears if nobody else's.
What's your (both Dave and Simon) current equipment?
[Simon Nicol] My main guitar is a Santa Cruz Tony Rice (Dreadnought) with a custom pickup which is a sort of prototype Fishman Rare Earth straight into the PA. I also have a Fender Acoustic 12-string which is a recent acquisition which I hope to use more in the future. When I HAVE to play the electric, I use my '62 Fender Strat through a Yamaha G100-210 combo, using no pedals, or talent boxes as we call them.
[Dave Pegg] I am playing a Fender jazz 5 string bass and also a Music Man 5 string bass, which are both fantastic instruments. I use both Labella round wound strings and sometimes Rotasound strings. I have an Ashdown amplifier, which is made by a guy in Essex.
Each musician in TDP still follows his own interests; Dave, Gerry and you with Fairport Convention (both acoustic and electric line-ups), P.J. Wright with Little Johnny England (another band using RGM for their US tour), Rabbit - if not on tour with The Who - busy with studio sessions and Steve Gibbons performing under his own name. How do you see the future of The Dylan Project?
It's something we do in our spare time but we are doing a tour in October of about 22 dates and then probably won't do anything else with them until June next year or whenever everybody's free. We hope to do more as we really enjoy it but have no definite plans after the tour in October.
Simon Nicol & Dave Pegg
P.S. thanks a lot to Simon and Dave for finding the time to reply, especially since in the moment both are busy mixing the next Fairport Convention album which is to be released in early 2002. Reinhard Groll and Chris Groom