Like all white folks born into the Midwest I have a Pantheon of Rock. The one handed to me in the neighborhood I grew up in had either Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath at the top, largely dependent on your proclivity for barbiturates (Sabbath) or amphetamines (Zeppelin). The older kids that influenced me in the tender throws of youth all, more or less, resembled the characters in Dazed and Confused. I grew out of that relatively young, but old Sabbath will always have a place in my heart. The punk and skinhead subculture I became a dues-paying member of in my late teens tended to limit what one was allowed to listen to, even if a number of the bands were truly great.
Now I just follow my own evolving tastes (conditioned of course) and am interested in all music; in music in general. Lots of bands have gone in and out of my Pantheon, but by now it’s clear to me which ones are staying. Fairport Convention, of the classic years, is staying. Only a few of their generational peers, like The Band or The Byrds, could match the musicianship of Fairport. While most of those who used rock instrumentation to explore music focused on the American progenitors of the form, Fairport looked to their own, British, history for tunes. But this was no revival, it was a reimagining and the band was capable of going to all kinds of different territory.
The personnel changes of the band are legendary, but the line-up that absolutely kills includes Dave Swarbrick, Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol and Sandy Denny. The above video from the late 80s of the Fairport rendition of A Sailor’s Life has most of those. Sandy Denny, a uniquely talented singer, unfortunately died too young in 1978. No one could replace her and June Tabor does as well as could be expected in an extremely difficult song to sing. But the magic here is in the interplay between Swarbrick on fiddle and the indomitable Richard Thompson on guitar as they go all dueling modal while the bursting rhythm section slams that Fairport stomp. A lesser band would have resolved the musical tension and provided a cathartic power cord; Fairport just lets it twirl away. It’s why I like music. The original from Unhalfbricking with Sandy Denny proving why she is irreplaceable below is even better.