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Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort
Director: Tony Palmer
Distributor: Voiceprint 
Length: 31 mins + 15 minute interview
 
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How much you enjoy this DVD depends largely on where you live and your appreciation of English Folk music. What this DVD lacks in length it makes up for in both the direction and the history that it records.
 
Tony Palmer loves music. His sensitivity to Gorecki's Third Symphony (reviewed on this site) is impeccable; and because he has made a film about Maria Callas (also available from Voiceprint) and recorded Rory Gallagher's Irish Tour'74 we can see how wide a musical road he travels. Fairport Convention is bang in the middle of that road as they have clear traditional roots, but were pioneers in fusing folk with rock.
 
Palmer's appeal here is that he can capture both the spirit of the band and the atmosphere of the 1970 open-air concert. His main tool is the close-up; showing so many expressions lets the characters communicate directly with the viewer. We see the band's humour and we catch the range of reactions in the crowd. Some people are at the (presumably free) event out of something to do on a hot summer weekend, while others have come to see the bands play.
 
It is here that English viewers will appreciate the film more, as it captures much of the culture of the time while letting the music play – old men's flat caps, denim-clad teenagers, the feel of civic events where all ages mingled and relaxed together before technology offered so many distractions and divided the generations. The way that the band had to halt their set for a helicopter display also reveals the informality of the era.
 
Time has also shown that the Fairport line-up filmed was one of the strongest. Co-founder Richard Thompson comes across as the band leader, along with Fiddler Dave Swarbrick, while Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks and Simon Nicol are more chilled. The set moves easily from rocked-up reels to songs, and while the tracks recorded are not Fairport classics, they do perform the single of the time, “Now Be Thankful”.
 
Two unremarkable songs from Matthews Southern Comfort appear in the middle of the film. Ian Matthews was a former Fairport member and this set was performed just months before their major hit “Woodstock” was released.
 
This film has recently been re-discovered and restored. It is not a music DVD in the sense that it is a straight performance, but it is a superb piece of social and music history with seven complete tracks.
 
Derek Walker 

(4 for middle-aged English folkies)        
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
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