Gig review: FOTHERINGAY – Under The Bridge, London, 19 June 2015

FOTHERINGAY - Under The Bridge, London, 19 June 2015

The re-ascendancy of folk rock continues apace and unsurprisingly its antecedents are dusted down, peered at, prodded.  Most are faded, without light since the glory days of the early 70′s, some weathered but kicking hard at the traces. Scratch the surface of a Galley Beggar or Trembling Bell and a Fairport or Steeleye, a Fuschia or Tree, reveal.

A super-group yet a commercial slight in the day, Fotheringay has been stilled for some 45 years now.

Closed down by founder and ex-Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny after only one album in 1971, she and husband/co-member Trevor Lucas tragically long dead, its revival seemed unlikely.

And yet – doubtless prompted by the publication of Sandy’s latest biography, Mick Houghton’s impressive ‘I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn’ and Universal’s four-disc collection, ‘Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay’ (a mopping up of the live and unreleased), the three surviving members of the original band – Jerry Donahue, Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson – emerge somewhat self-consciously onto a stage beneath Chelsea Football Club’s Stamford Bridge ground in London.

It’s a Friday and day two of a six-date tour, the line-up augmented by PJ Wright (The Dylan Project and Little Johnny England), Kathryn Roberts (Equation, Sean Lakeman) and Sally Barker (The Poozies – plus TV’s ‘The Voice’).

A crowd of devotees now white-haired with a sprinkle of younger enquirers of the genre have gathered to drink at the font.

The 550 capacity venue (incongruous by approach in its laddish hyper-corporatism but opening up into a very pleasing environment for folk) is relatively light in attendance – but then London is notoriously fickle.

The set underway, and after a slightly faltering start, the band fast comes together and the musicianship and collegiacy of the founder trio immediately impresses: Donaldson and Conway’s back line of bass notes dropped carefully into shimmying percussion is placed to carry US-born Donahue’s plangent and febrile guitar lines, countrified by his distinctive finger-picking vibrato playing that imbued the material with a trademark melancholia at times.

All three have stayed in work over the years, their CVs shining with high-placed associations with the likes of Joan Armatrading, Elton John, Robert Plant, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, John Cale, the McGarrigle sisters, Richard and Linda Thompson, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull and more.

The night is distinguished by the quality of their performances. ‘The Sea’, ‘John The Gun’ and ‘Banks Of The Nile’ are all lovingly drawn (standout guitar from Donahue). ‘Nothing More’, ‘Knights Of The Road’ (an English song, they stress, “these are lorries not trucks”), ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ and ‘Gypsy Davey’ are enthusiastically received before, after a lengthy interval, the band moves on to samples of Sandy’s later solo work including fetching renditions of ‘Late November’ and ‘Solo’.

The line-up ‘guests’ are here to serve the cause of Sandy and Trevor.  Barker (on guitar and vocals) gets closest to ‘getting’ the clear purity of Sandy’s delivery; Roberts (also on keyboards and woodwind) is more commercial in tone. Both harmonise well with Wright who, even if he lacks Lucas’s bracing manner at times, makes for an effective front-man. As a six-piece collective, the band can muster a substantial body of sound.

And what of absent friends? For the most part of the first half, Sandy and Trevor are almost akin to elephants in the room. Five songs in, they are introduced by way of explaining how the band has come to re-form but they are not laboured over nor over-revered, but recalled lovingly, with fond amusement. The audience is asked to contribute Sandy anecdotes – “yeah that would be about right,” chuckles Donahue at one such.

The set concludes with a rousing singalong of ‘Peace In The End’, the band called back to encore with Chuck Berry’s ‘Memphis Tennessee’. “We used to finish up with this, years ago,” recalls Donahue. “It’s nothing to do with anything, really.”

And everyone chugs along to it; Sandy and Trevor, spirits at the back in the bar, with their drinks and ciggies, squabbling, laughing, ‘forever young’ …

Review by Peter Muir

Peter presents ‘Progressive Fusion’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 18:00 GMT.

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