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Sandy Denny’s Fairport Farewell, The Classic ‘Liege & Lief’

The singer’s final album in her first spell with Fairport Convention became a folk music cornerstone.

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One of the great bastions of British folk music were in the midst of their pop chart phase in the first month of the 1970s. Fairport Convention had performed — miming, inevitably — on the British TV institution Top Of The Pops in August 1969, and come within one place of the top 20, with ‘Si Tu Dois Partir,’ their French version of Bob Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now.’

That helped the Fairport album it came from, Unhalfbricking, climb to No. 12 in the UK. Then, on 17 January, 1970, they entered the bestsellers with a follow-up that, like its predecessor, has become a folk music cornerstone: Liege & Lief.

Fairport were in exalted company as they scored the highest new entry of that chart week at No. 18. The Beatles were still at No. 1 with Abbey Road, as the Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3 compilation climbed 3-2. The Rolling Stones were on the climb, both with Let It Bleed up 4-3 and the Through The Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) collection moving 18-7. The Moody BluesTo Our Children’s Children’s Children and Led Zeppelin’s second album were both on the way up the top ten, and King Crimson re-entered at No. 10 with In The Court Of The Crimson King.

Liege & Lief back coverLiege & Lief peaked at No. 17, not Fairport’s career best, but it became their longest-running chart album, with 15 weeks. What made it even more of an achievement was that it was the group’s third album inside a year, after Unhalfbricking and before that What We Did On Our Holidays. All of that during a period in which a car crash claimed their original drummer Martin Lambie.

This new set was their last to feature Sandy Denny, in her first spell with the group, and Ashley Hutchings, both of whom had gone by the time Liege was released at the end of 1970. Perhaps because she was about to leave, Denny didn’t regard Liege & Lief with the fondness one might expect when she was asked about it in Sounds in 1973. “I don’t think it was the best record at all, of the ones I was on,” she said.

“There are numbers on every album that I like and ones that I really don’t, but in general the one I like most of all, except for the recording of it which wasn’t as good as it should be, was Unhalfbricking, I think that was the nicest one…and next to that I like Full House. Then it started to crumble around a bit, and everyone was being schizophrenic and one even wondered whether Fairport would continue at all.”

But the departure of Denny and Hutchings didn’t stop the friends they left behind. As Fairport’s relentless recording schedule continued, July 1970’s Full House also made the top 20.

Liege & Lief  can be bought here.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Joe Cogan

    January 20, 2015 at 11:46 am

    “There are numbers on every album that I like and ones that I really don’t, but in general the one I like most of all, except for the recording of it which wasn’t as good as it should be, was ‘Unhalfbricking,’ I think that was the nicest one…and next to that I like ‘Full House.’

    Interesting, considering she isn’t on “Full House”…

  2. sean hannon

    January 20, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    one off the grates LP eveir made

  3. Michael Rank

    January 20, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Does anyone know why it’s called Liege and Lief?

    • Chris Lee

      June 17, 2015 at 11:51 pm

      Here’s my best guess:

      It sort of translates from Olde English as “My Lord (or Lady) and My Love” or possibly “My Duty and My Choice” Either way, it implies a combination of what I must and what I want.

  4. Laurie Clements

    January 21, 2015 at 1:54 am

    I thought this was a great album. Matty Groves, The Deserter, Tam Lin and Crazy Man Michael are all really excellent and the rest are not bad. They were also a great live band in the late 60’s early 70’s. Saw the first complete live performance of JBL in Bristol – I seem to remember Swarbrick saying they were to have played it the night before in Plymouth but the police rained the place for drugs and they could not complete the performance.

  5. alan.hadley

    June 29, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Precisely what does Sandy Denny sing on” Si Tu Dois Partir” is it “Bonjour Coeur ” or ” Bonjour C**t?”
    It sounds very muck like the latter on the digitised version

  6. Tom Roberts

    January 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Actually Rising for the Moon was the last to feature Sandy Denny

    • John Rose

      January 20, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      “This new set was their last to feature Sandy Denny, in her first spell with the group …” It sounds like the writer is aware that Sandy left the band between this album and “Rising …”

  7. Kurt

    January 20, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Lambie ?

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