Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"BABBACOMBE" LEE - Fairport Convention

YEAR: 1971

LABEL: Island

TRACK LISTING: John's reflection on his boyhood, his introduction to Miss Keyes and the Glen, his restlessness, and his struggles with his family, finally successful, to join the Navy / This was the happiest period in his life. All locked set fair for a career until he was stricken with sickness and invalided out of his chosen niche in life. Reluctantly and unhappily he turned to a number of menial occupations and finally returned to the services of Miss Keyes. / Tragedy now strikes hard. The world's imagination is caught by the senseless(ness) of the apparent criminal who slays his kind old mistress. / John was hardly more than a bewildered observer at his own trial, not being allowed to say more than a few words. The tides of fate wash him to the condemned cell where he waits three sad weeks for his last night on earth. / When it comes, he cannot sleep, but when he does, a strange prophetic dream comes to him, and helps him to bear the strain of his next day's ordeal as scaffold and its crew try in vain three times to take his life.

IMPRESSIONS: I first heard this album when Gene Shay played it in its entirety on the Halloween episode of his PBS radio folk music show sometime back in the mid-1980s. The concept album tells the tale of John Lee, his early life, naval career, entering the service of the elderly Miss Keyes, her vicious murder and Lee's subsequent arrest and trial for her murder. Found guilty, Lee was sentenced to the hangman but on the scaffold the gallows failed three times resulting in his release. The album is one big song cycle with songs melded together (as the above track listing should reveal). This incarnation of the band is the lesser known lineup which followed after the "glory days" of Fairport Convention which included such megastars as Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: All of them - the album has to be listened to as a whole.

FACT SHEET: "BABBACOMBE" LEE is Fairport Convention's 7th album. The group's lineup at the time consisted of Simon Nicol (guitar, dulcimer), Dave Mattacks (drums, electric piano), Dave Swarbrick (fiddle, mandolin) and Dave Pegg (bass, mandolin). This is a "concept" album about the case of John Lee which came about when Dave Swarbrick found of scrapbook of old newspaper clippings on the case in a junk shop; the clippings were compiled by John Lee himself and were bound, signed and dated by him January 30, 1908. After the band's previous success, "BABBACOMBE" LEE was a relative flop although it was critically acclaimed. The album is considered to be the first "folk rock opera".

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