August/September Q&A, Part II
10/6/2008 (updated 10/5/2008)

It's been almost a year since we heard anything on the songbooks. Any updates? Rick Brooks, Anchorage, Alaska
P.S. I don't think you've ever played this way ... are you interested?

Songbooks are being designed, and I think we’ll have a great package. Once this is done, we can release fairly quickly. I’ll get to Alaska one of these days.

I'm a long time fan and "Lost-Count-Veteran" of your live shows... Though I've only ever seen you play the Lowden (acoustic) on stage (and a few others in various videos -going back nearly 20 years), I'm curious to know if, in past years, you've given an Adamas guitar (fiberglass rounded-back and carbon-fiber top - by Ovation) a go? If so, any recollections? Jeff Whitehead – Virginia

When the Ovation-type guitars first appeared, they seemed like the answer to performing the unnatural act of making an acoustic instrument louder. I think better systems began to appear soon after, and for me the tone of the plastic back and the piezo pickup aren’t really ‘real’ enough – but everyone’s reality is different. The Adamas is obviously top of the line, but for me it just isn’t woody enough.

I went to Cropredy last weekend for the first time ever, even though I've been a Fairport fan for awhile. I was mainly looking forward to seeing you and Dave Swarbrick - I naively assumed you both were guests every year. Anyway, obviously that’s not the case but the tribute to Sandy Denny sort of made up for it (I'm a big fan) - It was very moving and the appearance of Robert Plant was a big bonus. I was wondering if you generally play each year at Cropredy and do you have plans to return in 2009.. Having got the CD of the 2002 35th anniversary concert I wish I could go back in time to that weekend - such an amazing concert. Do you envisage a similar concert (with Fairport lineups from '67 onwards) being staged in the future.. Thank you Leon Vander-Molen, NW London

I try to get to Cropredy every 2 or 3 years. The ‘big’ reunion years, where the vintage lineups stagger back on stage to salute the old regiment, seem to fall on the 2s and 7s, and we had a great one last year. I’ll be back in 09.

You're clearly a big admirer of Sandy Denny's songs, and you also recently mentioned Kirsty McColl as another songwriter that you admired. It seems to me that they both kicked against a system that expected women singers to be conventionally pretty and sing cute love songs. On the other hand, the music industry thinks that it's fine for male songwriters, like yourself, Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg to write subtle, complex, even political songs. Any comments? Best wishes, Phil Palmer

I think that system broke down quicker in folk music than it did in pop. Mary Travis, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell were treated as equals from the start. Peggy Seeger/McColl wouldn’t have taken that shit, and would have been a great role model for Kirsty. Sandy used to get a bit of patronising from the UK pop press, but never from the folk community, and she would deal with the perpetrators in no uncertain terms.

Although I really like the sound of your Lowden guitar, I wonder if there are any other acoustic guitars that you favor? Although you don't seem too keen on them, I play a Taylor 914ce and I'm really knocked out with the responsiveness and tone. Great for fingerstyle! Bob Seymour.

I think you can find a great Martin, or a great Taylor, and Collings might be the best of the ‘factory’ guitars out there. In the 60s, you could go through a stack of 30 Yamaha 50 quid guitars and find a really good one. What I love about Lowdens is the consistency – they’re all good, and some are great, and this is only achieved by obsessive and relentlessly applied production standards. George Lowden runs the tightest ship in the the acoustic guitar world, plus he has made some of the biggest innovations in recent times, some of which have been liberally copied by other manufacturers. Check out the website – you can even buy my signature model!

Is there any tale behind the appearance of Fairport and Jefferson Airplane in the tin shed near the back gate of William Ellis in 1968? Cheers, Dr. Geoffrey Watson

In retrospect, I can hardly believe that happened. It was on the bandstand, just behind my old school, and somehow, everyone’s gear was crammed onto the stage. I would estimate that about 2,000 were In attendance, flowing up the slope towards Parliament Hill. The great drama was that Sandy was late for the show, so we started without her. About ten minutes into our set, I looked up and saw a small figure at the back of the crowd pushing its way through to the front – this must have taken five minutes – and as the figure came into focus, and reached the stage, and clambered up onto the front of the stage, we realised it was Sandy, who was extremely fraught, and without pause launched into the next verse of whatever we were playing. Why she came from that direction – not from a bus or tube stop, not from the various park entrances, and why she didn’t go around the crowd, which would have been quicker, I never found out. The Airplane set was OK, but I saw them play better on other occasions. What doesn’t make sense is why the show happened. How did they get a permit to make that much noise on Hampstead Heath? It also seemed to be organized at short notice – I don’t recall it being part of a longer series – I don’t think we would have been mistaken for the Grenadier Guards.

What are your thoughts about Ralph Vaughn Williams, as I see a relationship there, in a rather broad sense? The use of traditional music as well as the delicate complexities of melody. I am a long time fan of you both. Cheers, Joyce O'Connell

I recently appeared in a BBC doc about RVW, saying pretty much what I’ll say here; he was a great collector of folk music, and a re-discoverer and duster-off of early music – Greensleeves was little known until RVW’s version, as was a trad tune like Lovely Joan. He was also the great re-harmonizer of British traditional music – taking raw tunes that were often unaccompanied, he would provide the definitive setting. And he was a modern composer who didn’t sound like anyone else – Ravel said that of all his pupils, RVW was the only one that didn’t sound like him. Foreigners sometimes consider him too nostalgic and sentimental, which he absolutely is, but I believe that is the nature of British Art – inevitably tied to the landscape and the past.