On this day in 1967, four musicians made a low-key public live debut, as Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson and Shaun Frater trod the boards at a small London venue. Short of a name, they opted to bill themselves as Fairport Convention and the rest is – a rather complex – history.
This rather unmemorable building is St Michael’s church hall in Golders Green and those curious observers tempted by the prospect of a Saturday night of ‘Post Renaissance Rock’ under the banner of ’A Mass Conversion to the Fairport Convention’ parted with their six shillings (30p) at the door.
The band had come together the previous year when Ashley “Tyger” Hutchings found himself in a couple of groups around North London. Recruiting a replacement guitarist for Doctor K’s Blues Band brought him into contact with Richard Thompson, while another project saw him collaborate with twelve string guitar owner Simon Nicol.
Hutchings then began playing together with the pair under various names including The Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra - the trio embellished by various other musicians and were joined for the first time early in 1967 by drummer Shaun Frater.
Playing one gig at a local bowling alley as Tim Turner’s Narration (Turner was a well-known cinema newsreel narrator at the time) , they sought a more suitable name and took the “Fairport” part of their new moniker from the name of Simon Nicol’s family home in nearby Muswell Hill – a regular rehearsal venue for the combo.
The exact size of the smallish crowd in the hall that night isn’t recorded, but among those present was Martin Lamble, who quickly took over from Shaun Frater on drums before the Fairports played live again – having offered his services and passed an audition.
And the next of what have proved to be multiple line-up alterations saw Judy Dyble recruited to sing vocals (and play electric harp) alongside the twin guitars of messrs Nicol and Thompson and the bass of Hutchings.
By the end of 1967, the group had attracted the attention of Pink Floyd producer Joe Boyd and signed to Island Records, giving up their day jobs and going into the Sound Techniques Studio in Chelsea (a converted dairy!) to record their self-titled debut LP. An additional vocalist – Ian Matthews – joined in those sessions and would become a permanent Conventioneer but before the album was released the following June, Judy Dyble had been ousted and replaced by Sandy Denny.
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And here’s footage of the Fairports from shortly after their maiden gig: