While most people hardly noticed, Fairport Convention, the musical institution that adapted traditional British folk to the electric pulse of rock 'n' roll, has reached the half century mark. The obviously titled 50:50@50 marks a celebration of sorts, one that attempts to tie together the various strands of their earlier endeavors and reboot them for the future. That's accomplished in ways both apparent and self-congratulatory, as manifest in the live remakes of standards from the Fairport catalog and the shout out to themselves that reaches its crux on "Our Bus Rolls On" ("The time it goes/And comes around/50 years and counting/Here's to the Fairport family…").
H appy birthday (almost) to folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention, who on 27 May will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first public performance. But before that comes a new album, which is split equally between alternate studio and live recordings, and proves that the current lineup are great musicians with an impressively varied repertoire. The best tracks here are live, and include Steve Tilston's witty story of The Naked Highwayman, an exquisite first world war lament, John Condon, and a rousing reworking of the gospel song Jesus on the Mainline, with Robert Plant providing vocals and harmonica.
It's their 50th anniversary and this album is equally divided between live and studio tracks. So that's the title sorted, but any suggestion that Fairport Convention are playing by numbers can be swiftly dispelled. Time may have dulled some of their digital dexterity but their enthusiasm is undimmed, as is their ear for what makes a good Fairport song - like the traditional Lady Of Carlisle, with Pentangle's Jacqui McShee on vocals, Steve Tilson's The Naked Highwayman or John Condon.