Photo by Richard Crump
There are plenty of jokes about age in the air as Fairport Convention’s latest venture gets under way. The band have been going, as anyone with a knowledge of British music should know, since the late sixties. There have been inevitable changes in personnel, but also lifetimes spent playing a fine back catalogue of classic and keeping the equally aging faithful happy.
Leamington’s All Saints provided the perfect setting for this opening show of the band’s 2019 spring tour. And there was a full congregation of Fairport worshippers there to enjoy a set which delved deep into the history of this musical institution as well as providing proof that the creative urges still bloom in the form of new material. It’s a nicely chosen set which seems to keep the band on their toes and interested while satisfying the audience’s appetite for classics. It’s not the pomp and celebration of Cropredy, but it is a terrific listen throughout.
Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie share the vocal duties, the former contributing fine guitar work and the latter just about any other instrument you could wish to hear. Mandolin, bazouki, fiddle, whistle, mouth organ all added with subtle skill. Ric Sanders’s fiddle is in as good fettle as it’s ever been, sounding markedly younger than some to its player’s jokes. At the back, the legendary Gerry Conway coaxes a vast panorama of percussion sounds from a partly electric kit, saving his bravura moment for a final assault of the cajon which would eave many a less-experienced player gasping.
But it’s Dave Pegg who, amongst all these other musical stars, still contrives to shine brightest. If there’s a better bass player on the circuit I’d be amazed. Of course there’ll be some teenage wizard in a metal band able to shred notes out five times faster, but for melodic and harmonic sense combined with an utterly lovely touch, Mr Pegg still stands above anyone you could name. Let’s hope he never tires or retires.
Creative and new as they’d like to be, Fairport are still a band defined by the towering shadow of their own history. And so it’s back into the classic early albums that we’re taken for some of the evening’s highlights. Crazy Man Michael, Sir Patrick Spens and (of course) a rollicking, full-paced Matty Groves all serving as steps up to a fabulous Meet on the Ledge ending. This excellent tour will only get better as it moves around. Don’t miss it if you like traditional music, joyous music-making and some simply brilliant musicianship.
- Matthew Salisbury, May 9th, 2019
Peggy played in several part-time bands before he auditioned as a guitarist in 1966 for The Uglys. He didn’t get that gig but band leader Steve Gibbons offered him the post of bass player, so he switched instruments. Peggy went on to play with drummer John Bonham in The Way of Life before joining the Ian Campbell Folk Group, Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull, with whom he spent 15 years. The book covers all of this and much more including running his own recording studio, record label and helping to organise the annual Cropredy Festival. In recent times, while still playing with a reformed Fairport Convention, Peggy has played with various musicians and in 1998 he formed The Dylan Project with his old friend and early band mate Steve Gibbons. Peggy tells me that Mr Dylan has a copy of his book and I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did.
- Derek Barker, ISIS Magazine
Off The Pegg is subtitled Bespoke Memories Of A Bass Player, but any reader expecting just that will be-spoke too soon (as it were), for there’s a myriad of activities to consider: not least, long-term membership of several bands (Fairport, Tull et al.), the founding and running of Cropredy Festival, Woodworm Studios, and so much more beyond the scope of this humble, spartan word-count. Peggy is one of music’s great raconteurs, and this book is liberally spiced with choice anecdotes and memories of times spent in the company of many of the great names in rock and folk. It doesn’t require a chronological approach (although a bass-ic timeline is provided). Along the way, the anecdotes prompt, and are prompted by, invaluable nuggets of information and clarification, “betcha didn’t know”-type stuff that pub quizzes and Mastermind rounds are made of but invariably with much more than temporary fascination value and of genuine interest to all levels of fan. There’s also a veritable gallery of photographic evidence.
Off The Pegg is a weighty tome (272 jam-packed pages), with the highest production standards; it’s also a gleefully picaresque (or should that be “peggaresque”?) volume that, with Nigel’s exceptionally simpatico wordsmithery, really captures the essence of Peggy. The book’s aspirational and inspirational scholarship ensures that the reader will do far more than just “touch bass” with the living legend that is Peggy."
- David Kidman, The Living Tradition
But there is so much to “Off The Pegg”, Dave Pegg’s long-threatened and finally released autobiography - 272 pages of quite small print - that I expect to take a while to get through it all, and it’s only fair to let everyone know of its existence and worth well before then!
Peggy either has an excellent memory or has kept lots of notes, for his descriptions of long ago events are quite detailed, to the extent that stories concerning the formation and career of earlier bands such as The Way Of Life become much more vivid and real to the reader, rather than just a vague footnote.
John Bonham as a bandmate in that group and a lifetime friend altogether also provides a lot of colourful stories, including around the time Fairport played the infamous LA Troubadour gig in 1970. The fact Dave was in any condition to play at all is remarkable! My only concern, though, is that giving away too much of any individual story would take away from the pleasure of reading it in Dave’s own words in the book. Suffice to say, his friends who badgered him into finally getting it done, with the assistance and persistence of Nigel Schofield, were right in thinking there were too many tales that needed to be told.
(Peggy was the guitarist in Jimmy Cliff’s band when the latter first arrived in the UK? Cliff stayed at Dave’s parents’ house and used to descend the stairs on his hands?)
The fact it’s done in an entertaining way is another bonus. The book is by no means chronological, and sometimes this can be a bit confusing, but it also makes it easier to dip in and out of the thematic chapters at will. Nigel Schofield adds his own narrative throughout, but uses a different font to make clear who is saying what.
A later chapter deals with Fairport’s Australian connections, with a nice nod to the Aust Friends Of Fairport, and another story of an ill-fated hike in the Blue Mountains with Dave Swarbrick.
As opposed to the dramatic story from many years previously - hey, if the book can jump timeframes, so can I - when it seemed Peggy would be going to prison for an accident he didn’t cause, but being recognised as a member of the Ian Campbell Folk Group got him off.
See, this is what I mean. So much to read, and trying to relate everything of interest would become a short story in itself. Regardless, the distinct impression throughout, along with the humour, is that Dave has approached the story-telling with fairness and respect, and an ability to describe situations evocatively enough to make the reader feel they were almost there in so many different times and places. I get the impression he is amazed to have fit so much into his life, too.
The story goes right up to 2017 and therefore Fairport’s 50th year. He also mentions his recent hip operation - “My hip’s behind me now. Not literally of course, otherwise I’d be having words with my surgeon!”
The small print is unfortunate but also necessary to keep postage costs to a minimum, while not relegating too much to the book equivalent of the cutting room floor. It would be handy if it came out as an e-book for the sake of easier distribution and font adjustment but I have heard of no such plans.
Sadly, the chance of Dave or Fairport touring Australia again appears to be remote as well. But “Off The Pegg” can act as a worthy reminder of the man, his life and his music. Maybe we now need a bio-pic!"
- Michael Hunter