YOUNG AND FRESH

First albums by bands are always interesting, though not necessarily essential. Sometimes the artist is feeling their way, often the vision is a work-in-progress, occasionally it’s “All Change!” after the first effort.

The two 1968 debuts we’re looking at in this post cover most of the bases mentioned above. Both are worthy of attention; both demonstrate the incorporation of influences described earlier as components of progressive music; neither would be considered compulsory acquisitions for most listeners.

Fairport Convention 1968

Fairport Convention formed in 1967 around the singing of Ian MacDonald (later Iain Matthews) and Judy Dyble and the guitar of Richard Thompson. They went into the studio early, recording the self-titled first album in November of that year. It did not see release, however, until the middle of 1968. [That seems slow, but is super speedy compared to the US, where the album didn’t get a release until 1970, which explains, at least in part, why it is not well-known stateside].

The most obvious thing about Fairport Convention is that it has very little English folk influence. Given the deluge of Fairport albums exploring—one could say creating—British folk-rock the following year, this is surprising. In many ways, the first Fairport album is more like early Jefferson Airplane or other West Coast mildly psychedelic folk than anything traditionally English. Opener “Time will show the wiser” is a good example; almost country tinged rhythm guitar with a brief Richard Thompson solo that, even at this formative stage, shows glimpses of his unique eastern/chromatic sound. 

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“If (Stomp)” is twangy and almost hoedowny, while the cover of “Jack of Diamonds” comes on like a lost garage classic. A favourite track is the stomping psychedelia of “It’s alright Ma, it’s only witchcraft”. The jazzy guitar on “The Lobster” is strikingly un-Thompson, but enjoyable nevertheless. Each side closes with a brief, not especially memorable instrumental. 

If this suggests a certain inconsistency, that is not an unreasonable judgement. Nonetheless, Fairport Convention is an enjoyable listening experience. The songs include a number of covers by US songwriters—Joni Mitchell, Emitt Rhodes, Bob Dylan—and some of the originals are very listenable. 

When Dyble departed and Sandy Denny joined, Fairport changed direction markedly and blossomed like an English hedgerow in spring. Few would argue that inventing folk-rock is anything other than progressive (and impressive!), so next year we might well tackle Fairport’s three 1969 albums. But in the meantime, if you like US-style folk-pop-rock, don’t dismiss this debut. It may be of its time, but it was a very fine time.

Fairport Convention — Fairport Convention

Recorded November 1967, released June 1968 (1970 in US)

Judy Dyble – lead vocals, electric and acoustic autoharps, recorder, piano

Ian MacDonald (Iain Matthews) – lead vocals, Jew's harp

Richard Thompson – vocals, lead electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin

Simon Nicol – vocals, electric 12 and 6 string and acoustic guitars

Ashley Hutchings – bass guitar, jug, double bass

Martin Lamble – percussion, violin

jethro tull this was

Formed in Blackpool, UK in 1967, Jethro Tull recorded their first album in the middle of 1968 and released it in October of that year. In the beginning, the band was a collaboration between vocalist/flautist Ian Anderson and guitarist Mick Abrahams. Abrahams was deeply into the burgeoning blues-rock scene and hugely influenced the music of the debut (the only LP he was on). Although Jethro Tull are associated with premier league ‘Prog’, here the progressive elements are playing about with the blues form and inserting jazz tunes into the blues-rock mix. Oh, and making the flute a lead instrument.

“My Sunday feeling” leaps out of the blocks with Anderson’s distinctive voice and flute in a fast-paced rocking arrangement. Following this with an original blues straight out of the John Mayall playbook (complete with harmonica) shows how different this debut is from what followed. 

The jazz influences are very obvious. “Beggar’s farm” has Anderson laying out a solo that is pure jazz while side one closes with an interpretation of a Roland Kirk piece, “Serenade to a cuckoo”, one of four instrumentals on This Was.

Highlights of the second side include opening cut “Dharma for one” featuring Anderson’s flute and an energetic (if overlong) drum solo, and fan favourite “A song for Jefferey”, both hinting at where Jethro Tull would progress next.

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Jethro Tull — This Was

Ian Anderson – lead vocals (1–3, 7, 9), flute, mouth organ, "claghorn", piano

Mick Abrahams – guitar, backing and lead (4) vocals, nine-string guitar

Glenn Cornick – bass guitar

Clive Bunker – drums, hooter, charm bracelet

David Palmer – French horn and orchestral arrangements

Recorded June—August 1968, released 25 October 1968 (Feb ’69 in the US)

Some CD re-issues include worthwhile bonus tracks, such as the single “Love story” and the delightful seasonal favourite “Christmas song”. Another version adds some John Peel sessions.

NEXT: An album that could be considered to have invented a genre while contributing to the popularising of World Music.

1968: a year that just keeps on progressing

26 comments

  1. Got both of these and agree with your fine opinions on both although I have to say that This Was remains my favourite JT album, if only that line up had stayed together a little longer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A music-obsessive mate likes ‘This Was’ the best too. He dutifully followed Mick Abraham’s career following his Tull departure; I even borrowed the 1969 Blodwyn Pig LP for one of the VC cover art features a while back!
      Thanks, as always, for stopping by Paul.

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  2. I haven’t spent enough time with early Tull to comment, but that first Fairport, as you said, pretty much sounds like the London equivalent of Jefferson Airplane. I never think of their 1969 albums as prog, but they’re kind of pushing in that direction on songs like ‘Sailor’s Tale’ and ‘Tam Lin’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My mission, which I’m pursuing with missionary zealotry, is to put the progressive back into the birth of prog. It is such a broad church, a fact that gets forgotten or ignored way too much.
      So, Mr Graham, your comment about ‘pushing in that direction’ is precisely my point. 😉 Top of the class good Sir!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. There’s definitely a sense of rock music pushing out and establishing its parameters in the late 1960s. Stuff like jazz-rock, country-rock, metal, etc was all pretty much around by the end of 1969.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s right. From ’69 it almost gets overwhelming as genres sub-divide and bands multiply. I think that might be part of the reason I’m loving these early forays in ’68. The propagation is, um, propagating, but it’s not too confusing… yet.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Tomorrow I plan to set up a 5.1 receiver that someone gave me, so I’ll search out the Jethro Tull album for the trial.

    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. New toys are always fun. Enjoy!

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  4. Jethro Tull is my favorite band named for a 17th/18th century English agriculturalist/agronomist! 🙂
    I hadn’t been familiar with This Was, Aqualung and Thick As A Brick having received a lot more of my devotion and attention over the years. Any LP with that many canines on the cover has got to be worth exploring. I’ve gotten a kick out of some of the instruments played on these offerings: Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings on jug and Clive Bunker on the hooter and charm bracelet (?!) Really like the Fairport Convention stuff…great vocals by Dyble. And, of course, Thompson on guitar (I have a couple of his solo albums).

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    1. Ah, Richard T is a gem, for sure. Wonder which albums you have? It’s a long (and continuing) career. Glad you enjoyed the earliest Fairport; big changes were afoot, but the debut has a certain charm.

      As for J Tull (whose first release, a 7″ single, misspelled the band name as Jethro Toe!), I’m not a huge fan of this first salvo. I do like the two monsters you mention, however, and the other early work.
      Their ‘Minstrel In The Gallery’ appeared in a solo ‘Art on your sleeve’ post. And in passing, I imagine that if you wanted to plough the Tull catalogue a little deeper you might well enjoy ‘Songs From A Wood’.

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  5. I don’t really know much by either, but I do have Aqualung kicking around the shelf on CD and a couple of Richard Thompson solo albums that are quite incredible (Daring Adventures and Mirror Blue). I’m intrigued by the bluesy Jethro Tull, though (interestingly I used to think Anderson’s name was Jethro).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The period up to Aqualung is quite an exciting part of Tull’s long career. (And you certainly weren’t alone in conflating the lead singer with the band!)

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  6. chris delprete · · Reply

    Was a huge fan of Tull up to and including ‘Thick as a Brick’. Lost interest from then on, occasionally buying back into them especially ‘Songs From The Wood’ and ‘Minstrel in the Gallery.’ My introduction was via Chris Wintr’s Room to Move show (3LO?) or John O’Donnell’s album show (3XY) where it was played in its entirety. Saw Mr. Anderson on a TV concert recently and the voice has lost some of its edge but the showmanship remains intact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pretty much the same Tull story for me, Chris. I don’t recall listening to Room To Move, but certainly tuned in to 3XY for the Sunday night album show. That’s where I first heard Faust!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was at ‘Rip It Up,’ an excellent exhibition about Scottish rock and pop through the decades today (blog to follow) and learned that Ian Anderson was Scots-born. Not sure we canclaim much credit for his fine contribution to music thereafter…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Look forward to that post, Andrew.
      Straight off the top of my head, I’d probably cite The Blue Nile as my favourite Scots band and Jack Bruce as individual musician. No disrespect to Susan Boyle, of course. Nor Fish.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You have excellent taste!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I own “Aqualung” on vinyl and dig it. Somewhere, I also have a Jethro Tull greatest hits compilation on CD and like it as well!

    I saw Richard Thompson a few years ago, performing as the Richard Thompson Trio. They opened up for Bonnie Raitt, one of my all-time favorite artists. I was impressed with Thompson’s guitar playing but have yet to explore Fairport Convention, not to mention his solo albums.

    Even though I’ve actively listened to music for 40 years, oftentimes, I feel there is still so much left to discover; in fact, the more music I listen to, the more I come to that realization!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Richard Thompson’s lyrics can tend to the somewhat miserable sometimes, but he’s a great story-teller and a unique and inventive guitarist. A double with Bonnie Raitt would be brilliant!

      As you say, so much music, so little time.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Convention – Fairport Convention  […]

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  10. I’m not so much into Fairport, but I love Jethro as a important part of prog royalty. Their first album is very good, i like to revisit it from time to time. It may be seen as not fully formed sound only in comparision with the later folk-prog oriented masterpieces, but it’s great on it’s own as well developed and executed blues rock with characteristic and expanded sound. Fun fact: it was included in top ten list of british blues rock in opinion-forming musical magazine in my country (Poland).
    Arterrorist

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, a top ten of British Blues-Rock. Now that’s got me thinking…!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I will be revisiting the Tull album. I followed Abrahams with Pig. Recently (last couple years) acquired the FC album.You hit it on the head. Some good tunes on it. You always seem to lead me into some good directions. I do like this early Tull sound.
    (I’ve been living in some ELP lately)

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Two albums of their time, the Fairport is a favorite of mine, I stole mine back from my son some time ago although it is a Polydor re-issue that is not as cool as the original.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reverse lending is entirely acceptable where classic albums are concerned.
      As I’ve never had the debut on vinyl, even a re-issue sounds good!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Reverse lending is a concept I can get behind…

        Liked by 1 person

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