Phil Widdows Interviews Dave Pegg

An interview with Dave Pegg by Phil Widdows for his local newspaper.

Folk-rock's founding fathers - FAIRPORT CONVENTION - arrive in the North West this weekend for a triple bill of shows at the start of their annual UK winter tour.

Fairport, which last year celebrated 35 years in the business, is today a five-piece electric band that mixes traditional folk songs, self-penned numbers and other modern songs and tunes into a set that carries their hallmark of quality musicianship, passion and gentle humour.

Dave Pegg, the bass player and organisational head of the Oxfordshire-based band, says that the current line-up - himself; Ric Saunders (violin); Simon Nicol (guitar and vocal), Gerry Conway (drums and percussion) and multi-instrumentalist and singer Chris Leslie - is a happy and content unit. That's something of a novelty for a band which, in its three and a half decade history, has had more line-up changes than some football teams!

Dave said: "It's good and everyone's happy. We worked so hard last year, touring here, in America, Australia, Europe and the Far East. We took on too much really, and then Chris Leslie was ill. It was traumatic having to go to Canada without Chris."

This year they are 'taking it easy' with just a UK tour, an American tour, various individual dates ... and headlining their own three-day festival in August! The Cropredy Festival is an annual event, organised by Dave Pegg and his wife Christine for the past 24 years.

For a band with so much history - past members include undisputed geniuses Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick - it's important to all the current Fairports that they do not become a tribute band to their own past. Fairport Convention is very much alive and kicking! "We enjoy playing new stuff. It's important for us to our own new material as well as versions of the band's old stuff," says Dave. "We've got a new instrumental from Ric, and we are covering some songs we recorded on our 2001 album The Wood And The Wire but never played live, like The Game Pieces, Western Wind and Don't Leave Too Soon. "We'll be making a new album when we have got enough new music. There's no deadline. It's always been the case that Fairport makes albums as much for ourselves as for the fans. It's not important to have a new product to push on the tour, or anything like that."

Unsurprisingly, Fairport is never short of new material to choose from. Both Leslie and Sauders are writers, and they also draw songs from old friends too, such as Ralph McTell and Steve Tilston. Then there are the songs that come through the letterbox.

Dave says: "I get sent over 600 CDs a year, mostly because people want to be on at Cropredy. Some times you can get a great song that people have sent in. Some times you get utter rubbish! After Cropredy I go away to Brittany for a month and take all the CDs with me and listen to them there." Dave added: "Cropredy this year is something of a retro-festival, with Lindisfarne and Procul Harum headlining the other two nights. We haven't gone for very many folk acts this time, it's more of a general music thing - but there's lots of up-beat stuff that people can dance to, because we don't do a lot of that. Fairport have lots of serious songs, but not that much in the way of what I call 'banana content' - where you can get up and boogie!"

One guest just announced is former Dr Hook frontman, Dennis Locorriere. "Dennis wanted to be a surprise special guest and come on as part of our set, but when I went to see him play I thought he was so good that we squashed everyone up a bit so he can have his own slot, just before Fairport come on.

"Booking the music for Cropredy is the easy bit. Christine does all the hard work, organising everything else you need to run a festival. I choose artists that I like. I don't really care what other people think, because if you ask 10 people you will get half of them saying so-and-so is rubbish and half who think they are the best thing since sliced bread! So whose opinion do you trust? You have to go with your own. "I ask the other guys in the band, obviously; they all get the chance to say who should be on. But at the end of the day I book people who I like. Sometimes I get it wrong. I loved the Leningrad Cowboys, but a lot of people didn't get that they were meant to be funny.

"Musafir was a big mistake. They blew us away when we saw them, but that was up-close in a big tent. It didn't translate to a big field. Unless you could see what was going on it was pretty awful, and a lot of the audience just went off and got something to eat! But at least that's something you can do at a festival. There's always something to do. "The Incredible String Band were another disappointment. They died on stage, and I had to hide! I watched the first three numbers and then couldn't stand it anymore. It was embarrassing.

"But then some bands work that other people don't think will. People asked me why I had booked The Dubliners or Richard Digence, but both of them ripped the place apart. People loved them. A lot of the same people who had complained to me before the festival came up to me afterwards and told me how good they were. I said 'I know - that's why I booked them!'. "It's terrifying following some bands on stage, because they are so good. We don't book bands to make us look good. We have to follow really good bands, and the irony is that Fairport isn't really a festival band - even though we've got our own festival! We do a three hour set and you can't just play jigs and reels all night, because it's too exhausting. "The big anniversary years like last year's 35th are easier to arrange, really. You know which ex-members of the band will be there. You know which songs you have to cover. But the other years are more difficult, so we are trying to work some new songs into the set.

"As I say, we have boxes of stuff - songs and demos - and we dig them out and go through them from time to time. But it's down to Simon and Chris, because they have to sing these songs. It's not enough for me to like a song; the vocalists have to actually feel what they are singing for it to work properly, so they choose most of the songs that go into the set.