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Music / Liege & Lief

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Is that what you call your purple patch?

"All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song."

The fourth album from Fairport Convention and the third of three, all released in 1969, that define the band's classic period. The shift in style that had been taking place over the year found its realisation here. No more was Fairport's repertoire a mélange of West Coast Blues and American Folk, Dylan covers and quirky original songs somewhat influenced by the British folk club scene. In Liege and Lief they found a coherent blend of traditional ballads performed in a very untraditional Hard Rock context that gave apoplexy to the stuffy custodians of Cecil Sharp House, from whose archives the traditional tracks were drawn, and original songs deliberately written in the same context. The thinking, on hearing albums like Music From Big Pink and The Basement Tapes, was that they couldn't do Americana anything like as well as Americans but they could do Britannicana better than the Americans. Nothing like it had been heard before. It shook the British music scene to the roots.


Today, it's hard to grasp just how radical Liege and Lief was. The English folk scene was in a deep rut. Anybody producing an amplified instrument, or singing blues, in a folk club was liable to be greeted with stony silence at best and be thrown out at worst. Even the intonation of the singing had to be just so, hence the finger-in-ear stereotype. Liege and Lief broke the mould forever—but for the band, it was not to last. Sandy Denny had already left by the time it was released, and couldn't be easily replaced. Ashley Hutchings was on his way out, to pursue more traditional sounds with Steeleye Span. Richard Thompson would stick around for one more album but along with his considerable guitar skills his songwriting was maturing rapidly and he was ready to forge a successful (for some values of 'successful') solo career. Fairport Convention would continue to record and tour for many years under the guidance of Ashley Hutchings' replacement Dave Pegg, and surviving former members regularly gather at the Cropredy Festival every August, but Liege and Lief proved to be the band's apogee.



Side One

  1. "Come All Ye" - 4:55
  2. "Reynardine" - 4:33
  3. "Matty Groves" - 8:08
  4. "Farewell, Farewell" - 2:38

Side Two

  1. "The Deserter" - 4:10
  2. "Medley" - 4:00
    1. "The Lark in the Morning"
    2. "Rakish Paddy"
    3. "Foxhunters' Jig"
    4. "Toss the Feathers"
  3. "Tam Lin" - 7:20
  4. "Crazy Man Michael" - 4:35

Additional tracks on CD release

  1. "Sir Patrick Spens" - 4:00
  2. "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood (take 1)" - 10:16

The band:

  • Sandy Denny - vocals
  • Ashley Hutchings - bass, backing vocals
  • Dave Mattacks - drums, percussion
  • Simon Nicol - electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals
  • Dave Swarbrick - fiddle, viola
  • Richard Thompson - electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals

Tropes and Lief:

  • Baleful Polymorph: Tam Lin is transformed by the Queen of Faeries into a snake and a lion in an attempt to stop Janet getting away with him. She's been forewarned, however.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: "Matty Groves"
  • The Casanova: "Reynardine".
  • Character Title: "Reynardine", "Matty Groves", "Rakish Paddy", "Tam Lin", "Crazy Man Michael".
    • "Sir Patrick Spens" in the CD bonus tracks.
  • Child Ballads:
  • Chosen Conception Partner: Tam Lin for Janet. It's not entirely clear whether it's her particular intention to have a child by Tam but she knows what she's about.
  • Cover Version:
    • The traditional ballads "Reynardine", "Matty Groves" (also known as "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard"), "The Deserter" (which may be a 19th century Music Hall song rather than a traditional ballad) and "Tam Lin". Also "Sir Patrick Spens" in the CD bonus tracks.
    • The traditional dance tunes that make up "Medley"
    • The CD bonus track "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood", a setting of words by Richard Fariña to a traditional tune arranged by the band.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: "Reynardine"
    And he led her up the mountain
    Did that sly old Reynardine
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Lord Donald gives Matty his best sword and first blow, and he still kills Matty with one blow even though severely injured.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Heavily hinted at in "Farewell, Farewell", possibly involving Parental Abuse.
    And will you never return to see
    Your bruised and beaten sons?
    "Oh, I would, I would, if welcome I were
    For they loathe me, every one."
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The cover is in grey and purple.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • "Matty Groves" is over 8 minutes. Almost half of it is an extended band jam.
    • "Tam Lin" is 7 minutes 13 seconds.
    • "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" in the bonus tracks is over 10 minutes.
  • Face on the Cover: Six faces as individual vignettes, in grey and purple.
  • Eye Scream: Averted with "Tam Lin". Most versions of the ballad have the Queen of Faeries threatening to gouge out Tam's eyes. Here she would turn him into a tree.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Janet and other young girls are specifically forbidden from visiting Tam Lin at Carterhaugh, so of course that's where she goes.
  • Halloween Episode: Janet must rescue Tam Lin at midnight as The Fair Folk ride out on Halloween.
  • Human Sacrifice: The Fair Folk are due to pay a tithe to Hell on All Hallows' Eve. Tam Lin thinks it's going to be him, which is why he wants Janet to rescue him.
  • Instrumental: "Medley" is Dave Swarbrick fiddle solo.
  • Land of Faerie: Carterhaughnote , where Janet encounters Tam Lin who has been kept prisoner by the Queen of Faeries.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: "The Deserter"
  • Mrs. Robinson: Lady Donald to the young serving lad Matty Groves.
  • Murder Ballad: "Matty Groves" and "Crazy Man Michael".
  • Non-Appearing Title: The album title doesn't appear in the title or lyrics of any of the songs. "The Deserter".
  • Obfuscating Insanity: "Crazy Man Michael". Maybe. He's killed his lover while hallucinating but the horror of realisation is very real.
    Crazy Man Michael he wandered as a corpse
    And talks to the night and the day-oh
    But his eyes they are sane and his speech it is plain
    And he longs to be far away-oh
  • One-Word Title: "Reynardine". "Medley" if you discount the individual tunes, which all blend together.
  • Oral Tradition: Half the point; those songs that aren't original are Scottish and English ballads passed down through generations by word of mouth, collected and indexed at Cecil Sharp House.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Smooth-talking Reynardine is a Werefox.
  • Pregnant Badass: Janet defeats the Queen of Faerie whilst pregnant.
  • Sex Slave: Tam Lin to the Queen of Faeries.
  • Sword Fight: Lord Donald and Matty Groves.
  • Talking Animal: The raven to Crazy Man Michael. It may well be a hallucination.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Lady Donald to her husband in "Matty Groves". It doesn't end well for her.
    • Janet to her father in "Tam Lin".
  • Together in Death: Matty and Lady Donald in "Matty Groves", after Lord Donald kills Matty in a duel and murders his wife.


Example of: