Chris Leslie: ‘With Myths and Heroes I think we have produced a good volume of work’
March 2015 saw Fairport Convention’s first studio album of new songs for four years. Shire Folk had a chat about it with band member and multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie.
SF: ‘Myths and Heroes’ is the title of the new album – was it just taken from the first track or are there other reasons for selecting it?
CL: We have had the song Myths and Heroes in our set for some time and it always seemed to go down well with the audience. So it seemed like a good choice for the new album title. Also, it tied in with the cover artwork where we are all shown as historical/mythical figures from the past. The cover has a similar style to another Fairport album, Full House, which came out in 1970.
SF: You have written five of the tracks for this album and seem to be singing more of the songs as well. Is this the most you have every contributed to a Fairport album?
CL: Possibly. I joined Fairport in 1996 (where does all the time go!) and the first album I was involved in was The Wood and the Wire, which came out in 1998. Up to that point I had nearly always written songs and tunes by myself, but Dave Pegg, our bass player, suggested I get together with writer/producer Nigel Stonier. We had a very fruitful few weeks, and most of the songs we came up with ended upon that album.
[Chris goes on to tell me how one of the tracks on the new album came about.] I have fairly small hands, so the brilliant instrument maker Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars made me a special short string length bouzouki. Peggy looked at it with great envy and got Roger to make him one. Peggy called me one afternoon to say he had written a tune for his bouzouki called the ‘Roger Bucknall Polka’. Unbelievably, that morning I had also written a tune in honour of my new bouzouki called ‘Fylde Mountain Time’. It was obviously meant to be, so we decide to put the two tunes together on the new album. So the co-writing has continued.
SF: Ralph McTell wrote ‘Clear Water’ for the band. Is it really about the long history of Fairport?
CL: Ralph has been a huge supporter of the band and has sent us many songs, which we have recorded over the years. We are also very lucky to have friends like Anna Ryder and PJ Wright who have also given us songs for this album. Is it about Fairport? Well it is about a ship and its journey through calm waters and then stormy seas. So some people have said it does rather mirror the journey Fairport has gone through since the 1960s.
SF: ‘Theodore’s Song’ is from one of your solo albums – why did you choose this one?
CL: It’s from an album I released last year called Origins. We were touring in 2014 and looking for some new material to put into the set. The rest of the band all liked the song, so we thought we would include it. From the audience reaction they seemed to like it as well, so we thought why not put it on the album. It’s strange when a song you have done solo is suddenly given the full Fairport effect. But it has given it new life and I really love the version we have produced.
SF: The new album was recorded at the Woodworm Studios again after many albums recorded elsewhere. Was this like coming home?
CL: Yes it was, and everyone seemed to be so relaxed about being back at Woodworm again. I think that has come through in the album. I have recorded there many times with other bands etc., so it was well known to me. The new owner has refurbished the studio, so it really is a state of the art recording environment. It was a pleasure to be there and I think we have produced a good volume of work.
SF: ‘John Condon’ is a brilliant track and beautifully sung by Simon Nicol. Did you deliberately try to find a track about World War One to tie in with the centenary?
CL: Not really – to begin with we were just bowled over by the song. We had heard it performed by Janet Dowd although we know there are other versions. You are correct; it is beautifully sung by Simon and is just the type of song where he excels so well. Simon is a wonderful storyteller in spoken word as well as in song. I hear him sing ‘Matty Groves’ every night when we are on tour and he always delivers that long epic song to perfection. John Condon moved us emotionally; it was a must for the new album.
SF: You have a long tour coming up in May and June, with some twenty-seven dates. Do you ever get tired of touring?
CL: I just get tired! [Interviewer, who is about the same age as Chris, sympathises at this point.] Some bands are known for recordings more than touring, but Fairport have always been a live touring band. Of course, you can get frustrated with the road system in the UK, when a journey that should take two hours takes four, but there is nothing like playing live. It is good to see how the songs go down live, and then just meeting people after the shows is always interesting. We are very hands on, kind of self-managed with both the recording side of things, and the touring aspects – I really like it that way, it has a sense of direction we can all relate to.