What we still do on our holidays – talking Fairport Convention, Cropredy, and much more with Dave Pegg

Legendary bass player Dave Pegg marked his latest big birthday in style recently, turning 75 with lots of good friends at Dudley Town Hall, a date that also marked 53 years’ involvement with British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention.

“It was fabulous. We had a great time, lots of my mates turning up. Ralph McTell came and sang, Anna Ryder … a fantastic night.”

Also marking the occasion for the Birmingham-born multi-instrumentalist and producer was his ex-Fairport Convention rhythm buddy, drummer Dave Mattacks, over from America especially, and also lined up for the band’s next winter tour in February 2023.

Founded in 1967, two years before ‘Peggy’ joined, Fairport Convention are clearly not ready to retire, these folk-rock pioneers going strong 55 years on, after 29 albums and thousands of gigs, alongside many solo and collaborative projects by current and former members, with the annual Fairport’s Cropredy Convention attracting 20,000 people to ‘Britain’s friendliest festival’.

The affection and regard in which they are held is highlighted in new authorised book Gonna See All My Friends – A People’s History of Fairport Convention, which features memories from more than 250 fans, friends and collaborators, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and Doane Perry, Ralph McTell, producer Joe Boyd, BBC broadcaster Michael Billington, and many folk luminaries among them.

Taking its title from a line in Richard Thompson’s Fairport anthem to enduring friendship, ‘Meet on the Ledge’, this 384-page publication – including full colour photos and memorabilia – was compiled by Manchester-based music writer Richard Houghton, his past works including those on the Rolling Stones, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Jethro Tull.

And as well as Peggy’s own words, contributors also include surviving founder member Simon Nicol (guitar/vocals, 44 years’ service), the line-up these days completed by Ric Sanders (fiddle, keyboards, ukulele, since 1985) and Chris Leslie (mandolin, bouzouki, flute, since 1996).

As for Peggy, who has put in 47 years’ service with Fairport Convention since 1969, I soon mentioned how if he’d only popped up among the playing personnel on 1970 LP, Bryter Layter, I’d be in awe, let alone everything else he’s played on down the years, that session with Nick Drake around the same time he recorded Full House, his first Fairport Convention LP.

“That was a fantastic period for music for people of my age. I joined Fairport Convention that year and got to play with lots of other people coming up, people like Nick. And that’s one of my favourite albums, Bryter Layter.

Quite right too.

“And I got to play on Solid Air, the John Martin album, as well.”

That 1973 LP was another I was going to mention, and I get the impression it’s fundamentally about a fellowship of friends with Dave, working with those artists, in and out of their bands, including projects with ex-bandmates Richard Thompson and the late Sandy Denny and Dave Swarbrick.

“Exactly. I’ve played in Richard’s band, and with Ralph McTell, producing his album, Slide Away the Screen. There were times when there was an awful lot going on, all the ‘folkies’, if you like, big buddies – playing on each other’s albums. It was one big band, and some people wrote their own material – like Sandy, Nick, John … – and those of us that managed to survive are still great mates.”

Your online profile has you down as multi-instrumentalist, bass player, producer … what do you see yourself as, first and foremost?

“Well, I’m a bass player. Bass guitar is my instrument. I play the guitar and the mandolin, and I started learning the cello a couple of years ago, during the lockdown. I’m pretty crap at the cello, but I love playing it!”

While missing out on three seminal Fairport LPs featuring Sandy Denny, Peggy worked with the revered singer-songwriter as a solo artist and when she returned for 1975’s Rising for the Moon. And it’s striking to me all these years on that Sandy was the same age as you, yet she’s been gone 44 years now.

“It is bizarre, but she’s always kind of represented with Fairport when we do gigs. We could never replace Sandy Denny, that’s why we never got a girl singer again. Like you could never replace Richard Thompson, which is why we never got another guitar player. But Sandy’s still there, because we play some of her wonderful songs, like ‘Fotheringay’, and of course, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’”

The latter is among my all-time favourites.  

“Well, it’s a song that everybody knows, and quite rightly so. I think it was voted the best folk song ever written, and we have a nice arrangement of it. We don’t do it every night, but (we have while) we’ve been out in October doing some little gigs up in Scotland and down in Cornwall, which we’ve enjoyed a lot.”

Funny you should mention Cornwall. I’m just back from a few days in Perranporth and read in my advance copy of Richard Houghton’s Gonna See All My Friends the story of how you ended up playing the Memorial Hall there in late 2019. You’ve clearly brought so many memorable nights to unexpected, often remote venues down the years.

“Yeah, well, the band’s been going since ’67, so we’ve kind of covered … I mean, we still do a lot of gigs, but because we’re getting on, we try and put all our work into concise periods. So everybody gets some time off. We’re not doing a spring tour next year, but we’re doing about 25 gigs in October. And we’re doing a winter tour which starts on February 1st in Tewkesbury, and we’re probably doing 25 or 30 gigs. We have Mondays off. Ha!

“We try and cover the whole country as much as we can. Then of course, on August 10th, 11th and 12th we’ve got Cropredy, which is something we started quite a while back.”

That’ll be more than 40 years in itself.

“That’s the highlight of our year. We had a fantastic one this summer, apart from the heat, which is the first time we’ve ever complained about having constant sunshine for three days at Cropredy!”

Yes, this isn’t Mustique during a hyper-successful band’s tax year out. We’re talking North Oxfordshire, amid increasing global warming.

“Yeah, absolutely.”

There’s been many a big name involved at Cropredy down the years, not least your old pal, Robert Plant.

“He’s played Cropredy a few times. He was up in Scotland last night. Our mate, Tristan Bryant, our agent and tour manager, went up to see him because he sometimes works with Saving Grace. And they’re a great band. Robert really enjoys doing that, and I hope he’ll keep it going.”

You only have to hear his output in the last decade or so to know he’s still got that love and the music comes first.

“Yeah, and I think that goes for most musicians of our age. When we started, it was for the love of it, all our roots the same – first The Shadows, then the blues and American R&B … And while you’re physically able, you can’t just stop. It doesn’t matter how successful you become. You still want to be out there playing.

“That works for everybody. People like Macca, and a classic example is Bob Dylan. I saw him last week and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.”

Heady praise from the fella behind his own Dylan Project a couple of decades ago, and clearly with a long affinity to His Bobness (and of course, Fairport Convention ‘and Friends’ released their A Tree With Roots covers LP in 2018).

“Yeah, we were all Dylan fans. But the worst concert I’ve ever seen was Bob Dylan in Birmingham a few years ago – the last time I saw Bob before last week. It was just horrendous, but Rough and Rowdy Ways (his 2020 LP) is just such a fantastic piece of work, and it was just a brilliant gig. He sang like an angel, the sound was incredible … and I was right at the back of the arena. The band were fantastic, and your man … an hour and three-quarters of just joyous music. It was fantastic. If you’ve got the chance, get a ticket. Don’t miss it!”

Talking of musical heroes and inspirations, you mentioned in your afterword in the book how you were inspired by The Shadows, particularly Hank Marvin’s playing, and The Beatles … but also Joe Brown.

“Yeah, and Joe lives in Cropredy now, and sometimes in America. We see him quite often, and I saw him at our festival last year. And he was such an influence on people. I mean, he was the first English rock star, if you like. He played in Eddie Cochran’s band when he came over, which is amazing. He’s an incredible guy.”

Dave served his own musical ‘apprenticeship’ in Birmingham with The Crawdaddys, Roy Everett’s Blueshounds, and the Ian Campbell Folk Group, led by UB40 stars Ali, Duncan and Robin Campbell’s father.

I’m guessing in your formative playing days, everything was a learning experience, on stage but also making notes on the many bands passing through Birmingham at the time.

“Oh, absolutely. When I started, I used to play lead guitar. So I played in blues bands. Crawdaddys was a great little band and Roy Everett’s Blueshounds, which had a fantastic saxophonist, Mike Burney, who went on to play with Roy Wood’s Wizzard.

“You just pick up influences, and Birmingham had such a great scene. We had the Spencer Davis Group, with Steve Winwood just a genius when he was like 16 or 17, doing gigs. An amazing performer. We used to play at the town hall. We did an all-nighter one year, our band, The Crawdaddys, on first at 7.30 and finishing at 7.30 the next morning. We did the first and the last spot! And in between there was the Spencer Davis Group, John Mayall with Eric Clapton, Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, with Albert Lee. All these great guitar players.”

If you weren’t learning from that lot, there was little hope for you.

“Yeah, and I saw Cream seven times in and around Birmingham. And that was a fantastic experience. There’s a book about Cream that Richard Houghton put out. That’s how I got to know about Richard. He sent me the Cream book, which I really enjoyed, and I wanted to be in that book if I’d known that was coming out. Having seen them so many times, I had some good stories about seeing Cream.”

Then there was time with the afore-mentioned Robert Plant and his former bandmate, John Bonham. With another twist of fate, could Peggy have featured in Led Zeppelin?

“Knowing Bonzo, I’m sure I’d have got a mention. Actually, their manager, Peter Grant phoned me one day to see if I’d join Bad Company. Which I didn’t because I was already in Fairport. But I’d be no match for John Paul Jones. Without him, I mean … He wasn’t just a bass player. He was such a phenomenal musician … still is. His keyboard work and his arranging … it’s a different league to me!”

You’re being very modest, but I know what you mean.

“He’s also a monster mandolinist. I think he took up mandolin after seeing Fairport at the Albert Hall, when we did Full House. We’d do a mandolin duet on ‘Flatback Caper’, myself and Swarbrick, and John was in the audience.

“I may have that wrong, and of course, the mandolin on ‘The Battle of Evermore’ … well, when John Paul Jones was at Cropredy, playing with Seasick Steve, I said, ‘John, I loved the mandolin on ‘The Battle of Evermore’, and he said, ‘it wasn’t me, Peggy, it was Jimmy (Page)!’

Your early days with the Ian Campbell Folk Group saw you closely aligned with the folk scene, but you were clearly a rock fan alongside that. And seeing as there’s a mention from Christine {Dave’s ex-wife) in the book about a heated debate around the time you first saw Fairport Convention in Birmingham in ’69 as to whether it was right to mix folk and rock – four years after Dylan’s ‘Judas’ moment at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall – I get the feeling that didn’t bother you.

“Not at all. When I joined the Ian Campbell Folk Group, I played electric bass on one of their albums, The Circle Game, and they invited me to join the band, but I had to take up the acoustic bass, like double bass. And that was when I took up the mandolin as well. I was with them for about a year and was never a great double bass player, but I really loved the music they did. It was very Scottish influenced, obviously, because the family were from Aberdeen.

“But I learned an awful lot about traditional music there, and also an appreciation for Dave Swarbrick, who’d left the band when I joined, but I used to go and see him with Martin Carthy, who was and still is a formidable singer. He’s just the best, a great guitar player, Martin. I saw them about seven times as well.

“And after I went to Mothers that night, I couldn’t believe it when Dave Swarbrick phoned up and said, ‘Ashley Hutchings has left, will you come for an audition?’ And it was exactly what I wanted to do at the time.”

It seems that Dave already had an advance copy of Liege & Lief when he caught Fairport Convention that previous night in Birmingham on his 22nd birthday in 1969.

“I don’t know where I got the copy from. I wouldn’t have bought it from a record shop. I know that much. I don’t know how I was able to learn the tunes, but I know I’d listened to ‘Matty Groves’. I don’t know whether Swarbrick gave me a copy.”

You clearly gelled with the rest of the band, early doors. How important was it for you all to move into that pub in Little Hadham, Hertfordshire, in your case moving down from Birmingham?

“It was the way of the band ostensibly being all together, ‘getting it together in the country,’ which is what people like Traffic were doing at the time. But The Angel, I described it one night on stage as a hovel, and Simon (Nicol) said, ‘It wasn’t that good!’ There was literally one toilet, with a little cistern to get hot water. You could get a bath from it once every five hours. And there were about 12 of us living there! In my family, we had our daughter, Steph, and my wife Chris, at the time. Swarbrick had a wife and a child, and there were a couple of so-called roadies. It was like a hippie invasion of Little Hadham.

“We weren’t really hippies, but to the neighbours – and there were seven millionaires living there – we were looked down upon for a long time. It took us a while to establish ourselves. But eventually they got to know us and got to like us. We had a lorry crash through the house one day. The driver was killed. It crashed into the bedroom downstairs where Dave Swarbrick was. He was very lucky not to be killed. But the neighbours all mucked in and really helped us out. And they still have a little festival in the next village, at the Nag’s Head pub in Much Hadham.  We played there at a concert to raise money for the Policemen’s Benevolent Fund.”

Was that an attempt to ingratiate yourself with the local bizzies so you could have pub lock-ins after hours?

“It was so we didn’t get tickets on our van when we parked in Bishops Stortford! They gave us a washing machine for doing the gig … which just shows you what they must have thought of us. Ha!”

That initial chance to audition with Fairport Convention must have been a bit of a mingle-mangle moment. And there have been a few such fateful twists, it seems. Yet it was clearly meant to be.

“Yeah, it’s like when I joined Jethro Tull. That came at a time when Fairport had literally split up, Swarbrick had got hearing problems … he never seemed to have them when it was somebody else’s round at the bar though! But he was suffering a bit and we were paid not to make any more albums for Vertigo, a record label that was part of the Phonogram group. Because they couldn’t sell our albums.

“They said, ‘We don’t want anymore,’ and we said, ‘But we’ve signed a four-album deal. We want paying for the next two.’ And they went, ‘Okay, we’d rather give you money not to make music than have you give us your albums.’ That’s when you know how successful you are, Malc!’

Is that how your Woodworm Records label came about?

“It was indeed. We got £7,000 each, which paid for the cottage I bought, moving to Cropredy. And because I was unemployed, I thought I’m gonna set up a little studio. We had a little studio in the back garden shed. Then we decided that if nobody wanted to put our albums out, we’d have to do it ourselves. So we set up Woodworm, and that was the reason that the longevity of Fairport is still there. We were one of the first cottage industries, and from that came the festival as well. We started to promote Cropredy, which at first was just a get-together, like a reunion gig for ex-members who just wanted to get up and play for a bit of fun.  But it’s turned into such a great event.”

When it came to August 4th, 1979, playing Cropredy, was there a proper feel of finality about that show? Or was there always that feeling that you might one day be back?

“No, there was a feeling of finality. We didn’t have any real plans to do anything else. We played with Led Zeppelin in the morning at Knebworth. They invited us to be the first act, which was quite scary – 100,000 fans of Led Zeppelin, and us guys playing jigs and reels and slow ballads! But we went down very well. And it was just the fact that we were all still mates.

“And we’d started this little label and we were building up a mailing list with people – obviously before the mobile phone and faxes and everything like that.”

It’s difficult to think how it used to work then, thinking back, in these days before the internet, social media, and so on.  

“Everything was done from the post office in Cropredy – all the letters and invitations. And we thought while we were doing this, we could have a get-together. We knew the farmer, having used his land for our farewell gig. So we thought, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’ That’s how it all started, and now it’s a great event. We’ve had some fantastic bands playing at Cropredy. We’ve had Alice Cooper, we’ve had Brian Wilson, Status Quo, who I loved, Little Feat … we’ve had some great bands and, of course, all the Fairport folks and Richard Thompson, Robert’s been a few times, Steve Winwood …”

There’s a nice story in the new book about a fan who came up to you and Robert Plant at Cropredy, asking for a photo … then requesting that Robert take it of you and the fan. I liked that.

“That was a classic moment. You just you had to be there!”

I loved Ralph McTell’s story about his double-five finish in an impromptu darts contest in your crowded cottage (you’ll have to buy the book for that one).

“That’s true. I’ve read the book, it’s really good, and all credit to Richard … and Ian Burgess who got all the photographs and got it together. There are some very funny stories and some very sad ones as well.”

There are certainly a few gruesome moments in there too … quite a few of them involving the excesses of alcohol. But the socialising has always been up there with the music.

“Yeah, well, there’s the Krumlin festival story (Barkisland, near Halifax, for the Yorkshire Folk, blues and Jazz Festival, August 1970), with Elton John there, before he was very well known. I mentioned this the other night to one of my mates. We were talking about Elton John, and I mentioned how I went to see him with Ian Sutherland, of the Sutherland Brothers (in later years). Dave Mattacks and myself were playing on one of his albums, and he’s a big mate of Reg (Dwight, aka Elton John).

“He said, ‘Peggy, he’s at Birmingham NEC … or whatever … come along.’ So we went along, the first act finished, and just before the interval, Ian said, ‘Come backstage, say hello to Reg.’ I went, ‘Oh, I can’t, I’m too embarrassed.’ So he went back, then came back and said, ‘Elton says hello. He said he remembers you well from Krumlin. You taught him how to drink.’ That’s my claim to fame, Malcolm!”

One of many, surely. One story in the book in particular made me wince though, one about what you thought was a tick in your leg you wanted removing at Cropredy … but turned out to be a varicose vein.

“Oh, yeah, Well, I missed 10cc. I was in the ambulance. They started ‘I’m Not in Love’ as the ambulance pulled out of the field.”

So I gather … off to Banbury, where doctors struggled to stem the bleeding for two hours.

Meanwhile, you say in the afterword how you told yourself if you ever made it in this business, you’d always be ‘as nice to fans as they were to me’. There are lots of examples within suggesting that’s the case. And that sums up the band ethos really, doesn’t it?

“Well, yeah. I mean, without the fans … we’re all fans, I’m a fan myself. Not necessarily a Fairport fan, but of other bands. And I’ve met some fantastic people who I worship, like McCartney – a classic example to everybody about how nice you can be … even when you’re Paul McCartney. He’s just lovely.

“I’ve only met one person – and I’m not mentioning who, but he’s a bass player, he’s American, a very highly respected jazz bass player, who my son worshipped as well. I wanted to get his autograph for my son. I bumped into him in a hotel somewhere in America – he was staying in the same hotel – and I said, ‘Oh, I’m a big fan of yours, any chance of getting an autograph for my son? He’s a bass player too.’ And he was very short with me. He said, ‘Just ask reception to put a note in my pigeonhole, by the key, and I’ll do it.’ And nothing, he never did it. But that’s the only time I’ve been blanked.”

There are many legendary tales of bands who go that little bit further for fans, all good examples of people treating fans right. And you’re part of that.

“Well yeah, times have changed, obviously, and there are health and safety and security issues, insurance, you know, it’s a different time to be out there playing music and you have to be more careful nowadays. But we go out, my partner, Ellen, and myself, we try and sell merch when we’ve got something new to sell, and I love meeting people, because you get really good feedback about what they think of the show and what they’d like to hear. And it’s beneficial to the band, and I’m sure that helps.”

It must keep you on level ground as well. Although I get the impression you’ve never been one to get above your station.

“Well, I’m still waiting to get there, Malcolm!”

A major rant followed about Brexit Britain, Dave headed for Brittany when the book lands, complaining, ‘You can’t post books to Brittany, because apart from the cost of the postage, thanks to Brexit and all those tossers that voted for Brexit … somebody bought a book from Oxfam for me, it was 50p, it cost them £4.50 to send it to Brittany, then I had to pay nine Euros duty on it.”

Then there are all the bands who can’t afford to play mainland Europe right now, what with added red tape, hoops to jump through, and so on, a potentially lucrative market for musicians ruled out.

“Well, yeah, because of paperwork costs, and so on. Hopefully that’ll all change, but it’s really messed up. You know, there’s just no point trying to go to Europe to do any gigs. We’ve stopped going to Europe.”

Which is sad in itself. You’ve clearly got a good fan base there.

“It’s a shame. But we say, ‘Okay, come to Cropredy.”

They know how to find you … as long as they keep their heads down, in case Ralph McTell is playing darts at the time.”

“Ha! Indeed … and he’s so proud of that.”

Well, it’s been lovely to talk to you, and I was gonna say ‘keep rocking’, but maybe that sounds a bit too Slade-like.

“No, that’s alright for me. I’m of an age!”

Gonna See All My Friends – A People’s History of Fairport Convention, priced £19.99, is available via this Spenwood Books link, and https://www.fairportconvention.com/, where you can also find future dates and news of the band and Cropredy Festival.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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