2017 was a pretty intense year all around, but there was still time for lots of music. For me personally, it included covering bands that I had never dreamed I'd get to photograph, crossing many entries off from my bucket list of artists to see, and even traveling overseas for several festivals. Choosing the "best" shows from among the numerous ones that I attended and covered for ChunkyGlasses was a daunting task, not least because I'm pretty selective about which shows I'll even do, meaning that I rarely see a bad one. Still, there were several that definitely stood out as being the best of the best. Here are my picks for my top ten shows (and festivals) of this year.
When Fairport Convention formed in 1967, it’s almost certain they had no idea how influential they would become or how long they would run. The band is credited with starting the English folk rock movement with their 1969 album Liege & Lief, and in addition to its own considerable success also spawned the solo careers of several notable former members including Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, and Iain Matthews. The band’s membership has changed many times over the years (the only original member still remaining, Simon Nicol, even left the group for several years at one point), but after five decades the band continues to go strong, having just released their 28th studio album, 50:50@50. Since 1980, the band has held an annual festival in Cropredy, England, a small village in Oxfordshire. This year, for the band’s 50th anniversary, the sold-out festival drew in 20,000 fans from around the world for three days of nearly non-stop music.
ChunkyGlasses readers might be most familiar with Iain Matthews for his part in the Beach House-organized Gene Clark No Other Band that made a stop at the 9:30 Club a few years ago, where he sang lead on the songs “Silver Raven” and “The True One.” But while faces like Daniel Rossen and Robin Pecknold might have been more familiar to the indie rock audience, Matthews’ nearly five-decades long career has cemented his place as a music legend. Matthews began his career as a founding member of seminal British folk-rock band Fairport Convention (performing on the band’s first two albums) before striking out on his own both as a solo artist and as the leader of several other bands including Matthews Southern Comfort (who had a hit in 1971 with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”) and Plainsong.
As one of the founding bands of the British folk-rock movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Steeleye Span has long been recognized as musical pioneers. Mixing traditional folk music with electric instruments might not seem all that unusual today, but when the band’s first album, Hark! the Village Wait, came out in 1970, it was nearly unheard of. The band has gone through numerous line-up changes over the years – husband and wife duo Gay and Terry Woods left after that first album (performing as a duo for several years; after that, Terry was a founding member of Irish folk-rockers The Pogues, and Gay returned to the Steeleye fold briefly for a pair of albums in the late 90s), then after their third album, Ten Man Mop, Ashley Hutchings left to form another seminal folk-rock band, Fairport Convention.
In fact, the band that came to The Birchmere on Tuesday night has not (yet) recorded an album together, with only singer Maddy Prior continuing to represent the original group and drummer (and sometimes guitarist) Liam Genockey, who originally joined the band in 1986 rounding up the old guard. New members Julian Littman (guitar and vocals) and Jessie-May Smart (violin) have managed to integrate themselves into the band’s sound, though, and last-minute fill-in bassist Nils Petersen handled the pressure of having to play a whole concert of songs he’d just learned with ease (Prior’s son Alex Kemp, who was supposed to be with the band on bass for this tour, had visa issues and was unable to join them for their US shows).