'68 Fairport Holy Grail!
I was feeling rather fragile today, decided to enfold myself in that comforting blanket that's made from the interweaving sounds of Sandy Denny's voice and Richard Thompson's electric guitar wizardry. I loved this stuff as a teenager, and unlike most of the stuff I loved back then, it still moves me like very little else. In fact, I consider the best Sandy/Richard recordings to be among the finest things of any kind produced by this troubled species homo sapiens sapiens.
So I found myself listening to the Heyday compilation, and there's this rather groovy song called "Reno, Nevada" which stood out more than usual this time...
...and realising that I'd never heard anyone else's version (I was quite sure it was a cover), I checked out the songwriter. Richard Fariña. Who? Wikipedia helpfully informed me that he was a Greenwich Village folkie at the peak time for that kind of thing (1960–63). And then he wrote a novel called Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me which so inspired Thomas Pynchon (my favourite novelist) that Pynchon, who was also the best man at Fariña's wedding, dedicated his '74 masterpiece Gravity's Rainbow to him (RF had sadly died in a motorcycle accident in California in '66).
So I ended up looking for other versions, and I found THIS, recently unearthed footage from the French music TV programme Bouton Rouge (which featured Soft Machine, etc. at a time when such things were rarely seen on British TV). No Sandy here, they still had Judy Dyble (and Iain Matthews) singing with them at this point:
And Richard Thompson was still a teenager at this point! There's an account by Joe Boyd of seeing this lineup playing at the UFO Club, and witnessing an even younger teenage Richard playing a blistering solo during a cover of Paul Butterfield's "East/West" and realising he had to sign this band. When I read that some years ago I searched for any recording which might exist, as "East/West" was also a formative influence in my teenage years when I was discovering West Coast psychedelia via late night college radio broadcasts from down the road while surviving the 1980s in central Wisconsin (I can still remember the request line number: 346-2696...I used to call in and request exactly this kind of thing):
I think that live version of "Reno, Nevada" may be the closest we'll get to hearing what that would have sounded like played by the earliest Fairport lineup. In fact, the jam therein seems to have borrowed from elements of "East/West", and I wonder if Joe Boyd may have actually been mistaken at the time — perhaps they were really playing the Fariña song? Who knows. But I wish someone would hurry up and invent time travel.
It seems that the audio of that French TV performance was tacked onto a recent CD remaster of the first Fairport album. Very hissy, but that hardly matters with such a treasure as this.
I note that Judy Dyble's sitting patiently listening during the jam, rather than going backstage to get a bit of embroidery done, as she used to back in London. There's an anecdote I've heard from her that word got 'round the scene that she was going backstage to do something involving needles, leading to a rumour that she was shooting up heroin! Fortunately that was very far from the truth, and she's very much still with us, still singing, and still incredibly gracious about the way her first band replaced her with Sandy Denny.