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(Credit: Press)

Music

The Cover Uncovered: A story of 'Unhalfbricking' by Fairport Convention

The English response to the US folk expansion fronted by Bob Dylan in the 1960s was largely embodied by a group of hippies from London who called themselves Fairport Convention. The band was started by Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol who started out practising in a small flat above a medical practice run by Nicol’s father.

They decided to name the band after the name of the flat where they met which was named ‘Fairport’ and was incidentally just down the road from where The Kinks’ Ray and Dave Davies grew up. The group were heavily influenced by American folk-rock which can be very easily recognised in their early work. Prior to recording their self-titled debut album, they welcomed a drummer and secondary guitarist as well as singers Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews to give the music a level of vocal diversity and identity amongst the London folk scene. The sound of the first two albums bore a significant resemblance to the music of the US band Jefferson Airplane and they were soon widely recognised as the “British Jefferson Airplane”. 

In what would appear an effort to sculpt an identity of their own, the band very quickly followed up What We Did on Our Holidays, their early 1969 second album, with something that rooted itself on the eastern side of the Atlantic. Fairport Convention replaced Judy Dyble with Sandy Denny as the key vocalist for the recording of their third album Unhalfbricking. They took no time to hang around and released the album just a few months later in the summer of the same year. The album was to become one of their best and likely their most important; it was met with rave reviews and their first experience of chart success thanks to the well-received single from the album, a French version of Bob Dylan’s song ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ translated to the name ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’. The album also introduced the songwriting skills of Denny, most notably in ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ which is now widely heralded as a staple of the folk tradition.

I always found the name Unhalfbricking a little strange and, not bothering to let my curiosities take me further, I assumed it had something to do with the album cover artwork itself which shows a low brick wall which is finished with its upper portion consisting of wooden fencing. Perhaps this was a half-brick wall of sorts? I was of course utterly incorrect. The album artwork contains no clues as to the origin of the name. The name was actually born when Denny formed the strange compound word during a round of ‘Ghost’, a word game the band played regularly while they had time to kill in the tour van. 

The unrevealing name of the album was equalled with a similarly unorthodox and enigmatic photograph used for the album’s artwork. The cover shows an ageing couple standing proudly in front of the aforementioned half-wall-half-fence which contains a green where, through the trellis, the band can be seen lounging around on garden chairs. The mysterious geriatrics on the cover are in fact Denny’s parents standing in front of the family house in Wimbledon, London. The photograph seems to represent the closeness of the group as a family of sorts, with the brothers and sisters safely enclosed in the garden walls guarded by parents.

The photo was taken in the spring of 1969 just before a tragic road accident on the M1 motorway when the band’s van veered off the road on the way back to London from a gig in Birmingham. The crash claimed the life of Martin Lamble, the 19-year-old drummer, and guitarist Richard Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. Hutching’s recalled in an interview with The Guardian: “My memory of [Unhalfbricking] is bound up with the terrible car crash. On the back cover, we’re all eating around a table. The shirt and the leather waistcoat I’m wearing are what I had on when the crash happened. I can clearly remember them being bloodstained,” he explained. “You don’t forget things like that.”

Despite this devastating blow, the band proceeded to work on their third album of the year, Liege and Lief, the album that showed the band’s identity established in its truest form and is widely regarded as their masterpiece. The importance of Unhalfbricking in the journey of the band is unparalleled by their other albums as it documented a tragic moment for the band as well as their maturation as a key protagonist in the rich tapestry of folk music. 

See the artwork, below.

(Credit: Press)

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