It’s not a legend to us... it’s just what we do and what we have managed to do.” Simon Nicol, the guitarist and founding member of Fairport Convention, is talking about life in the north Oxfordshire folk-rock behemoth.

“I’m quietly pleased that we have history and a degree of name recognition,” he says. “But I hope never to trade on it for its own sake.”

There’s no danger of that.

Nearly 50 years on from their seminal fourth album Liege & Lief, Fairport Convention are on the road again – and are playing their honorary hometown, Banbury next Sunday (February 24).

The show is part of a winter tour which also sees them teaming up with old mate Robert Plant.

The Led Zeppelin singer, 70, will make rare stage appearances at three of their shows – The Anvil in Basingstoke on Thursday (February 14), The Forum in Bath on Saturday (February 16) and The Alban Arena in St Albans next Friday (February 22).

He will perform with his newly-formed band Saving Grace.

Fairport have continued to tour extensively throughout their celebrated career, over repeated line-up changes, and show no signs of slowing down.

“I don’t expect anything special over and above what we deserve as a working band in the swim with our contemporaries,” says Simon.

“We ask fans to judge us for who we are, not who we once were.”

Who Fairport Convention are in 2019 are a band who will make your night out go with a song.

The Oxford Times:

“Audiences, not postcodes, make the music memorable,” says the guitarist, who appears in the current line-up along with bassist Dave ‘Peggy’ Pegg, violinist Ric Sanders, singer, fiddle and mandolin player Chris Leslie and drummer Gerry Conway.

“The adventure of being on-stage playing music became a way of life, rather than a passing phase. The songs may have developed, but the gig’s the same.”

With anthems like Matty Groves, Come All Ye and Fotheringay still in the set, an evening with Fairport Convention is still a folk music lover’s dream.

“Sometimes we even play the 19 verses of Matty Groves in the right order,” he laughs.

“There’s a song that never fails to feel completely fresh and exciting.”

The songs may still carry the same thrill, but touring them is a game that has changed a lot over the years and Fairport have had to stay ahead of the curve to keep up with the rest of the ephemera that accompanies making money in the music business in 2019.

“The sat-navs have replaced folding paper maps and endless questioning of pedestrians or fuel station queues,” he says.

“The mobile phones also mean no hunting for the one smelly phone box that has a working phone in it! These days I always forget to pack my electric toothbrush – so I have to use the acoustic one.”

It’s that lightness of touch that has kept Fairport in the hearts and minds of music fans through line-up changes, new records and reissues.

The band started life rehearsing in Simon’s parent’s house, Fairport – from which they took their name – in Muswell Hill, north London. Incidentally Ray and Dave Davies grew up on the same street.

Fusing English folk music with rock, they went on to define a a new musical style, scoring incredible success. 1969’s Liege & Lief, is regarded as one of the most influential folk records of all time. The first major British folk-rock album, it remained in the charts for 15 weeks.

There may be the light of an oncoming train in the distance, but this is a group whose music lives in the now: “You must remember that I started out being a schoolboy with a guitar, pursuing an ordinary hobby of being in a band with a few of my mates,” says Simon.

“The difference is that I forgot to get a tertiary education, a pension, a career or even something definable as a job!”

The show is a kind of equinox fix for Fairport fans, falling about half way between their traditional Cropredy Festival shows.

The Oxford Times:

The festival was set up and is still largely run by the band and sees them opening the event with an acoustic show and closing it with an an extended headline set. This year’s – from August 8-10 – will be the festival’s 40th anniversary and is expected to be a sell-out with 20,000 revellers packing the site, just beyond Banbury, each day.

Headline acts, other than Fairport, are The Waterboys and, announced this week, Frank Turner. Other major acts include gypsy punk act Gogol Bordello, Seth Lakeman and former Fairporter (and possibly the world’s best guitarist) Richard Thompson.

Starting life in 1979 as a farewell concert, Cropredy Festival, like the band, became a slow burning success. Organised by Simon, Peggy and director Gareth Williams, it is one of the best-loved, and longest-running, festivals in the country.

And this year’s promises to be quite a party.

More festival news: Common People Oxford is scrapped

“We are quite a busy touring band for a bunch of old lags, and we are showing no sign of slowing down,” Simon laughs.

“We just chunter along on an amiable and leisurely fashion. Birthdays and Christmases whizz past and we are doing young men’s jobs in old men’s bodies.

“It’s amazing people want to come and see us!

“But we’ve always been extremely moderate by the standards of some proper rock & roll bands. They’d look down their noses at us. But they’ve either made their fortunes and retired or shuffled off this mortal coil by burning both ends of their candles too vigorously.”

He adds: “It’s tremendously rewarding when people commune with you.

“A lot of people have been with the band for a long time and feel they own this line-up or that line-up. The danger now is we turn into our own tribute band. It has a great history but we don’t trade on it, and are always working on the next album.”

  • Fairport Convention play Banbury Trades & Labour Club on February 24. wegottickets.com
  • See Robert Plant and Fairport at The Anvil in Basingstoke on Thursday 14 February (anvilarts.org.uk); The Forum in Bath on Saturday 16 February (bathforum.co.uk); and The Alban Arena in St Albans on Friday 22 February (alban-arena.co.uk).
  • More on Cropredy from fairportconvention.com