“ Genre: Pop - Folk / Artist: Fairground Attraction / Release Date: 1997 / Music Label: BMG „
Though not a huge fan of compilation albums, with this band it's just about the only way to hear their music as Fairground Attraction were little more than a fleeting blip on the radar of the music scene. They disbanded due to internal squabbles which is a great shame because this was a band with their own unique sound and a huge potential for success, not least because of the stunning voice of Eddi Reader and the song writing skills of Mark Nevin.
Fairground Attraction were a four piece acoustic pop/folk band formed in Scotland in the late 1980s, comprising two guitarists, Mark Nevin and Simon Evans, drummer Roy Dodds and singer Eddi Reader. Eddi Reader had served her time as a backing singer for the likes of the Eurythmics and Alison Moyet and her voice with just a hint of a Scottish burr was perfect for the blend of jazz, folk and pop which was Fairground Attraction's territory. The band released their first single in 1988 which reached number one, closely followed by the release of their first album, also a chart success. This great start to their musical career was cemented by the band winning Brit awards for both single and album and they then began a series of tours of Europe, the USA and Japan. Sadly, by 1990, shortly after the release of their second album, the band were no more. However, they left behind a body of work which albeit small, is well worth a listen. This compilation is really a rehash of the best of their two albums, 'The First of a Million Kisses' and 'Ay Fond Kiss', with the addition of some of their B sides.
The songs on the album are eclectic to say the least. With the exception of two traditional songs arranged by the band and three cover versions, all the songs are composed by Mark Nevin who proves himself to be a gifted song writer and one who refuses to be pigeonholed as the songs range from American Cajun-blues to traditional Scottish folk and everything in between.
The album gets off to a lively start with the band's first hit single 'Perfect' which perfectly showcases Eddi Reader's voice which is tonally distinctive and pitch perfect. This song begins with a very simple backing from rhythmic, slightly jazzy drums and soft guitars in the background until the middle section when the guitars pay what sounds like a homage to Duane Eddy (who remembers him?) This is followed by the band's second hit single, 'Find My Love' which is another up-beat number and allows Eddi Reader to demonstrate her excellent vocal range. 'Fairground Attraction' is not one of my favourites on the album. It's a mid-tempo melding of folk and jazz with the backing simulating the sound of a calliope immediately bringing to mind visions of old fairground rides.
The mood slows down even further for A Smile and a Whisper, a gentle little love song saying that love requires no words. 'Clare' kicks up the tempo again and moves very much into jazz mode and if nothing else demonstrates how Eddi Reader can turn her hand to absolutely any musical genre anybody cares to throw at her. I'm not a great fan of jazz but this is a wonderfully evocative sound which is guaranteed to get the foot tapping.
'Walkin' After Midnight' is the first song on the album not penned by Mark Nevin. This is a cover of a Patsy Cline song written by Hecht and Block. It has a very Cajun-bluesy sound and is pretty much a faithful cover of the original. This is followed by 'Do You Want to Know a Secret' which is not one of my favourite Lennon and McCartney songs, at least not when sung by Billie Jay Kramer (another blast from the past) but the backing on this track is superb, blending an almost Spanish sounding drum rhythm with gentle guitars giving the whole thing a much more folksy sound.
'Allelujah' is another beautifully poignant Mark Nevin composition, and one of my favourites on the album. It's a song that almost defies categorisation. I suppose it could be called a modern folk song and it's about unrequited love which is deceptively simple musically and relies entirely on the beauty of the words and Eddi Reader's delivery for its effect.
'The lights on the west way go on,
A million cars hurry home,
The ice cream van shuts off its tinsel bell,
Winter won't be long'
The jazz sound is reinstated with another Nevin composition, 'The Moon is Mine' which will appeal to those who like jazz but personally I can take or leave this one. This is followed by 'Watching the Party' which is probably the most pop sounding song on the album and which comes with a hint of the West Indies via Africa.
'Winter Rose' has a very retro almost Sixties sound melding jazz and folk and is a so-so song rescued from mediocrity by the incredible voice of Eddi Reader. The mood slows down for the ballad, 'The Wind Knows My Name'. This initially comes across as just another fairly ordinary middle of the road song but it's one of those which grows on you the more you listen to it.
The slightly downbeat mood is lifted very slightly with 'Jock O'Hazeldean'. This is a traditional Scottish folk song to which the band have given their own unique stamp whilst remaining relatively faithful to its folk roots. 'Comedy Waltz' is not, as its title might imply, a very cheerful song but is another rather sad Nevin composition. This is followed by the Sam Cook classic, 'You Send Me' which is given the Fairground Attraction treatment and is transformed into a slightly jazz orientated ballad. Eddi Reader's clear tones lift this into the realms of the extraordinary.
The album ends with the sublime 'Ay Fond Kiss', Robert Burns' poem set to music which even the most hardened Burns critic can't fail to appreciate. The backing is simple acoustic guitar and is kept to an absolute minimum giving centre stage to Eddi Reader's fabulous voice. The beauty and poignancy of this song give me goosebumps however many times I hear it. It's full of sadness and regret and Eddi Reader's rendition is fabulous. If you don't believe me, just listen! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ai1XFfUp3E)
This is an excellent compilation of the works of this band. If nothing else the album stands as a tribute to a superb band whose eclectic style gave them wide appeal and whose time upon the stage was all too brief. It's a great shame that they're no more because although the band have all gone on to do other things, they were so much better together.
This album is still available and used copies can be picked up online from a ridiculously cheap 1p plus postage.