Genesis Hall, by Fairport Convention

From the 1969 album Unhalfbricking comes a song that to me defines all that I love about the heyday of the British folk rock period of the late 60 and early 70s. This is Richard Thompson’s first great composition, one that marries the melancholic melodic style he is famous for with atypical lyrics for him in the form of a civil protest song. Thompson on the song:

“Genesis Hall was the name of a building in London that was occupied by squatters. The police went in and were far too brutal in evicting the people. My father was a policeman at the time, and although he was not involved in this operation, I could see the situation from both the squatters’ and police’s points of view. This was conflicting for me, and I tried to express that.”

Several reasons why this song moves me: The lyrics and the way Sandy Denny delivers them. The way the whole band is soaring with her in the “Oh, oh, helpless and slow” part. The dual guitar work by Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol. Martin Lamble’s drumming, and the way he follows the melody on his drums as if he was playing a melodic instrument. A month after the band finished recording the album Lamble died in a car crash returning from a gig. The band went through a rough period of mourning and healing and came out on the other end with the album that defines British folk rock. But that’s another story.

My father he rides in your ships

And I know he would never mean harm

But to see both sides of a quarrel

Is to judge without hate or love

 

Oh, oh, helpless and slow

And you don’t have anywhere to go

 

You take away homes from the homeless

And leave them to die in the cold

The gypsy who begged for your presents

He will laugh in your face when you’re old

 

Oh, oh, helpless and slow

And you don’t have anywhere to go

 

Well, one man he drinks up his whiskey

Another he drinks up his wine

And they’ll drink till their eyes are red with hate

For those of a different kind

 

Oh, oh, helpless and slow

And you don’t have anywhere to go

 

When the rivers run thicker than trouble

I’ll be there at your side in the flood

It was all I could do to keep myself

From taking revenge of blood

 

Oh, oh, helpless and slow

And you don’t have anywhere to go

 

Oh, oh, helpless and slow

And you don’t have anywhere to go

Fairport Convention 1969

Unhalfbricking cover photo, at Sandy Denny’s parents house

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