a night off with peggy and pj

Near as I remember, I met Dave Pegg sometime in the fall of 1987. I had journeyed to Cincinnati for a performance by Fairport Convention, the landmark British folk-rock band Pegg – “Peggy,” as he is called by everyone – has played bass guitar for since 1969.

I had written a short piece in the Herald-Leader for the occasion, as it was the first time Fairport had played anywhere in the region in nearly 15 years. In the lobby, a friend and I chatted a bit before showtime. “What did your editors think when you proposed writing about Fairport Convention?” she asked. Before I could answer, a low, thick and distinctly British voice from behind me replied, as if on cue, “He probably got sacked.”

It was Peggy. That’s how we met.

Over the years, I’ve written about Peggy numerous times. He doubled, from 1979 to1995, as bassist for Jethro Tull. So when either Fairport or Tull were in the area – and by this time, both were regular visitors to Cincinnati – we would chat a bit by phone for a story or column item and usually meet up briefly after the performances. A subtle friendship developed to the point where I would often take a drive to Cincinnati, Columbus or, in one case, Detroit to meet up with him.

We’ve chatted backstage following Cincinnati Tull gigs at Riverbend and what was then Riverfront Coliseum (now US Bank Arena). We met up in a church office amply stocked with libations after a Sunday afternoon Fairport concert in a Columbus chapel. There was a band celebration at a bizarre Mexican restaurant/disco in New York following Fairport shows at the now-demised Bottom Line. Best of all was a lunch shared at a stunning old-world pub called The Falkland Arms in the gorgeous British greens known as The Cotswalds when I went over to see Fairport’s annual August festival in Cropredy in 1990. And, yes, there was one night where Peggy was on my turf: namely a late night dinner at the Cheapside following a Fairport set for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour in 2002.

Peggy hasn’t been on North American soil in nearly four years. Then, out of the blue last month, a longtime Cincinnati friend called to say Peggy was playing a private house concert with guitarist PJ Wright (of the similarly progressive British folk-rock troupe Little Johnny England) on an upcoming Saturday and that my presence, from my bassist pal, was requested.

It was, briefly, a difficult call. The performance fell on the Saturday night of The Dame’s final weekend of business. But as plans were already in place to review the club’s Sunday night closing, I journeyed to Cincinnati, shared a joke and fine conversation with Peggy along with a very loose, relaxed evening of songs (with Peggy playing mandolin and acoustic guitar instead of electric bass) that included music he and Wright had cut for a fine album called Galileo’s Apology. Also in the set was fare from Fairport, Tull, Little Johnny England and nods to skiffle champ Lonnie Donegan (Mark Knopfler’s Donegan’s Gone) and Buddy Holly (a lightly colored guitar/mandolin arrangement of It Doesn’t Matter Anymore).

But it was the billing of Peggy’s tour with Wright that struck me: “A Night off with Peggy and PJ.” And, for me, that’s exactly what it was. This wasn’t a work assignment. This wasn’t review fodder. This was a very informal evening of acoustic fun with zero frills (and zero PA system, for that matter) and some lively talk with a chum whose first view of my profession was that I had been fired because of the music he made for a living.

(above: Dave Pegg, left, and PJ Wright)

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