I like to think that as a Canadian, my gentle nature and the folky ways of Fairport were a good match. We took a liking to each other and I spent a lot of time with them in the studio and at gigs. One day, they asked me if I'd like to shoot the cover for their new album, the one that ended up being entitled "Unhalfbricking." We had no concept, no idea what we would do, so I suggested that we should get together and see what might happen. So one morning the band and their van picked up me and wife, Sharon, and all of us drove around London looking for inspiration. It was Sandy Denny who eventually said, "Why don't we go visit my parents in Wimbledon? They have a nice house and a lawn and maybe we can shoot something there." And we all thought that was a great idea.
I don't know how Sandy's mother felt about the entire band, complete with a photographer and his wife, showing up unexpectedly, but she very graciously served us tea on the lawn. That may have been my idea actually, thinking from my Canadian perspective, that something as quintessentially English as tea on the lawn would give us a theme and some pleasing compositions. I recall working on that idea for a while with Sandy in the foreground pouring a cuppa and the rest of the band as supportive compositional elements behind her. At some point I must have tired of that and backed away entirely when the idea came to put Sandy's parents in the foreground and the entire band taking tea on the lawn behind the lattice work fence. People have asked me how hard it was to get each person's head in a different hole of the fence, but in truth, it was a lucky accident.
The cover was shot on 35mm Ektachrome slide film and cropped to fit the square format of the vinyl album cover. I don't know who did the graphic layout, nor do I know who chose that particular frame as the cover shot. I'm just very pleased with the results. The photograph on the back of the album came when Sandy's mother, not content to just serve us tea, generously invited us to stay for supper. We had just started eating when I noticed that the long table and the light in the house echoed some of the elements of classical paintings such as The Last Supper. So Sharon and I backed away from the table and I asked the band to continue the conversation they were already deeply into while I photographed the tableau. Once again, I am grateful to the album designer for choosing that shot. The two extra plates were for me and Sharon, which we hungrily dug into when we rejoined the table.
Years ago I had a letter from a Fairport fan in Liverpool. He was interested in finding the exact location where that cover shot was made, but all I could tell him was that it was at the home of Sandy Denny's parents in Wimbledon. A couple of years later, he wrote back with a report that with the help of the municipal authorities he had been able to find the number of the house where the family lived in 1969 and actually travelled down to London to see it for himself.
THE FARLEY CHAMBERLAYNE STORY
When Fairport's van ran off the M1 motorway on May 12, 1969, killing drummer Martin Lamble, aged only 19, and Jeannie Franklyn, Richard Thomson's girlfriend, I was as distraught as anyone, and remember visiting Sandy and the band in the hospital.
A couple of months later, when manager Joe Boyd rented a cottage for them in Farley Chamberlayne to rehearse with new band members Dave Swarbrick and Dave Mattacks, I was invited to bring my camera and spend a weekend. It was a magical time. My most delightful memory was waking up in the morning to the sound of Dave Swarbrick's fiddle drifting up the stairs. A full-page colour photo of the band acting up and rolling around on the lawn appeared on the cover of of the September 13, 1969, issue of Disc & Music Echo.
Another photo from my visit to Farley Chamberlayne was published on the cover of the October 18, 1969, British edition of Rolling Stone magazine. It featured Sandy stirring a pot of tea at the kitchen table, a package of Fruti-fort cereal on one side of her and an almost-empty bottle of milk on the other. In the background, pinned to the wall, is a newsstand poster that reads "Magazine Blast-off to Splashdown Apollo 11 Souvenir in full colour."