Fairport’s Cropredy Convention
Cropredy Village, Oxfordshire
13th-15th August 2015
Fairport’s Cropredy Convention has been running since 1976, when it began as a performance for friends in a back garden. Other than a year away in 1981, (when the festival was held at Broughton Castle), it has been held in a field just outside the village ever since and draws a crowd of over 20,000 people to enjoy one of the most diverse and eclectic festivals the UK has to offer. Dom Walsh and idp went to listen and write and take pictures.
This years incarnation of Fairport’s Cropredy Convention had an eclectic line up. There was the country legend Emmylou Harris, jazz-funk merchants Level 42, dub-reggae stalwarts Dreadzone, ex-Marillion man Fish and The Proclaimers making up the bill with newcomers Talisk, the up and coming Skinny Lister and Katzenjammer also scattered amongst the bill.
Although the festival has only one stage there are numerous other venues in the village itself, many of which boast excellent line-ups and so day one of Fairport’s Cropredy Convention began in the Red Lion Pub with Benjamin Folke Thomas bringing his brand of folky Americana to the smaller stage after gracing the main stage last year. Thomas played plenty of his own numbers including the excellent Gettysburg, whilst dropping in some choice Warren Zevon covers including Excitable Boy and Play It All Night Long (with one of the best opening lines to a song ever).
On the main stage, Fairport Convention, by recent tradition, open and close the festival. They opened with a short and succinct acoustic set featuring Walk Awhile and Dirty Linen from their 1970 gem of an album, Full House.
Following them were Tradarrr, in support of their excellent debut, Cautionary Tales. With Simon Care and PJ Wright in their ranks, they couldn’t fail to light up their stage with their superb folk rock. On Mad Dog, Fairports’ Ric Sanders joined a three strong violin section with great aplomb. The band closed up with Nottamun Town and left the stage to great applause.
Dreadzone trod the Cropredy boards in 2009 in glorious sunshine; they wowed the crowd and were invited back this year. Again, they got the crowd bouncing in the increasingly inclement weather. Huge tunes like Little Britain, Life Love & Unity and Captain Dread are all guaranteed crowd pleasers; for the duration of the weekend you could hear people greeting each other to Captain Dread’s ‘Ahoy’ sound sample. Another winning performance and early contender for band of the weekend.
With the hard job of following the dub/reggae of Dreadzone were Denmark’s Katzenjammer. Their latest album received high praise from LTW earlier in the year so anticipation was high. The four piece showed themselves to be superb musicians. Continually swapping instruments, and unique instruments at that, Katzenjammer entertained the crowd in superb fashion. It was during their set, and a Richard Thompson penned Fairport tune, that the heavens well and truly opened. Their version of Crazy Man Michael was beautifully sung and dazzled the increasingly damp crowd. The band exited the stage to the triumphant tones of Kiss’ Crazy Nights, which paves the way for the Thursday night headliners.
By the time Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell took the stage the weather had gone from inclement to complete downpour – but despite the soaking a large proportion of the crowd stuck it out to the end. After all, it was Emmylou Harris. Highlights of the set were Just Wanted To See You So Bad and the Townes Van Zandt masterpiece Pancho and Lefty. The set was a master class in how to lift the spirits of a group of people who were standing in a field getting punched in the face by the weather.
Day two of the festival began with Talisk. The opening slot on day two of Fairports Cropredy Convention is reserved for the winners of the BBC Radio 2 young folk band of the year; a slot that is always lauded with its leanings towards the new folk generation. Talisk are a three piece band who deal in traditional folk. The weather was steadily grim during their set but the young trio delivered a set that began the day excellently and sought to remove the blues of the weather.
If people weren’t feeling perked up by Talisk, ahab certainly upped the ante. Returning after five years to Cropredy’s main stage, the quintet was greeted with great approval. In the same way that The Travelling Band have made Cropredy theirs on a couple of occasions, ahab did just the same. Their countrified, melodic sound made sure that the large crowd that had amassed for the local band, were left satisfied. Their was genuine thanks and adoration on both parties; the crowd and the band. A superb turn.
When you’re up against it at a festival, weather wise, fatigue wise, refreshment wise…there are certain bands that work in any situation. Skinny Lister were just this band. A rousing version of Johhn Kanaka, a slurry of English polkas, songs about being beaten up in London and the first ‘stage dive/meander’ I’ve ever seen at Cropredy, had the lion’s share of the field on the upward curve again. Halfway through the set, the band invited ‘Party George’ on stage from the crowd (a family member within the band) to sing a song he had penned. It was one of those festival moments that I will remember for a long time. With the rain subsiding, the six piece delivered a great set which lived up to the reputation that band have built. With a support slot for Frank Turner stateside on the horizon, the band will no doubt be topping many bills in the future.
Higher up the bill was Fish, of Marillion fame. Whilst not being completely au fait with Marillion or Fish; his output is comprehensive and he has an army of followers, some of which seem to have made the trip especially to hear one of the last airings of Marillion’s classic 1985 album, Misplaced Childhood. After a few of his solo numbers; Fish played the entire album front to back. Whilst his pipes have seen better days, Fish, as a frontman, delivered the album with a vigour and pride that showed why he has such a fan base. After a slow start, the field got involved and the set was another great turn. The only problem Fish had was that he miscalculated his set time which meant he had a extra half hour to play! This was no bad thing as the crowd was more than willing to hear more, and Fish and his band seemed a lot looser. This wasn’t Fish’s last involvement of the weekend.
Following Fish were The Proclaimers. Now; it appears there were two schools of thought about the rothers. One comment suggested that it was ‘ninety minutes of two Scottish blokes shouting at you.’ Others enjoyed the bands raw and raucous delivery of hits such as Letter From America and I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). Whilst there was an element of both, when the band delivered Sunshine on Leith, it was hard not to be impressed by the tender nature of the delivery of the song; and the lap steel sounding glorious as Cropredy saw a glorious sunset for the first time of the weekend!
Rounding off the Friday were Level 42 and Mark King and the band delivered a master class in how to do rock funk on a big stage with an impressive light show and a line up of hits that included favourites like Something About You, lessons In Love and Running In The Family.
What has become as much a tradition as Fairport opening at Cropredy, is Richard Digance opening up the third day. Again, there are different opinions of Richard Digance and his ‘graveyard slot.’ It’s a challenge each year for one of English entertainment’s stalwarts. The highlight of his set this year was not the 20,000 strong Morris dance, or the one liners, or the fact that Digance is working with Bill Bryson. This years highlight comes in the form of Richard Digance introducing Bobby Bragg (long time friend of Fairports Cropredy Convention; and compere on many occasions) to the stage. In 2014 he was lucky to be there after being told he wouldn’t due to being struck by cancer. In 2015 he made it again. Digance and Bragg are evidently mates, and for those that attend each year, it would have been hard to keep the lump in the throat away for this very poignant moment.
Cropredy’s ever diverse line up threw up The Blugraaas Cutters. Their bluegrass takes on The Doobie Brothers, Jimi Hendrix and The Police worked quite well. But their reworking of Elbow’s One Day Like This and Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head failed to hit the mark. Luckily, stellar renditions of Good Vibrations and I Can See For Miles ensured the set finished strongly.
They were followed by Band Of Friends, a three piece blues outfit playing the music of the late great Rory Gallagher and reminding the crowd what a talent the world lost by his untimely death. And then it was time for one of those moments that good festivals throw up every so often, a small epiphany when an artist you’ve been aware of for years suddenly blasts their way into your consciousness and just makes you say “wow, how come I’ve never listened to this person/band properly up to now”. With luck you get at least one such moment every year at Cropredy. Last year it was Marillion. This year it was eighties popstrel Toyah, who simply took the whole festival by the scruff of the neck and didn’t let go until she was good and done. Phrases like high energy get bandied around a lot but I don’t think she stopped dancing at any point and for those of us in the pit with our cameras it was just magical and she sounded great too.
Next up was a fine set from of fock and soul from Paul Carrack and then it was time for Fairport themselves to take the stage and close out their very own festival with a two hour set that showed their versatility and virtuosity as they treated the crowd to a set which ranged from English folk classics like Sir Patrick Spens to songs from their excellent recent Myths And Heroes album. Of course it all came to a glorious finish with Matty Groves and a resounding Meet On The Ledge, featuring the voices of twenty thousand plus people and five of the most popular musicians in the country.
All in all, a great weekend. Some old friends revisited, some new discoveries and plenty of promises to meet up again next year for another glorious weekend of music, sunshine and an occasional tropical storm.
Words by Dom Walsh and idp. You can read more from Dom at his author’s archive here. Dom also tweets as @bwfcdom83.More work by idp can be found in his Louder Than War archive. His photography website is here and his photo blog is here. It is entirely idp’s fault that this review took such a long time to get published.