Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2017
10th – 12th August 2017
In what is their 50th year as a band, Fairport Convention had amassed another eclectic bill for the sold out Cropredy festival crowd.
Starting life as a farewell concert in 1979, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention has become a mainstay of the UK festival calendar. 2017 headliners included Divine Comedy, Petula Clark, Richard Thompson and festival curators, Fairport Convention.
As has become a recent tradition, Fairport open the festival with a short acoustic set. The early set showed that the band had plenty of past members around the stage to suggest that the festival would be a special one with ex members Maartin Alcock and drummer Dave Mattacks (his first of around 5 turns with different acts) helping out Fairport. A moving tribute to sadly departed compare of many a Cropredy, Bobby Bragg, was paid during instrumental Portmerion.
Feast of Fiddles carried on proceedings with a unique blend of jazz, funk and traditional folk in the Oxfordshire sunshine. A superb cover of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (named Siamese Kashmir) ensured a strong start to the festival. Not for the first time over the weekend, the stage was occupied by upwards of 10 members in a band.
Cropredy favourite’s Show Of Hands produced a stunning set with nods to Dave Swarbrick and some completely stunning violin work from Phil Beer. A somewhat odd finale came in the form of Don Henley’ Boys of Summer. It produced a good singalong which set the stage perfectly for the Trevor Horn Band.
Trevor Horn is essentially a human jukebox and the singalongs continued. In the same way that Nile Rodgers has utilised his production credits to form a great live show along with Chic, Trevor Horn has put together a band, including 10cc’s Lol Crème, to create a perfect pop proposition. Video Killed The Radio Star, Two Tribes, Slave To The Rhythm and an appearance from Russ Ballard to really give the crowd thorough singalongs in Since You’ve Been Gone and Argent’s God Gave Rock And Roll To You made for a great set. There was even an appearance from former X Factor winner Matt Cardle on Yes’ Owner Of A Lonely Heart and The Power of Love. A thumping version of Relax brought the set to a close. The band could have easily headlined the night, however that was left to The Divine Comedy.
Neil Hannon’s eccentric indie outfit had been out of the fold for a few years prior to the release of 2016’s Foreverland. The aforementioned album was met with largely universal praise, and their live performance lived up to the eccentricity that dons their albums. Taking the stage dressed as Napoleon, Neil Hannon swaggered around like a ringleader, leading his band in a collection of album tracks and hits that harked back to the mid to late 90’s. National Express was a clear highlight as it’s probably the bands biggest hit, but chuck in Generation Sex, Something For The Weekend and The Frog Princess and you have a flavour of one of the UK’s wittiest lyricists. The Father Ted theme got an airing in Songs Of Love and Sweden provided one of the oddest lyrics of the weekend! Although the band have an arsenal of songs to call on, newer numbers such as Catherine The Great, Napoleon Complex and How Can You Leave Me On My Own? show that the pot of jocularity isn’t empty. A celebrant Tonight We Fly closed out the bands headline set. Some people were won over however some plainly left. Those that stayed on a bitterly crisp summer evening were treated to ninety minutes of lush, novel pop music from The Divine Comedy, and stage theatrics that showed Neil Hannon as an unrivalled performer.
Friday’s traditional opening act is the winner of BBC2’s Young Folk Award from earlier in the year – part of the prize is a slot at the festival. This year’s winners were Josie Duncan & Pablo Lafuente. Josie Duncan’s serene and pure voice was the perfect start to Friday afternoon. The crowd, as is traditional, were very welcoming and they warmed the crowd nicely. The difference this year compared to other years was that the opening act looked comfortable on the big stage and they really seized their opportunity in front of the large crowd.
Next up was the supremely excitable Gerry Colvin. From the off, Colvin’s infectious stage presence had the crowd lapping up his Nashville tinged, folk skiffle style. Tracks such as Johnny Cash’s Shirt and the socially apt House of the Setting Sn (with stunning double bass work from Jerome Davis) made for a thoroughly enjoyable and exuberant afternoon set in the sunshine.
Quill treated the crowd to Fleetwood Mac tinged rock which culminated with a great cover of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. Gigspanner Big Band followed, and whilst being supremely talented musicians, the band slowed the pace of the afternoon. With that being said, their blend of young and old in the band made for an interesting prospect that used modern aspects such as beatboxing, spliced with the traditional roots of folk music.
CC Smugglers increased the tempo of the day, and were the perfect band for the only spot of weekend rain. Their charisma and enthusiasm kept the crowd dancing with a range of musical styles that ranged from soul to blues to honky tonk. Many of the bands tunes were upbeat and played with huge smiles on their faces; the great thing about CC Smugglers is that for their upbeat charm, many of their songs are wrapped in poignancy and social message that are highly relatable for many different people. CC Smugglers were certainly one of the star turns of the weekend, and a perfect festival act.
With the field at Cropredy warming up for the evening, it was the turn of the Pierce Brothers to see if lightning could strike twice at the site of their greatest triumph. At last year’s Cropredy Festival where they tore the house down with an infectious performance that had Cropredy on its feet from front to back. This year, their set brought love and unity to the field with families arm in arm enjoying their second crack at the Cropredy crowd. This unity should not be doubted and it really was a joy to see; however their upbeat acoustic music is a little one dimensional with the same drum beat repeated ad infinitum on each track. Their use of digeridoo within songs is unique and their vigour really brought the crowd to their feet again; for this their set was a success – it would be great to see them do more musically though.
One of the stranger bookings on the bill was 84 year old singer Petula Clark. Famed for her hit Downtown, Petula Clark turned out to be an inspired booking. Some of the notes may have been a little awry but her backing band was flawless. Throughout the set, Petula name dropped plenty of stars who she had worked with including Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire. These tales added Hollywood glamour to a seemingly unglamorous festival! A cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy added a contemporary touch to proceedings, and The Beatles’ Blackbird gave chance for a singalong. Inevitably, Downtown provided the largest mass choir moment. In the same way that many people came together for The Pierce Brothers, the unity continued at the this fabulous festival.
Friday’s headliner was the legendary Richard Thompson. Having been a part of Fairport Convention from the start, he has adorned the Cropredy stage countless times. Whenever he appears at Cropredy, there is a prodigal feel about everything. Taking the stage in solo capacity, Thompson aired acoustic versions from his vast discography including Persuasion, Valerie and a spellbinding 1952 Vincent Black Lightening. It is only when witnessing Richard Thomson live that you fully understand and appreciate how great a guitarist and songwriter he is. At more than one juncture in the set I was convinced there was three guitarists – but alas there was only Thompson’s genius shining through. For the latter half of his set, he was joined by members of Fairport and Dave Mattacks for an electric set which drew heavily on 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights album, and more recent numbers such as Sally B and the supremely catchy She Never Could Resist A Winding Road. The crowd lapped up every minute of the set which he closed out in timeless fashion with Tear Stained Letter. With the applause rapturous under the clear skies, this wasn’t to be Thompson’s only contribution to the weekend.
Saturday was opened up by another original Fairport member in Ashley Hutchings. He had amassed as many members as he could of another pioneering folk rock act; Morris On (including yet again Mattacks and Thompson). Complete with Morris dancers and more band members than I could count…the volume was loud as the band played great renditions of Cuckoo’s Nest and Postman’s Knock from the superb albums Morris On and Son Of Morris On respectively.
More original Fairporter’s followed in the form of singer Judy Dyble and her Band of Strangers, and Iain Matthews’ Plainsong. Both provided a suitable afternoon soundtrack for the traditional Cropredy goer before the volume was ramped up again.
Cats In Space is possibly one of the worst names for a band I’ve ever come across. Luckily, their anthemic hard rock songs crafted out of the 70’s and 80’s were decent enough and chock full of great melodies and superb vocals.
The heavier rock side of things continued as Marillion took to the stage. As a band that has an incredibly devout following, there were lots of fans at the front of the field ready for the band to showcase material off their latest album, F.E.A.R. It is with this album that most of the set was pulled from although massive songs such as Man Of A Thousand Faces and King showed just how good this band are and the calibre of song they can draw on.
Another tradition of Cropredy is that before Fairport Convention treads the boards, there is an acoustic artist to warm up the crowd. Over the years, Midge Ure, Badly Drawn Boy and Martyn Joseph have all taken this slot. This year it was Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie Maclean. He quickly built up a rapport with the crowd with great tales in song as the low sun made for a beautiful setting. The classic Caledonia and This Love Will Carry Me ensured the crowd were ready for the weekend’s main event.
With Fairport’s half century came the set of the century. FC members past and present formed a three hour plus set from the finest in folk rock; essentially the blueprint for folk rock.
The current line up started the show with Ye Mariners All from Tipplers Tales and a cut from the band’s latest 50/50@50 album; Summer By The Cherwell (the river that runs through Cropredy). It was from here that Fairport Convention showed just exactly how influential and important they are. Forming a 1967 line up, with Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings and Judy Dyble amongst its ranks, the opening slew of songs was completely mind blowing from FC. Songs that made up their self-titled album were brought to life in such an exact and refreshing and way. Covers of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne and Joni Mitchell’s I Don’t Know Where I Stand were impeccable; however it was the bombast of Fairport’s track 1 side 1, Time Will Show The Wiser which stole the show for the early part. Iain Matthews, Richard Thompson and Judy Dyble provided impassioned vocals for the short and sweet number that was the signal point for what was to come in this great bands future.
It was during this period of the set and the mention of Martin Lamble that it really is remarkable that FC are celebrating their 50th birthday. Lamble, then the bands drummer, was killed in a tragic road accident at the age of 19 after the bands first three albums had begun to put them on the music map. Dave Mattacks was drafted and the band went on to record arguably the most revered folk rock record in history; Liege & Lief. Again, the songs showcased as part of this set were given incredible fire; Come All Ye and Lark, Tam Lin and In The Morning Medley sounded completely vital all these years on.
As the band rolled into the Full House era, where the band was a four piece, the Thompson/Mattacks/Pegg combo was again out of this world. The epic Sloth again showed Thompson’s incredible talent on the six string. Another great cut from Full House is the largely ever present Walk Awhile. In this particular set, the bands vocal, like Time Will Show The Wiser was delivered with great vigour.
Other acknowledgments in the set came from PJ Wright taking the place of Trevor Lucas, and it’s hard not to talk about Fairport without mentioned Lucas’ wife, Sandy Denny. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? is a song for the ages. As has been the case on many night at Cropredy, Chris While delivered a superlative version of the song with the band to pay tribute to one of the greatest English singers, ever. In the same vein of paying tribute, Ralph McTell offered his assistance to White Dress from 1975’s Rising For The Moon. McTell’s skills as a songwriter were also on show during one of Fairport’s finest songs; The Hiring Fair.
A brief interlude from the bands Wintour support artist slowed the pace and momentum of the set after two of the most exhilarating hours of music the Cropredy has witnessed for many a year (and I’ve been to Cropredy plenty of times!)
Another revolving door of members saw out the rest of the set including Dirty Linen, Hexamshire Lass and the newer and superbly autobiographical, Our Bus Rolls On.
The rousing conclusion came from perennial Cropredy closer, Meet On The Ledge. The stage was awash with white light and many of the artists who contributed to the weekend, and in particular Fairport’s set.
Cropredy really is a great festival. The vibe around the festival and the village is second to none; it’s no surprise that Fairport’s Cropredy Convention has previously won awards for being Britain’s friendliest festival.