Fairport’s Cropredy Convention
11th – 13th August 2016
Cropredy has been a mainstay of the English festival circuit for many years. The one constant is the legendary Fairport Convention who played in Cropredy in 1979 initially as a farewell gig. 37 years later, that farewell gig has gestated into one of Britain’s best festivals curated by the band each year.
Traditionally, Fairport Convention open and close the festival. Their opening acoustic set was short and sweet which saw them send up Steeleye Span’s Gaudete with Crudité – and other culinary delights included within the lyrics. An airing of the traditional classic John Barleycorn, old favourites Dirty Linen and The Eynsham Poacher and the more recent Festival Bell made up the set before the rest of the bill commenced.
First up was medieval folk band, Gryphon. Their renaissance era style of folk was warmly received by the crowd. Their unique woodwind instrumentation used to create their songs was interesting to watch, and a good way to meander into the festival vibe.
If Gryphon were a nod to the past, CoCo & The Butterfields were clearly a step towards the future. In recent years they have supported the likes of Bastille and Seasick Steve been commended on their sound by Bob Geldof. Featuring a beatboxer amongst their modern folk sound, the band drew a large crowd which opened with a cover of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America. From there, the band served up a great selection of songs from their various EP’s with plenty of vigour and enthusiasm. The blend of strong vocals, hip hop beats and breezy acoustic guitar blended wonderfully to really get the crowd bouncing. Some tight brass work and cultural references to modern day artists like Kanye West and Jason Derulo meant that plenty of the younger members of the crowd left as fans.
Hayseed Dixie had previously adorned the Cropredy stage a few years ago. Their set this year felt like a triumphant return due to popular demand. Hayseed Dixie’s trick is to take classic songs and put a rockgrass spin on them. The four-piece are exceptional musicians and their stage presence is first-rate. Any band that can produce medley’s of Bohemian Rhapsody and Lets Get It On and Don’t Stop Believing/Ohne Dich have to have something about them mixing Queen, Marvin Gaye, Journey and Rammstein! Throughout their set there were anti-Farage jibes, anti-Trump jibes and plenty of anti-Coldplay jibes. Their AC/DC covers of Dirty Deeds Don’t Dirt Cheap and You Shook Me All Night Long were sung along with by the crowd on mass, however their version of War Pigs and Eye Of The Tiger proved even more popular. The band completed their rapturous set with a medley of Highway To Hell/Freebird/Tiny Dancer. The band seemed to love every minute of their set and paved the way well for the evening’s headliners; Madness.
Madness needed no introduction. They have the hits. They have the swagger. At Cropredy they delivered it all. Suggs looked seemingly taken aback by the reception from a folk crowd. Early slots on the list were reserved for My Girl and Embarrassment. Both were greeted warmly, along with NW5, The Prince and a tremendous Iron Shirt. An already crowd pleasing set was ramped up with a run of Madness’ greatest hits to finish. One Step Beyond, House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must Be Love were all played back to back in ecstatic fashion. Closing out with Madness and Night Boat To Cairo, Madness were the crowning achievement on a largely great days music.
Friday began with Anthony John Clarke and Dave Pegg serenading the crowd with chorus songs and singalongs to gently break in the thick heads from the night before. Dittys about senior moments and the first mention of the sadly missed Dave Swarbrick made for a highly enjoyable set. As a tribute to ‘Swarb’, the pair played Flatback Capers from one of Fairport’s finest albums; Full House.
One of the prizes at the yearly BBC folk awards is that that the best newcomer gets a slot at Cropredy. This year, Brighde Chaimbeul was the victor. Her set was choc full of impressively played traditional Gaelic tunes. Whilst needing a little work on her stage manner and presence, Brighde Chaimbeul certainly has plenty of talent, and pleased the traditional end of the folk spectrum.
Following the affable pairing of AJ Clarke and Dave Pegg and Brighde Chaimbeul were another pleasant duo in the form of Sound of the Siren. The duo displayed a solid blend of foot stomping folk, and a pair of powerful voices that when singing in unison were magnificent. Their rapport with the crowd at the front was built up quite quickly and they showed that they belonged on the big stage. They took their chance on the big stage to champion the campaign around mental health through the work of #itaffectsme and their fundraising for Mind. A very worthwhile cause in my opinion.
Next up were prog rock band Lifesigns. As a band, Lifesigns were clearly highly skilled musicians who showed a vast amount of exceptional musicianship. There was plenty of noodling on the guitar, bass and drum however their set felt a little repetitive – that being said, there were plenty of people who enjoyed the band.
Another shift in style and genre saw the heavy blues rock of Willie and The Bandits go down a storm. An early cover of Black Magic Women and some serious slide guitar throughout paired with soulful vocals, wowed the crowd. The band received a rapturous reception and were forced into an encore for the large crowd they had amassed. They worked the crowd excellently and got them involved throughout their set.
After the heavy blues rock, it was time for Headspace – a little bit of a step into the unknown for Cropredy as they had booked a prog-metal band. The crowd was certainly a lot sparser. The shrill vocals of Damien Wilson were at times grating, however his range was impressive. He also took the show to the people getting amongst the crowd, which people down the front enjoyed. Their crunching riffs and heavy drumming were certainly an acquired taste amongst a diverse bill.
If Headspace divided the crowd, Steeleye Span were perfectly positioned on the bill to get the entire swathes of the crowd back onside. Surprisingly, Steeleye Span were a lot heavier than expected. The guitar work really emphasised the bands placing in the pantheon of folk-rock. Flanked by various morris dancers during their set, Steeleye ramped up the level for the evening. Dark Morris and Boys of Bedlam were both set highlights, as well as the great singalong for All Around My Hat. Special mention must go to Steeleye’s violinist, Jessie May Smart. Her work on the violin was remarkable, and for the most part very heavy. It was a joy to hear and a real highlight of the whole weekend.
Closing out the second day were The Bootleg Beatles, a name that are well known across the UK. Regularly touring, and regularly lauded. Their set was a highly choreographed show with plenty of the Fab Four’s shtick scattered throughout. The music speaks for itself. There was ninety minutes of hits delivered. Starting out as the Beatles pre-’65 and concluding as the late 60’s Beatles, particular highlights were Let It Be outtake, Don’t Let Me Down; and a particularly stunning rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps with a blazing solo.
The previous days’ music meant that the final day had a lot to live up to, but Cropredy delivered probably the most consistent day of music that they ever have. All killer…no filler!
Opening with the now traditional appearance by all round British legend, Richard Digance delivered his usual repertoire as well as a couple of new numbers. Digance was also in a reflective and poignant mood with songs about lost friends and musicians, that has seen the year of 2016 become one of the most tragic for musical losses.
An early contender for performance of the day came from Yorkshire’s Maia. Billed as sci-fi folk, they played a wonderful set of psychedelic folk tinged tunes that concluded with the spooky and sinister Voodoo Dreams. The relentless bass and rolling and hypnotic melody was quite stunning.
Gilmore & Roberts were another returning artist. This time they were armed with a full band. A steady set of contemporary folk numbers was well received by the crowd as the day began to heat up literally and figuratively.
Australia’s Pierce Brothers delivered quite possibly the set of the weekend. Using drums, guitar, harmonica and the digeridoo to produce their vigorous foot stomping sound, the pair would have torn the roof off if there was one. Nearly all the crowd were on their feet clapping, dancing and singing along with the band. Visibly overwhelmed, the duo returned for a euphoric encore that was called Flying Home. By chance, the Red Arrows were returning from a nearby air show and provided a flyover for the band which seemed apt for their set. At the end of it all, their stupendous set meant that The Pierce Brothers had made 20,000 new fans. The set made such an imprint on the festival that Simon Nicol made reference to it during Fairport’s headline set.
Attempting to follow the ecstatic Pierce Brothers was the Demon Barber XL. Laden with a collection of traditional folk songs with a contemporary twist, the band threw clog dancers and break dancers into the mix for good measure. Whilst this was entertaining, and the band were extremely tight; it was hard to follow the Pierce Brothers and upstage them. That being said, an inspired version of Ron Angel’s Chemical Workers Song was quite sublime.
The tempo was gradually upped throughout the day and Babylon Circus continued to do this. Mixing dub, reggae, funk, polka and ska into a glorious and energetic concoction, the band delivered a great set that had the crowd moving with great enthusiasm. Their brass section was probably the best of the weekend, and there were a few on show!
Prior to the headline slot from Fairport, there is always an acoustic set which was a great change of pace after the furore of the previous acts.
This year that berth was entrusted to friend and band collaborator, Ralph McTell. Flanked by Danny Thompson on double bass, as well Dave Pegg and Ric Sanders of Fairport, he served up a masterclass in song writing covering many parts of his career. Streets of London sounded completely timeless, Red and Gold was beautifully delivered with the sunset showing the colours of the song, and Peppers and Tomatoes demonstrated the protest side of McTell’s craft perfectly.
The grand finale was saved for the legendary Fairport Convention. Opening with a highly comical take on the Olympics, the band ripped through many standards such as Walk Awhile, Crazy Man Michael and Fotheringay; all classics in their own right. Coupled with older material were cuts from their latest, and quite splendid Myths & Heroes album; Bring Me Back My Feathers, The Gallivant and Clear Water all sound like they belong as staples.
Fairport always manage to bring out a few special guests for their headline slot. This year was no different. Firstly, 11 year old Toby Lee guested on Mr Lacey playing some incredible blues guitar. Plenty of jaws hit the floor at the young bluesman’s ability and presence on a stage with Fairport. Secondly, Yorkshire troubadour Roger Davies played a pair of numbers; one with Fairport and one solo.
For the guest slots and stunning songs, this year was all about paying tribute to the mighty, and sadly departed Dave Swarbrick. After the band had played a moving version of Swarb track, Rosie, the stage was decked in black and a beautiful tribute was aired on the screens that flanked the stage. The images of Swarb set to the Quiet Joys of Brotherhood were moving and poignant. As the band returned, they again paid tribute through an airing of Sir Patrick Spens and another newbie, for which Simon Nicol commented that he thought Swarb would have loved to have played on; the moving ballad of John Condon.
As the poignant set drew to a close, the frenetic John Gaudie had the crowd jigging along and the Ralph McTell penned Hiring Fair again showed its brilliance. To close, the band played Matty Groves and the ever moving Meet On The Ledge as the fireworks went off and the lights went down on another great year at Cropredy.
Next year’s festival takes place between the 10th and 12th August. I highly recommend a visit to Britain’s friendliest music festival. The diversity of the bill is second to none, the people that attend are great and the whole atmosphere is so chilled out. Next year, Fairport Convention celebrate 50 years as a band – this means that next years festival will be a full celebration of the band which will no doubt mean many ex-Fairporter’s returning to help out.