Our fourth visit to Cropredy. We only go when there are people on the bill who we really want to see. I suspect the vast majority of customers go every single year, meet the same people in the same spot in the arena every year. They then set up a village and talk all weekend. They wouldn’t know if they had paid £150 plus to watch Peter Sutcliffe and the Hammer Wielders. Nice situation for the organisers though! Diversion getting there, set our tent up only to be flanked by someone with Blenheim Palace perched on a couple of wheels.
Thursday. Fairport Convention . Fairport now start proceedings with a twenty minute acoustic spot. ‘Festival Bell’ kicks off the weekend, with former member Maart Alcock making the first of quite a few guest appearances. Smith and Brewer. Couple of blokes with acoustics. ‘Another Shade of Blue’ was among the songs they played from their upcoming record. Pleasant enough, they got a good hand. Police Dog Hogan. Mix of Irish, Americana and West Country . They managed to overcome a false start when the bass player’s Poundworld guitar lead seemed to have melted. Suspect he may struggle to get a refund. Unusual line-up, but Her Ladyship got a bit fidgetty and went back to the tent for umbrellas and ponchos. Strange that Steve Earle’s ‘Galway Girl’ seems to be the ‘go to’ song for anyone venturing into Plastic Paddy mode. Bit of humour too, but not sure if either of us would queue up at the signing tent. Oysterband. One of the reasons we plumped for a visit . We have been big fans since first seeing them in 1999 and find it unbelievable that they haven’t featured here since 2004. Lots of favourites today (‘River runs’, ‘Here’s to you’, ‘All that way for this’, ‘Walking down the road with you’ and more). A reworking of their very old ‘Oxford Girl’ got some singalonging, but they lose a point for no ‘Bells of Rhymney’. A great performance , please don’t let it be another fourteen years wait! Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds. I was very, very nervous about this. I have been a Beach Boys fan since the sixties and rate ‘Pet Sounds’ only beaten to the top spot in’ best lp ever’ by Love’s ‘Forever Changes’. ( Back in the early noughties I saw Arthur Lee and Love do a great job live with that.) Tonight we get an awful, cheesy ‘Greatest Hits’ orchestral interlude before we are greeted with the sight of a very frail BW being helped on stage with a nurse and walking frame. The opening notes of ‘California Girls’ strike up and Brian’s vocals are very ‘strained’. A couple of other hits follow before he (wisely) hands over the vocals to Al Jardine whose tonsils have weathered the years better. More hits follow, plus Al’s excellent ‘California Saga’ along with some more obscure songs. We then get the entrance of Blondie Chaplain , who fleshed out the group in the seventies. He took over the vocals on ‘Feel Flows’, ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Sail on Sailor’. But he seems to have thought the show was ‘The Brian Wilson Show starring Blondie Chaplain’! Much heavy metal guitar ( ‘basic’ is the kindest adjective I can muster’), maybe someone had sprinkled some Colombian Marching Powder into his £8.00 fish and chips? Then it was ‘Pet Sounds’. Not going to give a blow-by-blow account but Mr W at one point during ‘God only knows’ looked genuinely upset that he couldn’t ‘make’ the notes. But then again, he knew back in 66 that brother Carl would nail it and gave it to him. (Mike Love wisely incorporated live footage with Carl in Beach Boys shows a few years ago.) A few more hits to finish off the show, but not his solo ‘Love and Mercy’ which has featured on the tour. It was at times a bit tearful, both watching the poignancy of a fragile genius and just watching him on stage after being a fan for fifty plus years. Great night.
Friday. Had a walk into the village. Her Ladyship is a very smiley individual and was disappointed and suprised that this snotty, folky crowd are just plain ignorant. At every other fest we go to , we are greeted with ‘Good Morning’ from passers-by. Here? Not so much as a nod. And the arena last night was a sea of litter. Anyway, sod ’em, back to the tent to start ex- Fairport producer Joe Boyd’s book . (Cheers Les, will give you it back in October). By now, lashing it down so headed for our first ever visit to Brasenose Arms. Managed to find a seat and decided to stay. Decided to go to the arena after a few sherbets, where it was Cregan and Co. A few years ago Jim recruited a talent show Rodalike and hit the boards playing some songs he co-wrote , and lots he didn’t. He also features in the new-look Family line-up. (The Rodalike wasn’t there tonight though.) Last few songs featured ‘Sweet little rock n roller’, ‘Twisting the night away’ and ‘Maggie May’. (He neglected to say he didn’t co-write any of those.) Much singing along to a club group, basically. Hoping next year that Tetsu and Co are here, playing Free and Faces songs. After all, he co-wrote the ‘B’ side of ‘Wishing Well’. Her Ladyship went off to watch the Doonicans doing a brief spot at the Radio Oxford tent. I predicted before we set off that that they would take Cropredy by storm. Le Vent du Nord. Electric Francophiles from Quebec. Very talented and unusual but with limited appeal. Strangely enough, they didn’t play ‘You wear it well’. One of them ran over a dog in 1972 that belonged to a woman who lived next door to a milkman who delivered Rod Stewart’s yoghurts. Fish . Her Ladyship is a fan, but she is not sure why! She can’t even remember seeing him at the Acoustic Festival some years ago. Then again , she did go wandering off to the toilet that night about 2.00 am , fell into a water-filled ditch and was stuck in mud and nettles until somebody heard her cries. To me, he is still very much sub-Genesis Gabriel era. A Marillion song to finish, he still has a loyal following. Kate Rusby. Amazingly, she has never appeared here before. Last year’s t-shirt boasts The Divine Comedy and Petula Clark. Am I missing something? Great to see Ms R doing a ‘regular’ set, our recent viewings have been her Christmas songs. Plenty of well-known numbers , incl ‘Hunter Moon’, Nick Jones’s ‘The Blind Harper’, ‘Big Brave Bill’ and ‘The Ardent Shepherdess’. Her Ladyship had gone down to the front to watch, and like me on the hill, found herself surrounded by loads of people talking and not giving a ‘f**k about who was on…or anyone who actually wanted to listen. Ms R should adopt Neil Young’s response (‘Why have you people actually paid f**kin money to come to see me?!) . Kate ended with ‘Underneath the stars’, coinciding with a plug for her own fest of the same name. She has been a class act for years. Not interested in yet another appearance by the Levellers. Early night to bed for us.
Saturday. We inadvertently arrived a few minutes before the gates opened, and the sight of middle-aged men and women scurrying across the field to get their ‘spot’ was laughable. Richard Digance. A Croppers institution , although he missed last year. An occasion to air some new songs, but the likes of ‘Sod’s Law’, are never far away. His ‘Salisbury’ song is a modern day protest song almost and , of course, there is ‘We are searching’ complete with hanky waving. He has the rare ability to get the audience crying and laughing simultaneously and is a great guitarist. Try to catch him on tour if you don’t fancy sitting in a wet field. Eric Sedge. Singer-songwriter. His opening ‘Pleased to meet you’ had a bit of Quo tagged on. Thoughtful songs. Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican. Fellow Barnslegians to Kate Rusby. How would they go down with the Cropredy faithful? Would my prediction come true? There were a few sniggers to start with from an unsure crowd, but an hour later it was mayhem! Thousands ‘Jumpin Arraand’ and clapping. I think it helped that a big majority were Doonicans virgins. For the uninitiated, they rewrite the lyrics to well-known songs by such as Chris de Burgh, Rainbow, Marc Cohn, Police , The Wombles and …Abba. Sometimes the lyrics are lost in a noisy crowd but the punchline is the title which always gets a huge laugh. I won’t spoil the jokes but Her Ladyship couldn’t breathe for laughing at the newer ‘How Deep is your Glove’. Doonicans won by a cricket score. I should have had a bet. Will Varley. Had the unenviable task of following the Doonicans. In an electric four-piece, he has one of those voices that seems to be about to burst into tears. He gave us the first (and second) ‘F’ word of the weekend. He did nowt for me, and the rest of the audience seemed only to give him polite applause. But his short overrun generated some more interest. Plenty of people queueing up for cd signing. Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys. Nothing to do with the deceased ‘Porridge’ and’ Allo, Allo’ actor or the Keifer Sutherland comedy vampire film. A sort of East Anglian Seth Lakeman. Mainly originals, they did an interesting ‘Sultans of Swing’, featuring some great banjo playing. They finished with mass jumping too. Afro Celt Sound System. By now it was lashing down and after the next twenty minutes of screaming women and endless percussion solos I knew what the term ‘water torture’ meant. The rain and the ‘music’ went on for an hour. What a gay day! Al Stewart. It was about now that I found it impossible to hold a book, pen and umbrella at the same time and keep the ink from running too. So apologies to Mr Stewart and his cohort for not logging details of their very good spot. Ralph McTell joined him on a Jackson C. Frank song. ‘On the Border’, ‘Time Passages’ and his ‘hit’ ‘Year of the Cat’ were all well-received as were his anecdotes about Robert Fripp etc. He deserved better weather. Fairport Convention and Friends. I was again rendered unable to write, courtesy of the relentless precipitation. But I remember ‘Crazy Man Michael’ making an early entrance. As usual plenty of instrumentals to show off their prowess, such as ‘Bankruptured’ and ‘Surfeit of Lampreys’.In fact , the opening half was very much in recognition of the forty years since the hugely untimely death of Sandy Denny. Plenty of guests came on to sing her songs including Iain Matthews and Fish, after a Denny slideshow. ‘Solo’ and ‘Who knows…’ went down well. Dave Pegg introduced ‘Walk awhile’ from the Full House lp as his first Fairport performance, it’s still great. Maart came on again, fresh from his bass-playing with the Doonicans. But no Ralph McTell? As usual, Fairport finish the set with ‘Matty Groves’ before coming back on to lead 20,000 piss-wet people through ‘Meet on the Ledge’. A great end to a great weekend.
Music. Some great performances, some ok. In my opinion, of course.
Prices. Beer started with a 4, but this is Oxfordshire. The Welsh Oggies seem to have shrunk in size.
Security. Quite why we have to show our wristbands to go to the toilet, when we cannot have got there without having one anyway I don’t know. But never heavyhanded.
Campsite. Fine…and quiet!
Litter. As mentioned before. It’s as if the folky elements expect some lower class minimum wage people to pick up their crap.
Bar staff. Fine, unusual not to be shortchanged at a festival!
Village. It embraces the festival, which it makes financial sense to do. I found a cassette of Bob and the Band’s ‘Before the Flood’ for 50p. Plus a Howling Wolf double cd and my third copy of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s fantastic debut lp for a quid each.
We will return! Hoping for Pure Prairie League, New Riders of the Purple Sage or Little Feat next year. ( I made a similar request after 2013 but not successful! Check out the 2013 review.) If it is UB40 or The Buzzcocks again though we will be somewhere else. In fact , ANYwhere else.
And if Alison Krauss and Union Station are coming I will pick the litter up myself…with my teeth.