We gave last year a miss, having been a touch disappointed with the previous year. Some of the announcements looked promising, so we gave it another shot. So, review time… (And, OK, it’s not strictly ‘acoustic’, but most of the guitars are acoustic , with pick-ups).
Friday. Bit drizzly putting the tent up, but managed to get in to catch some of Lost Tuesday Society. Not sure I could match up what I could see and hear with the programme notes, but they were pleasant enough. Never easy to have the opening slot (OK Status Quo did well at Live Aid!). Her Ladyship liked them but she had to go for a walk as some Morris dancers were sitting too near (New Zealand would have been too near). Gaz Brookfield Regular festival goers all over will be familiar with him. Opening song about diabetes set the tone and the tempo. For me, the latter is a problem. He has pithy lyrics, but every song is a fast strum. Could you maybe think about having a go at some slow finger picking occasionally? He had a new record to plug. Her Ladyship liked his ‘observational’ words. Back to the tent for my insulin, ironically! Wee Bag Band. Came back as they were Irish roving. Plenty of Irish themes but I couldn’t detect any Irish accents. Sea shanties too. An instrumental ‘Hey Jude’ started slowly and prettily but speeded up to jigglydiggly pace and ended up at thrash metal level. Her Ladyship liked the sound of Cartoon Food in the nearby tent and went to check them out. Just as The Men They Couldn’t Hang were due on, it started to rain. We went inside to get a good spot for Martin Turner. The front of the programme said’ Martin Turners Wishbone Ash’, the schedule inside it said’ Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash’ and the notes said ‘Wishbone Ash by Martin Turner’. I believe he is now, officially, Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash. So we went in to see all four groups! Anyway, the acoustic-ish line-up launched into ‘Time Was’, the opening song from what was to be an unusual rendition of the complete’ Argus’. It was rearranged slightly to feature ‘Blowin’ Free’ at the end, as was the re-recorded ‘Argus Through the Looking Glass’ by Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash…bugger that’s now five groups! ‘Jailbait’ from ‘Pilgrimage’ finished the set, it would have been great to have ‘No Easy Road’ too. Did it work? Definitely. A great performance, Her Ladyship led the obligatory jumping up and down to the outro of ‘Blowin’ Free’. And that was it for us. I wondered is it a coincidence that ‘being old’ rhymes with ‘being cold’? Can’t be.
Saturday. Thankfully, the toilets had been cleaned and soap/toilet paper replenished. How many times have your eyes watered when confronted by the contents after the first night!? Rumblestrutters. One of organiser Mike Stephens’ favourites, they are a jug band…with an actual jug. Originals mixed with the likes of Skip James, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly and Tampa Red. A decent start to the day. Acoustic Beatles. Oh dear. Programme mentioned a duo with two voices and two acoustic guitars. (Incorrect on all three). And, Mike, are they your words about a version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ that surpasses the original?! I know we are entitled to an opinion but …) We waited with bated breath for the song. What we got was a Working Man’s Club/ wedding reception copy group. Of course, everyone knows the words and everyone sings along ( not everyone). Her Ladyship was not impressed that they missed out part of ‘A Little Help from my Friends’. In case you are thinking I have also missed out part of the title, the word’ With’ was not in the original title on the lp. Find an original copy and check it out. Her Ladyship, of course, went ‘Aah, I love this one’ to every song. I went for a walk but couldn’t escape. Sadly, I predict there will be more people wanting them back than anyone else (see also Counterfeit Stones and T. Rexstacy. That’s why live music venues put on bloody tribute sh*te rather than new music..) And we didn’t get ‘Eleanor Rigby’! End of rant. Went back to the tent, had to endure what sounded like the terminally tedious Big Fibbers from afar. Not going to give them the honour of italics or bold letters. Her Ladyship went off to see brilliantly inept Ed Tudor Pole, I chose to stay to give Nick Harper another go. I saw him many years ago at the much-lamented Rhythm Festival but it wasn’t to my taste. I have to say he is nothing if not consistent. Much flashy harmonics, and his machine head jiggling only served to put his guitar out of tune. His falsetto-ridden second song seemed to impress all around me, as did his OTT version of ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’. Much whoopin’ ‘n’ hollerin’ greeted the end of his set. I can’t bring myself to give an adjective (I have plenty in mind). Her Ladyship returned to say that Ed had been great in a packed Big Top. Chantel McGregor was playing in an acoustic trio on the Main Stage, observed by her army of middle-aged male admirers. We chose to stay and grab a front row spot for the legend that is…John Otway. Only an hour set , so impossible to fit everything in. Starting, of course with the (what WAS the only) hit, closely followed by the ‘B’ side. There were some Otway virgins there, and there are still some out there in the big wide world, so I won’t go into the details of ‘Blockbuster’, ‘Cheryl…’, ‘Louisa…’, and the rest. A few newies thrown in, but he really is a must-see. Her Ladyship was still laughing at what she has heard dozens of times. Roadie Deadly has more of a part as his ‘stoodge’ now. Charge outside for Fairport Convention. It seems like everyone here has a new record to plug, but we still get classics such as ‘Genesis Hall’, ‘Who knows where the time goes’, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, ‘Fotheringay’, ‘Hiring Fair’ and of course, ‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Meet on the Ledge’. But a bloody percussion solo!? Come on lads, just tell the crowd to count to 300 while you have a cup of tea. Charge back into the tent for the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican. As with Otway, it would spoil the show if gave away too many details, you really need to see them. And as with Otway, there were a lot of Doonican First-timers too. Basically, they mercilessly lampoon the like of the Police, Chris de Burgh, Rainbow, Marc Cohn with some brilliant versions of their hits, with deceptively good instrumental ability. Sometimes the lyrics can get lost in the general festival (and rude) ‘chat’, and the accents and the distance to the back can be a problem, but they are very, very funny. Amazing crowd surf as a finale. By this time, Her Ladyship was marginally ‘Old’ but hugely ‘Peculiered’, so the trip back to the tent was an expedition which wore out two pairs of shoes. A great day.
Sunday. Once again, toilet-cleaning company had been up at the crack of dawn, excellent. Looked at the programme and had a ‘Clash’ moment…’Should I stay or should I go?’ Not a lot that appealed to us, if the forecast had been crap we would have decamped , but decided to stop. Two lots of ukulele groups were followed by Boy on a Dolphin. Another of organiser Mike’s favourites, they are indeed all top musicians. Not a particularly recognisable style, but a pleasing , and sensible, start to the day. I don’t want some silly young man telling me to put my hands in the air and clap at noon on a bloody Sunday! But by the end there were a dozen or so Dad Dancers up front. Elvis Fontenot. Cajun jollity from Stoke. Squeezebox man and washboard man looked like they had just walked off the set of ‘Breaking Bad’. But they showed good musical versatility. Female guitarist had a sing on Canned Heat’s ‘Going up the Country’. We got their version of the Who’s ‘Squeeze Box’. Tongues firmly in cheeks but deceptively decent. Gave Nell Bryden a miss on the Main Stage, and waited for Tir Na Nog. I will own up to seeing them back in 1972 supporting Jethro Tull doing ‘Thick as a Brick’ at Leeds University, but not remembering a bloody thing about them. But by the time an hour had lapsed, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t given them more attention then . They were really good, with the majority of their set still coming from their first lp. The recent ‘Ricochet’ had a bit of electronic help but was very impressive. (The Nick Drake cover was good too. ) An excellent show. Not bothered about Jenny Belle Star, went back for some warmer clothes. Mike had recommended we check out the Comedy bar , so we did. Tony Cowards did a good spot, his delivery much based on cringeworthy puns, choosing to basically ignore the obligatory f*ckwit in the audience. I think the knob chose to keep somewhat quiter when Scott Bennett came on. More of a tale-teller, very much based on his observations of his stereotypical Yorkshire father. For some reason Her Ladyship kept looking at me and howling with laughter. Sorry Tony, she didn’t get a photo. Maybe next time we will spend more time in here. Great to see one of the greats of British Blues-Rock, Tony McPhee smiling in there too. THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH from The Beautiful Sound. That is what it said on the poster, with the first part in huge capitals and the second part in minute font. So it was a tribute act, which given that most of the audience were retired and wore spectacles might have come as a surprise. I have to say it, just a bit naughty . I remember last time they sounded and looked nothing like the original group (or the Housemartins). But, as with the Acoustic Beatles, I am in a minority. Front of stage packed. Bluesman Mike Francis. Seemingly’ Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson would sound like this guy’. After two numbers we tended to not to concur and went off to see the Adverts TV Smith. Post 60, still energetically treading the boards. Stirring versions of ‘Bored Teenagers’, ‘The Great British Mistake’ and (the hit) ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ were mixed with newer songs such as the emotive ‘Good Times are Back’. He got a well-deserved rousing reception. Greg Murray and the 7 Wonders. 8-piece, reminiscent of those 70s show bands that were popular in Ireland. Didn’t seem to be a Main Stage closing act, from where they were switched. They had seemingly performed also on the pre-festival Thursday. They went down very well, with an obviously lubricated audience, but I couldn’t see the attraction. But plenty could. Sons of Clogger. The usual jumpy up and downy end to the weekend, by now we had to cadge four matchsticks to keep our eyes open so headed off to lower our crania. Mike Stephens had made a few comments before they came on. Thanking all for coming, and continuing to come. He stated that the days of spending lots on eg Joan Armatrading had gone, it doesn’t appreciatively add to the gate. (He let slip a couple of names to me, who are returning. Her Ladyship got her chequebook out immediately. BUT, Mike, no room for complacency!) As a salesman, I was told 1. Keep your customers 2. Get new customers.3. Get back old customers. ( NB. The hardest of the three, is actually no.3.)
A very good weekend, glad we came back on board. OK, not all to our taste, even Mike is realistic and appreciates we can’t like everything. But he tries to give something for everybody.
Negatives? Not many.
The Curse of Cropredy. Loads of people there put bloody tents up in the arena! I had to move my bloody seat four times one year. And it is quite a steep hill. I noticed one small tent erected here on Sunday. Don’t care if it is for kids, nip it in the bud Mike before it becomes the norm. Seriously, put it in the T&C’s.
Her Ladyship, who is a veggie, ordered a vegetable Thai noodles takeaway. She had eaten half of it when she looked and found pieces of chicken! She binned it. No good saying ‘inform us of any allergies’ when such unacceptable practice is happening. And it wasn’t only once, the sound girl overheard us and said it had happened to her last night and took hers back. Therefore they knew about it but chose to ,seemingly, ‘carry on regardless’.Not the organiser’s fault, but I won’t be disappointed if they are not there next year.
Not really a ‘negative’, depending on if you like the particular acts concerned, but there are an awful lot of acts who make more than one appearance. I suppose it is part of the festival finances, namely only one lot of travelling expenses to pay?
We know people who can’t believe we do so many festivals. It’s not difficult to sort! I reckon every fest-goer knows people who have ‘Go to a Music Festival’ on their Bucket List. I can definitely recommend the AFOB as the one to test the water with. Crowd only a few thousand. Beer/food prices reasonable for a festival. Good mix of music. No w*nkered idiots lurching into you. Space to sit down. Never any huge queues. Good sound systems. Park next to your tent. Camp site next to the arena. Organiser always approachable (but maybe give him a wide berth if some acts don’t turn up , as seemingly happened with some children’s entertainers! ). No thefts from tents. Toilets very clean. Showers (free!). Security not heavy-handed. Three really good nights’ sleep ( a real +).
If some acts are already pencilled in, this year must have been a financial success, so the earlier the announcements the better. We know a couple of former regulars who found another festival this weekend
No official T-shirts this year?