I almost can’t believe that it has been a whole year since the last Cornbury Festival. The bubble machines, the champagne & the tutus. In Great Tew Park once again, Hugh Phillimore put on the 11th year of Cornbury Festival with headliners such as Simple Minds, the Gypsy Kings & Jools Holland. Armed with my camera, water, sunscreen (I’d be lucky) and the music guru who is my Dad. The line-up, for me personally, wasn’t the strongest that they’d had in previous years. The Artists seem to be being booked and aimed towards the older generation, which could be seen as isolating the younger generations if it’s meant to be a family friendly. While the Childrens area is expanding, there still needs to be 'family friendly' bands I think, and Luke Friend doesn’t quite cut it. However – due to my love of the festival I embraced it whole heartedly.
While over the weekend, the rains attempted to stay away, once again the crowds of Cornbury would not allow for it to dampen their spirits. Without fail, the crowds arose and basked in the glorious music which would be provided during the weekend.
Friday was opened by The Lottery Winners on the Songbird Stage. Hailing from Lancashire, they truly have the whole package. The Frontman & Guitarist had amazing banter between them which entertained the crowds thoroughly. With their indie sound, they are working with Steve Levine and the harmonies that they produced are sensational. The frontman, Thomas Rylance, could easily be a stand up comedian if the music career doesn’t work out for him.
Holy Moly & the Crackers are folk, rock based artists. The female singer had a great voice. They were pleasant enough to listen to, and they were pretty accomplished in what they did. Hudson Taylor are brothers Alfie & Harry from Dublin. Folk infused pop and armed with their acoustic guitars, Hudson Taylor harmonised and played off each other wonderfully. On the Pleasant Valley main stage, The Feeling stormed the stage and rocked it. The Feeling are a fantastic live band who are faultless everytime that I see them. You forget how many singles that they’ve had that you know all the lyrics too. They performed a wonderful medley of great English songs including the Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones. It was so wonderful to watch a band perform and they enjoy it just as much as the audience.
80’s folk icon Suzanne Vega took to the Cornbury stage performing a mix of her past and present collection of music. While she is a folk icon, unfortunately it was a bit dull. There wasn’t a grab of interest from her for me. A musician for me needs to grab my interest, have huge songs that I want to go and find and download and I didn’t have that feeling from her.
It had just started raining when Arrested Development took to the stage. With their 90’s Hip-hop, they made the audience forget about everything that was happening around them. Every part of the band and performance was spot on. They did not faulter at all and the passion & power behind them was felt by everybody. Sophie Ellis-Bextor was at Cornbury, highlighting her new album which was produced with Ed Harcourt (who was on the keys) along with her husband on the bass guitar. Her music seems to be heading in a new direction.
Jools Holland was polished. Effortless. A Cornbury favourite. With Jools Holland you come to expect a certain standard and he delivers every single time. Melanie C, and Marc Almond joined him on stage for his headline slot at Cornbury on the Friday evening. Mel C has a fantastic voice which has just got better as her career has developed. Marc Almond, however. He came across as rather strange and his voice was not great which was perhaps the only downside of the Jools Holland set. He eases into every song, he immediately strikes up a bond with the audience and he appreciates every member of his band for their own unique skills. Holland, personally, is the cement and in a way, backbone of some of the worlds artists.
Saturday at Cornbury produces the first full day of the Festival. The sun was shining, the Pimms was being drunk and the people were choosing the best views for the day. It’s a beautiful atmosphere walking around Cornbury because it’s so welcoming and friendly. Every person wants to help you & smiles in your direction. Family friendly, with barely any drunken people which is a wonder!
Openers of the Saturday at Cornbury were Hunter and The Bear. Bright mix of folk & rock, they were pretty good at what they did but the world wasn’t set alight by them. A pleasant set was performed by singer/songwriter Jon Allen on the Saturday afternoon. Having worked with KT Tunstall and Damien Rice, Allen is known on the music scene. The Dualers are a ska-regaee band who seemed to go down really well with the crowd but I couldn’t understand it. They are obviously aimed towards a specific audience who appreciated them but it felt like it went over my head.
The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band were brilliant & they certainly impressed their audience. The lead guitarist played not only the lead guitar but also the bass parts at the same time. He performed on numerous guitars including one made from a cigar box…. The energy that this band gave was unquestionable. They were fantastic & what a great choice by the festival organisers to have them on the bill. Now Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes were one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. They played their own brand of rock with Johnny Lyon’s gravelly voice taking control. From New Jersey, Lyon doesn’t look like your typical rocker but he controlled the stage & his audience worshipped him.
Lissie was the highlight of the entire weekend. A great, lively set across her two albums. She played 'Electric Eye' by Judas Priest. She gave everything she had during her performance and was supported by a fantastic band including Eric Sullivan on guitar. Lissie is one of those artists who you think “Why aren’t you bigger?!” but you know what – I’m glad because it feels like she’s my secret little musical gem (but you should totally listen to her because she’s amazing)
Country singer Kacey Musgraves has a pleasant voice and a lovely demeanour. Known for her controversial lyrics in the conservative country music genre yet she won the 2014 Academy of Country Music award for album of the year. Scouting For Girls are an inoffensive brand of pop. They kept the teens happy, which was desperately needed in my opinion. However, unfortunately they are musically rather flimsy. They didn’t seem as though they were in sync with each other and it sounded rather messy.
Simple Minds headlined the main stage on Saturday evening to huge crowds. Jim Kerr gave nothing less than 100% throughout their evening slot & involved the audience hugely. Legends to many, they performed many of the big songs including “Glittering Prize”, “Promise You a Miracle’ and obviously “Don’t You Forget About Me”. Producing a great set which spanned over 30+ years, Simple Minds were an incredible headline band to finish off an amazing Saturday evening at Cornbury.
Sunday, oh Sunday. The weekend always goes to quickly especially when you are lapped up in the warm bosom of the Cotswolds. Today was the one day where I was 100% sure about the line-up. Nobody really jumped out at me or forced out that giddiness I love from live music. Here goes...
Up first were The Shires who comprise of Ben Earle & Crissie Rhodes. The duo perform a classic Nashville sound with Rhodes vocals were soft and lovely to listen too. The band mentioned how they had recently had their first play on Bob Harris & were working on their album. A really lovely set to lie down next to the Songbird Stage & snooze under the giant trees. Felt like Nashville had been brought to you. I'm always doubtful of anybody outside of Nashville performing Country music but they wonderfully merged both Nashville & Britain together, even with a song about being proud to be British.
The King's Parade are officially London's BEST Buskers...yes really. On the Pleasant Valley stage, basking in glorious sunshine, The King's Parade had a great lead vocalist in Olly Corpe had a great soul voice which ran throughout the music that they played. Inspired by Bill Withers & Marvin Gaye, The King's Parade certainly impressed me with what they had to offer. Winning the Campfire Sessions at last years Cornbury which allowed them to take on the main stage - and rightly so.
Gabby Young and Other Animals went onto the Pleasant Valley stage and completely bemused me. They are absolutely insane and what an amazing way to present themselves. I was hooked – what was going to happen next?! They pretended to be Cowboys or Indians…I’m not sure which and essentially performed a play on stage! Gabby Young has an extremely unusual voice but the presence that she has no stage reminds me of Paloma Faith - throwing herself out there and being completely wacky but embracing it.
Marcus Bonfanti is at the forefront of the UK Blues scene with a number of accolades behind him including "Best Song" & "Best Acoustic Performer" for 2012 -& 2013 in the British Blues awards. That must mean something right?! Bonfanti's voice was heavier than his blues genre which didn't always feel like it worked.
Luke Friend. Well. The less said about him the better. Don’t get me wrong. He’s lovely and the girls seem to like him but in terms of performance, it didn’t spark anything. Everything sounded the same and unfortunately, he murdered Ben Howard’s Old Pine (a sin which can never be forgiven).
Contract that with Kid Creole and the Coconuts, what a performer. An 80's icon who is 64 years of age and still takes to the stage like he is 25! Along with his 'Coconuts' who are three beautiful women, dancing next to him on stage, scantily clad..he is still full of energy. However, the set felt slightly dated, even sexist at times but because of the charm and enthuasiasm which is produced it's fun and lighthearted. It makes you want to get up and move, click your fingers and strut around.
Back onto the Pleasant Valley Stage. Sam freaking Bailey. Oh my god. X Factor winner you can be forgiven for dismissing her as your typical X Factor winner. But oh my god she was sensational. What a sublime voice. I physically felt myself getting goose-bumps as she powered through her set. My only negative was that she purely sang covers (which did see some of my favourite performed) but it would have been nice to hear a few originals. Bailey joked and laughed with the audience which presented a real personality & honesty to her. I instantly warmed to her. She performed 'And I’m Telling You' and my jaw dropped to the ground. The woman can sing. The woman can entertain and my god she shocks you! Bloody fantastic Sam Bailey.
10cc were, as expected, brilliant. “I’m Not In Love’ completely stole my heart. So many amazing songs by such an iconic band, just as that damn rain started to pour down. Everytime I think of 10CC I think of High School & bands were covering their music. Lead by the original member Graham Gouldman, a wonerful set highlighting the vastness of their musical career and why they are adored by so many.
Al Murray was headlining the Absolute Radio Comedy Tent on the Sunday. I’ve seen him before but the man never gets old or boring. His character of the Pub Landlord is amazing and I laugh intensely every single time. His humour represents the best parts of being British.
Tomoyasu Hotei – King of Kill Bill. This man is one of the best guitarists that I have ever witnessed. Known for the theme tune to “Kill Bill” “Battle Without Honour or Humanity”. Japanese Hotei is absolutely AMAZING. His talents & skills are stunning and an honour to watch live on such a tiny scale. Hotei first English Festival appearance, I feel privileged to have witnessed him play the guitar like he did.
The Gipsy Kings. The big one. A lot of festival-goers had been waiting for this moment with baited breathe. And honestly? Meh. I understand that they are the sound of summers past but honestly, for me, Simple Minds would have been a better Sunday night headliner. However, they brought the musical flavours of Spain with 'Bamboléo' and a huge conga line begun throughout the crowd with people dressed in sombreros and fake moustaches. It almost felt like Spain…if you weren’t in rural Oxfordshire. Baliardo was the sole lead player in a frontline of six guitarists which originally consisted of two families of brothers.
Once again Cornbury - you beautiful beast. While the acts may have been a bit limited in terms of what I like to listen too, the introduction of so many new bands is what makes this festival so great. You never know what to expect or who you will discover by heading to either stage. The charm of the festival will never get old for me. I love it as much as I did when I first went in 2011. It's warm, friendly, inviting and set in such a beautiful location. My one hope for next year is maybe try and get somebody like Imogen Heap or Regina Spektor. Somebody who ignites the excitement in me like it did in the first two visits. Big KevEd loved you and I declare my love for you too Cornbury.
latest on this festival
line-ups & rumours
joining musicians UB40, Alanis Morrissette, Squeeze, Caro Emerald, & more
joining Alanis Morissette and more
incl. Mavis Staples, Amy MacDonald, Nina Nesbitt, Pixie Lott, PP Arnold, & more