Beautiful, glorious sunshine took hold of Saturday and begun a superb day of music which would see about 6 Country acts on the Songbird and Pleasant Valley Stages. Could it be too many for a so called “diverse festival” - I was about to find out.
Jess and The Bandits were fronted by Jess Clemmons, singer-songwriter from Texas backed by 4 English band members, her “Bandits”. At the helm of the 5 piece, Clemmons voice is big & powerful and took complete command of the stage. Raintown were another Country duo (are you seeing a pattern here?) but from Glasgow. Compared to some of the Country acts I was too see over the weekend, I didn't feel as though Raintown could really compete on their level. There was nothing wrong with them, they just weren't as good as the others acts I was too see, including The Shires & Striking Matches. However, they have dynamic female/male harmonies and catchy hooks. Fronted by married couple Paul Bain & Claire McArthur-Bain, there is this intensity on stage with them that I guess is rare due to their relationship status. They look directly at each other when singing which I loved and for a Scottish pair taking on Country music, they really do have something.
Stargazeragain was an unknown band to me, however on arrival to their set was greeted by a familiar face. Martine Mccutcheon from Eastenders fame has formed a band with her uber talented husband Jack McManus. Lovely little set reminding me of how nice McCutcheon's voice is. Remember “Perfect Moment?” Well, she didn't do that but the songs she's constructed with McManus and her band were nice to listen too. Charming little set that may not have set the world on fire, but they helped 30 minutes pass.
Striking Matches, a Country music duo made up of Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davies absolutely owned it. What a absolute delight to watch and discover. Authentic country with a hint of rock & blues, the Cornbury crowd lapped them up. Having had 8 songs on the TV program Nashville, Striking Matches play classic Country music with amazing song-writing skills that if you haven't heard of them, you need to find them & listen. “Trouble Is As Trouble Does” and “Hanging On A Lie” were so good that I've instantly brought the singles. Proper American Country! Set highlight was “When The Right Ones Comes Along”. Beautiful, honest and slightly heartbreaking. A stunning song which shows the talent this duo have. I could not recommend them any more if I could scream in each of your ears.
Ward Thomas, are twin sisters Catherine & Lizzy Ward Thomas. The fourth or fifth Country act of the day, they were going to have a tough job of matching Striking Matches for me. “Take That Train” was a beautiful song about a meeting with a woman on the train who told her life story to the one of the Ward Thomas sisters. It truly was lovely and felt very open & honest. Great song writing. However, Ward Thomas were just okay. They were nice and pleasant to listen too, but quite honestly, that was about it. Will they become the next Shires? Probably not.
The Shires were at Cornbury last year, playing to a small-ish crowd. This year, they were on the Songbird Stage, at 4.30 to a massive crowd. What a year they have had. Comprising of Crissie Rhodes & Ben Earle, in the last 12 months these two have been everywhere. With a classic Nashville sound, and soft vocals they are so great to listen too as they ease you through their set, you almost forget where you are. 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.
So, the wait began for Blue. And we waited...and waited...and waited...and waited...Nearly an HOUR passed with no Blue. It turns out that only half the band where their for their 5.30pm set. The crowd were unsettled and unimpressed and when the band finally came on, they performed 5 songs and no apology. Seriously? At least an apology would have at least shown the audience that they were genuinely sorry but they had nothing. With old school dance routines from back in the early 2000's maybe its time they gave up. With an air of attitude and an annoyed crowd, it really took away from the Saturday at Cornbury. What a disappointment.
Paper Aeroplanes are an alternative pop/folk band from Wales. Lead vocalists Sarah Howells captures her audience the second she begins to sing. It feels as though there is something quite mysterious about her especially which I couldn't figure out...no matter how much I stared at her. She feels quite fragile to watch and listen too. Alongside Richard Llewellyn, Paper Aeroplanes create music that doesn't sound too far away from Fleetwood Mac and Laura Marling.
Lulu - what a firecracker. She's impressive to watch & knows how to put on a show. She threw herself around the stage with passion and life. Everybody knows Lulu and her set summed her up perfectly. The 66 year old singer delighted the fans with a number of favourites including “Relight My Fire” and “Shout” along with a stunning rendition of “Got to Get a Message To Her” by the Bee Gees as she reminisced about her ex-husband Maurine Gibb. A vibrant, energetic set which saw Lulu shouting to her family & grandchildren in the crowd, she's lovable in every single way and her set proved that, spanning over her career to date.
Martha Reeves is a complete legend and the second she was introduced to the Songbird stage the crowd went wild. Why somebody of her stature wasn't on the main Pleasant Valley stage was absurd! Joined by her two sisters as her backing vocalists, she truly is a lady of class. Unfortunately, you can tell that she is getting older as at a few moments her voice did go and you could hear her crack ever so slightly as she tried to reach the higher notes. BUT BUT BUT that doesn't take away the sheer privilege to stand in front of Martha Reeves and listen to her singing these epic songs.
Tom Jones. The man. The legend. Congratulations Cornbury on an amazing Saturday night headliner. As we pushed through the crowd to our spot to watch Mr Jones, his set was fun, thrilling & full of the oldies but goodies! “Deliah”, “Mama Told Me”, “Sex Bomb” and “It's not Unusual” would obviously be in the set and the women throughout the crowd went insane! I'm sure I was about 5 pairs of pants throw onto the stage. The lower Tom's voice went, you could heard the women all gushing about him. The godfather of Modern soul, the Welsh man is an all time great showman.
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