Here it is. The Fabulous Finale. Cornbury is finishing. After 14 years, the glorious Pleasant Valley stage is being packed down for the final time, the flags are being wrapped up and the remainder of the Champagne is being poured down the drain.
Three beautiful days of sunshine resulted in lots of burnt faces but nothing could wipe the joy of the thousands of people enjoying the final installation of an Oxfordshire institution.
Headed to “Poshstock,” this year saw David Cameron, Dom Jolly, Jemima Khan and Millie Mackintosh enjoying the sun and the live music. For the final year, Hugh Phillimore recruited some of the festival favourites such as Imelda May and Stax along with introducing some new faces into the fold which included headliners Kaiser Chiefs and Bryan Adams.
First up on the final installment of Cornbury was Wild Front. An exciting young band from Southampton. Hot from Glastonbury and the Isle of Wight Festivals, they had a bright, modern guitar led sound creating positive vibes. Since moving to the USA 7 years ago to follow her dream of a recording contract, Callaghan has moved around the Country releasing 2 albums. Lovely voice with a hint of Country, Callaghan is very pleasant to listen too.
Laura Oakes came away from your traditional Country into her own interpretation, backed with a strong voice and great songs. Folk inspired Keston Cobblers Club created beautiful harmonies. An incredibly in sync band, no surprising that there are siblings in the group, they created a great atmosphere on the Pleasant Valley stage on Friday afternoon.
Fresh from recording their latest album with the legend who is Paul Weller, Stone Foundation have a wonderful soul inspired sound, much in their mentor’s style. Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, St Paul & the Broken Bones have opened for the Rolling Stones. Led by charismatic frontman Janewai, he possess a wonderful soul voice. Though his movements around stage can be slightly off-putting when trying to enjoy the music. Lee Fields & the Expressions reminded me of James Brown, Fields had as strong a voice as personality. He pumped out a great mix of soul and funk to get Cornbury dancing, backed by an on point band.
Cornbury favourite and all round gem, Jack Savoretti popped over his garden fence to perform one last time at Cornbury. Third appearance for Savoretti was probably his best as his new found confidence shone out as the sun went down. Strong vocally, he always gives the impression that he just loves what he does. Sophie Ellis Bextor is a solid act to have on any Festival line-up. You get what is says on the tin. Fun, poppy and bright - Bextor wore the name of her new album on her bum - everyone loves a bit of self promotion.
Now onto our first headliner of the Fabulous Finale, Kaiser Chiefs. Led from the front, Ricky Wilson delivered an wonderfully athletic performance as he paraded around the stage, jumping on the drum kit and pumping out all the big Kaiser Chief hits - which went down amazingly well with the audience.
As I wandered underneath the huge Cornbury sign, and headed towards the songbird stage for the first act of Saturday, we were greeted by 25 degree sunshine & a promise of a truly spectacular day.
Wandering Hearts opened proceedings on the Songbird stage. The 4 piece have a lovely natural blend of voices which sits beautifully alongside the folk/alt-country music that they perform. London based Victoria filled the Cornbury sky with big, melodic, souring pop tunes. Joe Housley is a great frontman – in particular the vocals & mix on “Distant Nights” really highlighted the ambition that the band have to crack the already overcrowded market. They have something that made me stay exactly where I was for the set. They want to “Create our own kind of pop music” and I think that they’ve done it. It’s not cheesy. It’s passionate, full of skill & it’s fresh to hear.
Alaskan born Earl is bewitching. The Jazz influence is evident in every element of her music. The song-writing, the melody and the meaning. You can imagine flicking your ankles and shimming in an underground jazz bar, drinking whisky while she serenades you in the corner. “Baddabing Baddaboom“, “Tongue Tied” and “All That Glitters” are instantly recognisable to most of the crowd with her voice enticing people towards the stage, and closer to this star. Black Dylan threw himself onto the stage and went off! Danish duo fronted by Wa’fande recreate classic R&B and Soul in a modern way. Wa’fande spoke about what real live music was. The passion that he has is unquestionable! They’ve toured constantly for two years in Scandinavian and it was their first festival in England. Wa’fande hopped over the Photography pit, into the crowd to pump the audience up! The set was brilliant. A real live wire. One negative – too much swearing. I’m not the swearing police but come on, was it really needed at 1.30pm, on a Saturday at a family festival?! A lot of disgruntled and unhappy parents walked away from them. Understand your audience….
A quick jog back across to the Songbird stage saw Max Jury. Hailing from Des Moines, Iowa, he’s a great storyteller & songwriter. Jury told us about how he went on a date with a” proper corn fed, country girl who had butterflies surrounding her, After the date, he looked her up on Instagram and she was a Satanist so he wrote a song called Black Metal. Numb” was another highlight and a mention must go to Jury’s backing vocalist as she was phenomenal. Jury captures every emotion in his music and that’s the best sort of music.
Hop, skip & a jump across to the Pleasant Valley stage saw Johnnie Walker introduce Police Dog Hogan for the final time on the Cornbury stage.
Rose Elinor Dougal was an original member of the Pipettes who I loved when I was younger. “…Your kisses are wasted on me…” Now with her own band, she took over the Songbird stage on Saturday afternoon. She reminds me very much of Kate Nash with her very English tone and pronunciation as she sings. “Closer” is a great example of this. It’s lovelorn pop music with a bit of mystery to it. When she sings, it’s like she wants to do and say more but stops herself. The Pierce Brothers. YES! Australian twins who wowed at Cornbury last year & I raved about them to anyone I could. I didn’t think that their live show could get anymore energetic but they outdid themselves. Dynamic and infectious from start to end. The Folk duo were visibly emotional in reaction to the response that they had from the crowd. From smashing drums, a GoPro on the didgeridoo, songs written about a dog for their older brothers wedding & headbanging – they stunned everyone who listened! “Touring the world, recording music and making friends” well they made a LOT of new friends at Cornbury.
Another set of twins and next up was Ward Thomas. Catherine & Lizzy Ward Thomas create a modern Country sound. They have been getting a lot of love from Radio 2 in the past year & they have had a Number 1 in the album charts with “Cartwheels”. Pleasant to listen too, the sisters appear to have a great musical relationship which can only mean things will get bigger for them both with the more experience that they get.
Tom Chaplin, front man for Keane, came out on the Pleasant Valley Stage and I was gobsmacked. What a transformation. He looked like a completely different man but as soon as he began to sing, I was back in my happy place. I’ve always loved Keane and Hopes & Fears will always be one of my favourite albums. Chaplin’s solo music is as much of a pull as his days in Keane. The music is quite raw, honest & emotional. “Hardened Heart” struck me instantly and felt like a letter he was penning to his past. “Hurting everyone I know / Bringing everybody down so low/ Stuck along a road of sadness with nowhere to go” Fantastic set. And of course, he did the Keane favourites and I screeched a little bit when “Bedshaped” started.
Saturday evening at 8.30pm was the perfect time for Scouting for Girls to come out. Beer had been drunk, flower headbands were sold-out, and the signs of sunburn were creeping up. The crowd at the Songbird stage was huge. All weekend I hadn’t worn earplugs until this moment. When I was 17 Scouting for Girls were a big pop band but the audience was full of the new generation of 17 year olds, 10 years later, showing that their music doesn’t age. It’s still relevant and enjoyable now. ”She’s So Lovely”, “Heartbeat” and “Elvis Isn’t Dead” rang out above the crowd to rapturous cheers and applause. A great, feel good pop-band who have moved along with their audience.
The sun started to come down but the heat didn’t subside for the big headliner for the weekend. Bryan Adams, for me, was one of the biggest names I’ve seen in my 7 years at Cornbury and I couldn’t wait to get into the pit to photograph & experience this showman. Conversations was rife in the Press area about how many Bryan Adams songs you could name, and unfortunately, I could only name 2. Don’t hate me. By the end of his set I knew over half – many of which I didn’t realise was Adams! I walked into the pit and waited for Adams to walk out and as soon as the first note was played, the backlights came on and Cornbury was on fire! The largest Saturday night headliner crowd that I have ever seen. People had been camped out on the barrier all day with only alcohol to keep them company….
“Summer of 69”, “Everything I do” & “Heaven” were the obvious crowd pleasers, but the new songs from Adam’s album “Get Up” which is touring around the UK showed that Adams has not lost it, not even 1 little bit. Adam’s voice was faultless. The stage presence, the confidence and the ease in which he commands the stage was incredible. There was a brilliant moment where he said, unassumingly “…Hi…I’m Bryan” then a quick-witted member of the audience decided to shout “No I’m Brian & so is my wife” and then began the Monty Python sketch from “Life of Brian” – only in the UK!
Adam’s had met a singer earlier in the day on the Café Nero stage and he had invited her up to join him on stage for a song where unfortunately her microphone didn’t seem to work completely but the gesture was fantastic. Cool, calm & utterly mesmerising, I will never forget the day I photographed Bryan Adams in the pit at Cornbury and just stood in awe of the master.
Hugh Phillimore – you absolutely nailed the final Saturday at Cornbury and it could be one of the best ones!
Sunday oh Sunday. A few sore heads in the Press tent greeted me as a cheerily walked by, highlighting a good night was had by all! First stop would be food, and then onto the lovely Sarah Munro. 21 year old Munro has the support of Radio 2 by playing her song “Love me for Eternity” she stunned the Cornbury with her very elegant, jazz, smooth voice which definitely helped the Festival-goers ease into Sunday. Supported by her sister on the Keys, Munro’s sound was delicious and tempted the audience in. Tennessee born couple, The Danberrys’ traditional style of Country, mixed in with gospel, folk and blues was a real crowd pleaser. Lovely harmonies and great musicianship especially from Ben DeBerry on lead guitar.
Having found fame working with the Communards who she worked with for a while, Sarah Jane Morris provided a lower range than lead singer Jimmy Somerville. Her own material see’s her mixing gospel and soul using her powerful range.
Hugely popular in Ireland, KeyWest deserve recognition by a wider audience. Bright and lively, their self penned songs gripped the audience who instantly caught on to what the band were doing. Mix in great musicianship and a fine sense of humour and you have the complete package. Absolutely deserve a listen. Famous for cowriting “Feed the World” Midge Ure has an impressive back catalogue. From Rich Kids, to hit makers “Ultravox” his acoustic set crossed his career, mixing old with the new. The highlight being a wonderful version of Ultravox’s massive hit, "Vienna".
Originally part of the Post-Punk music scene, Nine Below Zero continue 37 years after forming to blast out their ever impressive R&B to a willing audience. Cornbury love the 90’s and so it was apt that Right Said Fred joined the festivities. Everyone wanted the favourites and that is what they delivered!
I saw Imelda May a few years ago at the Festival, with her big hair & famous blonde streak, in beautiful big dresses but the May I was greeted with a complete 360. Gone was the big hair, and here was the choppy black locks hanging down. The big bright dresses were no more, but replaced with a figure hugging black piece. While her appearance may have changed, her attitude to her music and her voice had remained exactly the same. Thank god! Finished with “Game Changer” which is a strong rocky song, which led into her cover of "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones. May made it clear that she did not agree with the Festival ending. A theme that was seen a couple of times across the weekend by the Acts who performed.
Since forming in 1978, The Pretenders have continued to rock the world with their pop/rock music. The list of hits is almost endless and the musicianship is always top class. Chrissie Hynde is an amazing front woman and a rock icon who owned the stage like it was the first time. With original band member Martin Chambers still working his magic on the drums, they are joined by new members including an especially talented Guitarist.
Stax are always a staple part of Sunday evening at Cornbury. Each year with a new special guest and this year saw Mica Paris take the stage. Each year I swear that the band gets bigger – I’m sure we are at 18 this year?! Incredible musicians with a huge energy that are part of the fabric which makes Cornbury so brilliant.
And here we were. Onto the very last act to perform at Cornbury. Hugh Phillimore came out to introduce Jools Holland and looked emotional. The crowd were behind him, plead for it not to be the last Cornbury but it was. What a better way to say goodbye then to have one of the first headliners to close the show. Holland was witty, entertaining and a true showman. He loves to show off the incredible musicians in his band so they all share the spotlight which is so refreshing.
A big firework display and a banner with “CORNBURY – THAT’S ALL FOLKS” came down to mark the end. Phillimore has been quoted to say “never say never” in terms of bringing the Festival back but for now it’s done. As we walked back to the car with thousands of other people I couldn’t help but feel a pit in my stomach. This festival has been so good to me, and so many others for the past few years. It has given people their first experience of a Festival, and in some cases, their first experience of live music.
Cornbury was so special to so many and the thought that next year I won’t be eating from the Curry Shed, while listening to a Ukulele band, lying in the sunshine makes me incredible sad.
Festivals like this are rare as they are and to see one disappear makes me worry for the future of these smaller festivals. They may not get the names you have at Glastonbury but they create family memories and experiences in a safe environment where you can watch the Pop bands from your youth and discover the next big thing by walking across a field. I hope that this isn’t the end of Cornbury and Hugh Phillimore will come back in a few years so I can take my children to their first festival and tell them about how their Mum went for 7 years and “I saw that band before you were born”.
latest on this festival
festival home page
festival to incorporate covid safety measures
line-ups & rumours