an elemental weekend for Fairport's thirtieth Cropredy Convention

Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2010 Review

published: Tue 24th Aug 2010

Bellowhead

Thursday 12th to Saturday 14th August 2010
Cropredy, nr. Banbury, Oxfordshire., OX17 1OO, England MAP
£85 for the weekend; camping £30; kids under 12 go free
last updated: Tue 10th Aug 2010

Dramatic stormclouds ranged about the skyscape over Fairport's thirtieth Cropredy Convention often threatening, sometimes delivering, spectacular deluges. Famously perennial however many of the twenty thousand festival-goers had been there, done that and were wearing the T-shirt. Hunkered down into their folding chairs and impermeable to the crazy weather beneath umbrellas, ponchos and tarpaulins the audience took a cup in hand to enjoy a tremendous few days in an Oxfordshire field. Bellowhead were brilliant, Little Feat fantastic, Easy Star All Stars excellent and Fairport Convention out of this world. As the skies cleared to reveal stragglers from the weekend's Perseid meteor shower during Fairport's closing number 'Meet on the Ledge' the Festival goers emerged from under their shelters to sing and sway along, a yearly phenomenon particular to this extraordinarily British festival.

3 Daft Monkeys
Many of the acts worked with the weather. Rapier wit Keith Donnelly observing the sight of several thousand people reaching for their jackets as a downpour interrupted his festival opening set on Thursday commented "I thought you were all leaving", to much laughter. Returning to the festival by popular demand 3 Daft Monkeys bonded with the audience to orchestrate a fantastic front to back brollie bop to their irresistible 'Social Vertigo'. "World's Greatest Reggae Band" Easy Star All Stars reminded us "We are all under one big umbrella". A spiritual one, perhaps, with red, gold and green stripes? Their set of Beatles, Pink Floyd and Radiohead numbers in version and dub saw a fair number reaching for the kaya as the rain fell, and many more wide smiles as the horn section blew away the clouds with sunshine reggae music.

Fairport Convention's Saturday night headliner was stunning. Channelling the spirits of ex-members, the first dozen or so numbers include the cream of their extensive back catalogue, songs like 'Walk a While', 'Rocky Road' and 'Crazy Man Michael'. Thanks to the National Health Service Dave Swarbrick's spirit did not need to be channelled. 2010's first friend was soon very live on stage, teasing fellow fiddlist Ric Sanders and throwing the set list into glorious disarray. Forked lightning and peels of thunder heralded the second stage of Fairport's epic set, extracts from Celtic Rock Opera 'Excalibur'.

Fairport Convention
Guests included Folk Rock greats Martin Barre and Jacqui McShee alongside the opera's creator Alan Simon with accomplices James Wood, Pat O'May, Eurovision's Johnny Logan and several others. Once again Simon Nicol was channelling spirits, this time those of the Knights of Old - apparently big fans of power chords. Torrential rain amplified the Arthurian mysticism and drowned out some of the excesses of this bizarre hard-rock creation. Jacqui McShee provided some reprieve telling us she's the sorceress who's the source of this, conjuring up the Celtic dreamworld of Morgan le Fay and mercifully bringing an end to the Excalibur set and the storm. It's not often that the strains of 'Babbacombe Lee' seems so welcome, but much of the audience is clearly relieved to hear more familiar refrains as the show moved inexorably towards the set-piece finale of 'Meet on the Ledge'. This year folk pianist Beryl Marriott, who passed away a fortnight before the festival, was honoured. Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward who had died just 48 hours previously received an extra special mention. Fairport wish everyone "Safe dreams and sweet journeys" as they wrap up what was a distinctly elemental performance.

Bellowhead
Bellowhead gave a wonderful, theatrical show as Friday night headliners. Jon Boden's opening line "We're going to sing you some folk songs" did little to stem the crowd ebbing away after Little Feat had given an incredible tribute performance for their recently departed drummer. Bellowhead stepped up with the brilliant opening salvo of 'New York Girls', 'Whiskey is the Life of Man' and the skanking 'Hopkins Favourite'.

'Fakenham Fair' jokingly introduced as "The only traditional love song from Norfolk to involve two families" sees revellers in front of stage and the band grinning getting down. 'Sloe Gin' was a triumph, rearranged part way through in response to the excitement buzzing from the audience – a sloe gin jam. Their encore a masterful display of big band prowess as horns, percussion and strings came together to massive applause. Benji Kirkpatrick demonstrated his Benjitsu skills by leaping from the stage into the photographer's pit, closing the show in fine fashion. This was a superbly enjoyable gig for those who know the band and a terrific introduction for the many more seeing them for the first time.

Amongst the twenty bands taking the stage there were many more enjoyable sets. Pauline Black revived 1980s Ska with hit songs by The Selecter and The Specials plus a whole heap more including an exceptional version of Amy Winehouse's 'Back to Black'. Thea Gilmore's performance was a grower, like her band, starting small and gathering both pace and players. Thea's flippant protest song 'Oh Come On' particularly well received. Two chords and the truth may well be enough for Ms Gilmore and Joan Baez, but Status Quo decided to throw in one more and dispense with the folkie sincerity and the big screen. Opening the set with 'Sweet Caroline' the inflatable guitar waving massive went wild with delight relishing a set of well honed classics.

The Dixie Bee Liners
International as ever Cropredy saw Virginia's The Dixie Bee-Liners debut UK performance. Their down-the-road Bluegrass sound caused waves to swell in the 'Sea of Humanity' before them, songs of diesel sniffers, road trips and possums striking a chord with the crowd. Their 'Bristol Pistol' Britney Spears lookie-likey may have had something to do with that. Welsh singer Martyn Joseph's solo performance was much more sedate but movingly heartfelt.

Giving young performers an opportunity in front of a large open-minded crowd is an admirable aspect of the Cropredy ethos. Scottish traditional band Braebach gave an engaging Saturday afternoon performance with the rousing sound of two bagpipes resounding as rain and sunshine madly alternated. A "bagpipes for beginners" lesson as handed down over five hundred years induced some interesting audience participation. Usually the BBC Young Folk winner gets a set, but sadly this year James Findlay had to withdraw.

ahab
Travel issues nearly derailed Mabon's appearance too, some members turning up just in time for the last number but their fiery folk rock was worth the wait. Londoners ahab gave a terrifically enjoyable Country set, noticeably enjoyed by the hordes of girls congregated in front of the stage. The band had a strong presence at the Festival, playing the Brasenose on Wednesday night and joining Fairport Convention on stage for Saturday's finale. An outfit to look out for.

Cropredy's festival spirit spreads beyond it's the main stage, through the seven camping fields, along the Oxford canal and into the village itself. Both village pubs, The Brasenose Arms and The Red Lion host Fringe events. Taking a break from their folding chairs in the Brasenose's beer garden Festival goers can enjoy a pint of Old Hooky and watch great performances on a flat bed trailer from the likes of Ashley Hutchings' Rainbow Chasers supported by son Blair Dunlop or Leatherat still exuberant from their rocking main stage show. There's standing room only in the Red Lion's yard where delicious wafts of pork and apple scented BBQ smoke and several hundred people enjoying, amongst others, an excellent Bob Dylan tribute band made for some truly atmospheric gigs.

Through the village's streets and quaint back alleys and spilling into the churchyard throngs of festival folk are welcomed by the villagers, possibly with one eye on the profits to be made. Delicious Thai curry is sold from one doorstep or tasty Buffalo burgers from a pitch opposite another. The Cinnamon Pantry sells scrumptious cakes and provides a civilised refuge from the noise and bustle going on all around. Next to the canal bridge the Spar with it's entourage of stalls and caterers does a roaring trade.

Breakfast at Cropredy is an institution in itself. In the morning the arena is closed so most people go off site. The Social Club, Church, Canoe Club, both pubs and the primary school all offer delicious breakfasts, reasonably priced too. The penetrating smell of cooking bacon with tea steaming, and sausages sizzling attract folk in by the thousands.

around the festival site (1)
Boaters are another Cropredy institution, swelling the village's population for weeks around Festival time. Their narrowboats in various states of repair and decoration tied up along the towpath make a terrific, chaotic sight from the village bridge. Some open up and sell hats from Amsterdam, others tat from god knows where. Others are open for conversation with passersby and fellow water folk. Some remain shut up tight, their owners out and about. In competition with some impressive live-in vehicles and caravans in the camping fields these boaters may just have the edge in comfort and amenity if not in speed.

Those who love the brightly coloured, the fluffy stuff, the unusual and or the cheap are well served at this festival. Any number of stalls both on and off-site sell hats, shawls, blankets and bits and pieces from India, Nepal and other such exotic places. Despite the pouring rain Saturday's car boot sale on the sports pitch attracted many hundreds to sample more local wares, although what they intend to do with a billhook or broken teapot is a mystery. In the village more stalls set up over the weekend selling Goth T-shirts and trinkets, second hand clothes and used sleeping bags. Presumably this stuff gets sold as the stalls are seem to be back year on year with plenty more of the same. It's not all same old same old, new this year on the canalside was 'Fish Therapy' where wan Festivalgoers dip their tired feet into one of a dozen small aquaria and receive an electrifying foot bath courtesy of Doctor fish nibbling at their toes. Initially sceptic facial expressions soon turn gleeful as the sprats go to work. The young proprietors have taken a remarkable concept, perfect for festivals, and implemented it brilliantly.

Just inside the site a new drag was set up about halfway along the route between the Arena and Village. It's hard to recall how we "did" Festivals before mobile phones. Now should the power run down there is a two hour battery charging service to keep Festival goers in touch and recording the experience. Familiar from Glastonbury, the Friends of the Earth lockup is pitched next door. Musical instruments, bicycles and other valuables can be safely left under constant supervision by trustworthy looking volunteers. A very useful service for backpackers, motor and pedal cyclists.

around the festival site (3)
For the first time the famous River Cottage has a Canteen set up with an impressive trailer-mounted, wood fired oven advertising their presence. The smells from the oven; smoke, bread and cooking meats are mouth-watering and the food in a different league to the standard festival fare. Although the prices were overcooked the food wasn't – a £6 mackerel burger was delectable, the bap fresh, mackerel sweet and boneless, and the salad had colour as well as taste! River Cottage could be competition for the established better quality food traders in the Arena particularly Leons and Goan Fish Curries. Their pitch in the new drag apparently didn't attract the expected number of customers, but Cropredy is notoriously conservative so it may take a while to become accepted. Indomitable young folk singer Samuel Walter's impromptu session outside River Cottage was savoured by the diners inside and, perhaps, gave an insight of how the drag could develop.

Beer, of course, is the essential ingredient in a successful festival. Cropredy has this covered, quite literally, with the longest outside bar in Europe sheltered by an amazing extendo-gazebo. Scrumpy cider, sane cider and three Wadsworth ales – 6X, Horizon and Festival Five – were all very good and consumed in tanker loads. Goodness knows how many plastic pint cups that is, but judging from the litter left behind each night, it is lots.

As every Festivalgoer knows drink plus food inevitably equals trips to the tardis. At Cropredy thanks to accessible sitting and quantity these are mostly clean, even on Saturday night. Back on the campsites the facilities are pretty good – ceramic flushing loos are generally not seen at Festivals of this size, but they are standard at Cropredy. There are queues in the morning but not to bursting point. A decent number of showers are provided about the site too, and a gazebo to stand under for those not wanting to take a cold rain shower whilst they wait.

Cropredy is great at looking after its punters - the 'Fairporters'. The Stewards and Security are friendly and the facilities first-rate. The Scouts and St John' ambulance are always around to help. There's plenty to keep kids interested and entertained. The acts are varied but consistently high calibre. The beer doesn't run out. Provided you bring one there's always a seat. For these reasons and many more besides people just keep coming back to Cropredy.

around the festival site (2)

review by: Ian Wright

photos by: James Creaser

Thursday 12th to Saturday 14th August 2010
Cropredy, nr. Banbury, Oxfordshire., OX17 1OO, England MAP
£85 for the weekend; camping £30; kids under 12 go free
last updated: Tue 10th Aug 2010


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