Fairport's forty fifth anniversary is a stunner from start to finish

Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2012 review

published: Tue 21st Aug 2012

around the festival site (crowds)

Thursday 9th to Saturday 11th August 2012
Cropredy, nr. Banbury, Oxfordshire., OX17 1OO, England MAP
£105 for the full weekend
daily capacity: 20000
last updated: Tue 26th Jun 2012

For four and a half decades now, they've been following Fairport, and for a good chunk of that, they've been coming to Cropredy. Pensioners in motorbike gear, girls with dreads, blokes with tattoos, face painted kids and everyone in between have been taking part in very special kind of pilgrimage. It's a kind of hippy hajj; once a year, and from all corners of the globe, they make their way here to get their fix of all things Fairport. Walking around the village, soaking up the atmosphere, you can tell yourself it's 2012, but you really can't imagine that it's a scene that's changed much since it began. There's something very reassuring in that. Arriving here is almost a feeling of coming home; to a warm summer sun, fine beer and twenty thousand like-minded friends who share your Fairport fondness.

As always, Fairport Convention maintain a ubiquitous presence throughout the festival. True to form, they open and close proceedings. There's a short acoustic set on Thursday and a three and a half hour concert on Saturday evening. This being an anniversary year, the band itself stages something of a gathering, and Saturday's set is a forty five year Fairport feast, both in terms of music and personnel. We have a standing up Dave Swarbrick, a flown in from the states Dave Mattacks and the great Richard Thompson to name but three. The result is a rare treat: for the first time in ages, many of the songs are being played by their contemporary line up. If that's not enough, there are Fairport friends aplenty, and even some offspring in the form of Kami Thomson, Kristina Donahue and Blair Dunlop. By the time we've all linked arms for a tearful Meet on the Ledge we've been well and truly spoiled by a past and present line-up that can still deliver the goods in fine style.

around the festival site (crowds)
In addition to performing their usual opening and closing duties, a rich vein of Fairport runs throughout Cropredy. Members past and present appear in guest spots throughout the festival, most memorably during the performances of Richard Thompson and Ashley Hutchings' Morris On. Richard Thompson plays on Friday night and captivates the twenty thousand crowd. He's on his own to begin with, in as fine a form as ever. Then he brings on his daughter, Kami, followed by some of his Fairport contemporaries for a storming second half. Joan Armatrading is set an impossible task in following them and doesn't quite get to grips with it. Her set looks fun down the front, but further back, people start talk amongst themselves, then begin to wander back to their tents. In terms of crowd pleasing, Richard Thompson is a festival highlight, but this is a special Cropredy, where you don't quite know when your favourites will appear next. It's a delight to see him the following morning, reunited with the Morris On band.

For sheer entertainment value, Morris On is unbeatable; another festival highlight. Although still led by Ashley Hutchings, the rest of the line-up has changed. The very able Simon Care has replaced John Kirkpatrick on Squeezebox, and a bevy of bright young things are on the modern, electrical stuff. Quality wise, it's everything we expect from the original. But hearing the music as it's meant to be heard; live, in the open air and with the sun shining, adds an extra edge of excitement. Add to that, Simon Nicol on vocals, the Adderbury Village Morris Men and The Belles of London City: you just can't go wrong.

When the Fairport family are not gracing the stage, their presence can still be felt in the choice of other acts on the bill. They've been doing this a while and have developed a sixth sense of knowing what the Cropredy Faithful will appreciate.

Bellowhead
Take Bellowhead, for instance. They headlined here two years ago, making a lot of new friends and getting invited back. They've definitely been remembered; it's the best crowd response of the festival. Bellowhead are as loud and brassy as ever, but this is a varied set with a fair few 'quieter' numbers, such as Captain Wedderburn interspersed among the bouncy stuff. It's a 'set em up, knock em down' approach, and the audience lap it up. They know all the words, all the actions, and they dance for all they're worth. Everything gets a cheer: the balletic horn section, the tambourine and tabor solo, the mention of Swindon and the forthcoming new material from 'Broadsides', out later this year. Top stuff.

Of this year's range of Cropredy first timers, the most popular have little in common in terms of sound, but do seem to share a certain musical prowess, creative independence and self-belief which endears them to the crowd. Ellen and the Escapades, on Friday, are perfect for getting the party going. They're bright, they're breezy, they're a little bit sixties and there's a nod to college radio too. Folks flock forward like bees to honey. Later come Larkin Poe.

Larkin Poe
Again, they're among the younger acts on the bill, but relentless touring and no small amount of talent has given their music a mature, weathered edge, which goes down a storm with the crowd. Both of these acts embody the timeless ethos that runs through the festival. If either appeared on a grainy movie of a Cropredy festival from decades past, you wouldn't bat eyelid, and we can count ourselves lucky that they've chosen the here and now to grace us with their existence. Young, cute and sparkly Calan are similarly seductive when they weave their Welsh blend of harp-laden Celtic magic on Saturday. They're an engaging presence, and the crowd warm to them right off the bat. I can't think of another band whose frontwoman could stage a clog dancing competition with her dad, and pull it off in front of a festival crowd. The dad wins by the way, which is nice, for those of us of a certain age.

As a counterpoint to all of this youthfulness, there are some old favourites on the bill too. Squeeze are as charming as ever on Thursday night, almost reaching the heady levels of excitement created by Bellowhead. Richard Thompson is top notch on Friday and on Saturday we have Dennis Locorriere, who manages to captivate the crowd for an hour and a bit with just a guitar, a bunch of very good songs, and bags of personality.

around the festival site (offsite)
You don't get to run a festival for so many years without learning a thing or two along the way and Cropredy does give the impression of a slick setup that's evolved through time. It's a festival at ease with itself and an easy festival to enjoy. Even the field in which it takes place seems perfectly shaped for the purpose of festivalling. There's a big flat bit for the stage and for the people in front to dance on, then there is just the right amount of slope for the sitting-down people further back to be able to see. For many, the day begins with a Le Mans style footrace; people gathering at the gates, then sprinting to set their deckchairs and picnic blankets out in their favourite spots. I bet they return to the same place every year, like in wildlife documentaries. Cropredy is a festival where it's eminently possible to just sit there and soak it up. There's only one stage on the site, and the bar and food stalls are all within earshot, so you're never going to miss anything if you stay put in the field.

Not moving though, will mean you'll miss out on many of the finer points of the Cropredy experience. If you leave the field at gate six, you come to the Oxford Canal. Cropredy is a popular festival among the canal community; they arrive weeks in advance to secure the best spots. It's about a half hour walk up the canal before you find free spaces, but that seems perfectly doable if you decide to just rock up, if you can ever do that in a canal boat. The canal itself is a feast of festival treats. One boat is a gathering place for singers, and a fine version of On Ilkley Moor bar t'at regales us at one point. Further up there's banjo and fiddle Old Timey stuff; very spontaneous and all the better for it. You can also get coffee, cakes, Spanish food and all sorts of canal related items from the boats, should you feel the need.

The village itself is just a few minutes' walk down the canal and is well worth a visit during the festival, to experience the 'Cropredy Fringe'. There are a couple of pubs, The Red Lion and The Brasenose, which enter into the spirit of the festival by laying on burgers, hotdogs etc. and by staging bands in their beer gardens. Cropredy is slap bang in the middle of Cotswold Morris heartland, and sides can be found dancing at the church during the festival. The church also provides something of a festival chillout space. People spill out of the pubs and sit and sunbathe in its' grounds, among the buried dead, who don't seem to mind too much. Elsewhere in the village, there's Thai food, Buffalo burgers and fine jewellery on sale. The car boot sale is something of a Cropredy legend, as is Sunday's cricket match. All are part and parcel of a festival which itself, after so many years, has woven itself into the fabric of English Summer culture. Long may it endure.

around the festival site (crowds)
review by: James Creaser

photos by: Ian Wright

Thursday 9th to Saturday 11th August 2012
Cropredy, nr. Banbury, Oxfordshire., OX17 1OO, England MAP
£105 for the full weekend
daily capacity: 20000
last updated: Tue 26th Jun 2012


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