Review by Miles Barter with Photography by Rob Hadley

Everyday there is a cavalry charge at Cropredy when the gates open. But these aren’t your standard gig junkies wanting to plant their elbows on the stage. These are regulars with camping chairs and picnic blankets looking for the best seated view half-way up the slope in front of the mixing desk. If you never felt more like sitting the blues this Oxfordshire festival is the one for you.

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A painted white semi circle – like on a sports pitch – marks out a small standing area in front of the stage. Behind it is row after row of neatly arranged camping chairs, deck chairs, and blow-up furniture covering the verdant green hill for as far as the eye can see.

It’s billed as the 40th anniversary festival – but a Reuters news agency review of the alleged 30th in 2009 reckons the event moved to farmland in 1977 and started as a performance at the village fete before then.

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At least one member of Fairport Convention – the corporate folk monoliths who host the event – have lived around Cropredy throughout that time and the locals are surprisingly welcoming to the annual disruption. They pronounce the name Crop-ur-dee with a country burr. And so – of course – do Fairport Convention when they open the show with a short set on Thursday afternoon.

It’s acoustic. But amplified so it can be heard at the back of the field 1,000 feet away. The band are impressively low key. Chatting like old friends and holding the attention of the seats and the overfilled standing section.

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The second song is “Happy Birthday to our accountant Michael Jervis” – and the paying punters join in singing the traditional greeting to the secretary of Fairport Convention Limited.

The hey nonny-nonny crowd have been writing the same song for 500 years and these festival regulars lap it up like Elizabethans hearing it for the first time.

Because this is a meeting of the folk rock clans there are tributes to the fallen – including Maartin Allcock, once of Fairport who knew he was dying of cancer when he did his final show at last year’s Cropredy.

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After the opening set Sandy Denny’s daughter Georgia Lucas was welcomed to the stage where a poem she had written about her mother was read out. Denny, Fairport’s most revered singer died aged just 31 in 1978. She suffered a fatal fall after years of drug and drink abuse. Georgia was only nine months old when her mother died. Her father – Fairport veteran Trevor Lucas died when she was 11. The surviving members of the band and other friends funded her trip from Australia. So her appearance before the Cropredy thousands was poignant and received with dignity and applause.

The first guest artist of the weekend was rock and roll accordionist Lil’ Jim. He dresses like a goth, plays the drums with his feet while blowing a harmonica, sings Cajan classics and his own tortured love songs. If Robert Smith had been a New Orleans one-man-band he might have been this guy.

He had a small but keen group of fans in the pit. And the seats were obviously captivated.

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Next up was Tors a three-piece including two grandsons of legendary guitarist Bert “Play in a day” Weedon. Which is presumably how they got an hour on the main stage for their inoffensive but uninspiring folk pop.

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Then Cropredy was treated to the kings of gypsy punk Gogol Bordello. Multi-ethnic New Yorkers led by a Ukrainian they pull together Cossack, Latin and ska rhythms into hi-energy provocations. The pit is skanking and having a great time. The seats look bored and cold as the sun has gone down.

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Headlining on the first night are The Waterboys.

One song, they’ve only got one song.

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Friday  9th August 2019

Opening are The 4 Of Us, brothers from Northern Ireland who keep the pit and the seats engaged with tales from their youth. They describe how the magical world of music was a distraction from the deadly grind of the troubles.

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The acts on the nepotism stage included Rick Wakeman’s son so it was time to explore the little-advertised Field 8 tent which is a 15 minutes walk and across two canal bridges from the main event.

Martha Makes Mistakes was playing a Patty Smith cover which gives you exactly the right impression of her punk attitude singer-songwriter set. She sang catchy songs with choruses about a horrible ex, sexual frustration, and cowboys. In that order. She finished with two sing-along covers.

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Next in the tent were the contrasting but captivating Dandelion Charm. They said they were a trio but only two turned up – a female singer and a male guitarist.

This is a festival of long sets and it gave the Charmers time to show off a weirdly varied repertoire – which went from psychedelic madrigals to funk. The specially-made 12 string guitar started off sounding like a lute and ended up sounding like Nile Rogers.

One song, ‘Looking For Stephanie’, stood out for the intensity of the vocal performance. Afterwards singer Clare Fowler told the audience it was about searching for a missing daughter – so that explained it.

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The wind was howling, tents were blowing down, and the PA in the Field 8 tent failed as J.R. Harbridge took to the stage.

When it came back on the six-piece from the English Midlands went straight to their big songs – two soft rock anthems that could fit easily onto one of those compilations featuring Europe, Air Supply, and REO Speedwagon that come out on Mother’s and Father’s day.

That was followed by an excellent protest song called ‘I Won’t Support Your Wars’ and a poignant number about comradeship in the second world war. Who knew soft rock socialism was a thing?

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Back to the main stage for Caravan – prog rock legends I’d been avoiding for 50 years.

I had my stop watch out to time the guitar and drum solos. But the first song was only 4 minutes long. They were all under six before it started raining and I beat a retreat.

The Caravan fan forums must be awash with horror after this sell out.

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Seth Lakeman’s band was on next – their stand up bass a novelty that made his sound unique. He’s a good quality folk club headliner doing his best in dodgy weather.

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Then there was the stand-out set of the festival by Richard Thompson. A founder member of Fairport Convention he’s on home turf and he’s a legend in these circles.

He’s the folk singer’s folk singer – who others like to name drop and cover. They can appreciate his lyrical and musical tricks. But while his songs are good none of them have been considered tuneful or moving or different enough to cross him over into the mainstream.

But this crowd doesn’t care. He has the biggest  standing section of the weekend – well beyond the painted oval – and everyone in the seats is engaged. It’s a joyful moment to witness.

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Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls headlined with a thrashing set of pop punk singalongs that could have been The Skids in 1979. That’s high praise.

The pit loved it even though the cold and rain made them the most layered-up moshers in human history. The seats couldn’t be seen through the dark – but I can’t help thinking they would have wished Frank had done more from his new folky album No Man’s Land, as featured before the gig in Cropredy’s local paper the Banbury Guardian.

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Frank Turner-9

Saturday 10th August 2019

It was wet and cold so the covered stage in Field 8 was very inviting.

The Dylan Rhythm Band tortured the work of folk’s Nobel laureate. An odd choice for this festival as Fairport did their own Dylan covers album just last year.

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And a band called Famous Last Words played more competent sixties covers including The Monkees, Johnny Cash, and TV themes.

Jess Reeves, a busker, was playing one of the canal bridges. She said she’d arrived on Thursday with a tent but no money, busked at main gate and collected enough for a weekend ticket. That sums up the spirit of a very friendly event.

She was collecting for her dinner and to buy some music in the CD tent so it stayed in the Cropredy family.

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My highlight on Saturday’s main stage was Tide Lines – engaging Scottish folk pop with some songs in Gaelic.

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Zal Cleminson’s Sin Dogs with their heavy metal wailing dig nothing for me.

I’ve never liked Jethro Tull so I listened from the warm when their guitarist and his Martin Barre Band played their hits.

According to the programme Martin Simpson is believed by some to be the world’s best folk guitarist. He seemed to me to be a second rate Richard Thompson – perhaps because he didn’t build anything like the rapport with the audience that we saw the night before.

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The members of Fairport Convention could often be seen mixing with the crowd in a very informal and friendly way.

The event boosts the local economy as there is a fringe event simultaneously in the local pubs. Breakfasts are served to raise funds at the Cropredy primary school, canoe club and cricket club. Charities for, amongst others, local homeless and disabled people are represented on the field.

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Prices on the stalls are less of a rip off than most events with fish and chips £8, mixed pakora £5, fish finger sandwiches £4.50, and a rail of hippy dresses for a fiver each among the things I noted down.

But despite wanting to I couldn’t make myself like their music. Two hours of drudgery for me I’m afraid.

Judge for yourself as it was broadcast live on BBC Radio Oxford and is still on their iPlayer.

See the full photoset from Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2019 here.

One Response to “Fairport’s Cropredy Convention ‘40th Anniversary’ Cropredy, Banbury, UK – 8th – 10th August 2019”

  1. Carlos maline Says:

    I would like to make a correction suggestion. The pa did not go down. The reason for the delay was the power cut experienced at the time. The sound engineers sorted tempory power arrangements to continue with the show.

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