My hell having duly frozen over I found myself back, after a 15 year gap for my current final visit. 50 years of Fairport seemed a logical opportunity to catch those not already on the ledge, whilst they still can. And I wasn’t disappointed. True, a lot of the time I felt like Charlie Watts, years of, it seemed, hanging around as the flyover acts played, waiting for the next incarnation or variation of the theme to appear. As will become apparent.
Arriving at midday on the thursday and there were still plots on field 5, handy both for the field and the Village: Cropredy has an all-encompassing fringe, whereby the 2pubs have their own roster of bands playing over the 3 days, there are stalls filling all available spaces selling festival clothes and records and every available outlet sets up selling breakfast: the school, the cricket club and the canoe club. And the church, which also had a coup, when Ashley Hutchings’s History of Fairport show played to a small throng on friday afternoon.
So to the music. Thursday kicked off with a brief set from the acoustic incarnation of Fairport, the current 5 members, along with Dave Mattacks and Maaart Allcock, as they had been involved with the mid 90s appearance of this franchise. This is brief and little more than a taster, but probably more representative of the sound of the band these days. Which was what most, I suspect, had not come to hear. Feast of Fiddles were next, a sort of supergroup for folky fiddlers, 9 on stage at one time, Phil Beer, Chris Leslie and Peter Knight being the better known, backed by a guitar, bass, sax melodeon and drums combo, a return to the stage for Mattacks, D. I find them a bit thin: nostalgia infused big band renditions of Glenn Miller and TV themes, with the odd song to remind where the participants also play. The leader, Hugh Crabtree, on voice and melodeon, has the gravitas and empathy of a public school deputy head, the sort who still wears a gown for teaching. Phil Beer remained on stage after their conclusion, for the always rousing and excellent Show of Hands, his duo with Steve Knightley, now with the added double bass of Miranda Sykes. For an all acoustic trio they have a dynamism and energy entirely lacking from the act before. Largely politically barbed songs and the odd cover; they do a terrific Boys of Summer, Knightley sings as strong and true as anyone the whole weekend, and Phil Beer? Well, he is just astonishing on anything stringed, swapping from mandolin to guitar to fiddle, often in the same song. A class act. The Trevor Horn band I had been eagerly anticipating, Mr Horn, Lol Creme from 10cc and a band of youngsters, each member T-shirted as the “their name” band to, presumably, denote a democracy the billing hadn’t. Straight in with Two Tribes, this was a cavalcade of nostalgia, as anyone Horn and/or Creme had been involved with got a shout and a song, so there was Rubber Bullets, I’m Not in Love, Owner of a Lonely Heart, Pull Up to the Bumper (Baby), Video Killed the Radiostar and more. It was wonderful. 2 special guests came on, Russ Ballard, looking as if he sees the same plastic surgeon as Sir Cliff, and Matt Cardle, an X-Factor winner of times past. (Me, neither) Ballard did Since You’ve Been Gone and, drawn out and dramatically, God Gave Rock and Roll to Yo, both of which he wrote. Cardle did a reasonable Jon Anderson (OoaLH) and then the finale, a triumphant Relax. Some had said an odd choice for Cropredy but they went down a storm, the field singing along lustily. The Divine Comedy came on last, to headline, so I went to bed.
Friday looked to be slim pickings for my taste, so I didn’t trouble the arena until mid afternoon, going on a wander of the Brasenose and the Red Lion offerings. If your taste is of blues rock bands with harmonica and squalls of electric guitar or of effete singer-songwriters (singing covers), this will have been right up your street. I had to keep moving, finding, in turn, Field 8, which had a decent bar and outside seating, and, run by the supposed antichrist of Cropredy, the Edge. I had read about this, apparently a rogue landowner who had defied the Wadworths embargo and set up his own mini-arena, chocka with real ales and the best burgers of the weekend. Interested by the tut tutting on Fairport bulletin board, Talk Awhile, this I had to investigate. Great field, great guy, what’s the fuss? And if “official” Field 8 are doing it, get real, Talk Awhilers, ya pompous shower! (I told him i’d say that!)
Back to music and peter Knight, ex-Steeleye, and his band, Gigspanner, augmented by the much touted Philip Henry and Hannah Martin. Very credible, very sound, very accomplished. A bit dull. 2 more duff bands and some rain meant a trip back to the car, for a snooze and a read, to build up my energy for Petula. Petula fecking Clark. A year older than Willie Nelson. Was she any good? In truth I haven’y quite worked out if she were astonishing or atrocious. Or both. Looking much as always, a headful of ringlets, she sand most of her hits to applause and delight, some dodgy old show tunes to less, a few modern standards and it was engaging and harmless fun, a bit like sitting and watching saturday night telly with your parents. Downtown, the inevitable encore, had the field in chorus yet again. Top notes all there, her lower register shot, it was a credible performance, actually incredible. As in hard to fathom. Who could top that? well actually the Richard Thompson band, circa last century, RT, Pegg, Nicol and Mattacks, with Christine Collister. But they didn’t come on first, it was Thommo alone, with some acoustic classics, Vol 2 of which was released this same day of performance. About 5 or 6, with the highlight, as ever, being Vincent White Lightning. With the full band it was a mix of old and new, more of the old, but the electric highlight, again as ever, being the magisterial Tear Stained Letter. God, I love that song. Time for bed.
Saturday needed an early start. Morris On was the show, and I was hoping that, with so many troupers present, it would not be a reprise only of the last generation thereof. And it wasn’t, as a legion of fiddlers from Guy Fletcher, Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie, Fairporters both, and recent Rainbow Catcher, Ruth Angell, took the stage alongside Simon Care on melodeons, alongside a couple of guitarists and Guy Fletcher, again, doubling on drums. But there were two drum kits….. Ashley Hutchings, redoubtable on bass, after a couple of tracks, mentioned the original conceit and concept of Morris On in 1972, remaining us of the original line-up. No John Kirkpatrick or Barry Dranfield sadly, Kirkpatrick also missed the night before from the RT band, but, in a rush of my youth, on returned Mattacks and Thompson, Simon Nicol also, from Son of Morris On. It was a delight, transporting me to my teens, as tune after tune was thumped into folk-rock submission. Moulton Morris Men, as individuals, a trio and the full works, squeezed also onstage, their star being Simon Care’s son and, when they all came on, included also in their ranks the son of Little Johnny England and Phil Beer Band boxsqueezer, Gareth Turner. Who also joined in on the massive finale, with the entire audience supplied and waving white hankies in unison. This could catch on! Magnificent. My highlight of the weekend.
Judy Dyble, first and pre-Sandy chanteuse of Fairport, was the next act, with her Band of Strangers. Very dated and prog-folk of the highest calibre it was a reminder of how badly this style has faded. A highlight was a cover of I talk to the Wind, which made the original seem quite aggressive. I had already decided to give Plainsong a miss, having seen Iain McMatthews solo the week before. A dreadful big hair band came next, the main claim to fame being that a member or two were in (one of) the touring versions of the Sweet after the singer died and the camp bass player left. I didn’t pay them much heed as this was when I was supposed to have the pre-arranged AW mini-mingle at the bar. I failed to make contact with @nigelt or @jimmyjimmy; they were apparently yards away, but had an amiable chat with @hubert-rawlinson, admittedly both of us a bit deafened by the nonsense behind us. They were followed by Marillio. having earlier decided I didn’t like them, I missed much of this, coming back for a most odd last hour. As nondescript a bunch of individual as you could meet or describe, bar the definitely not Fish frontman of these days, Steve Hogarth, whose whole persona, bad hairdye-job included, seems to be taking the piss out of everyone, himself included, spending all of his non-singing time gurning, laughing and drinking. The initially all Genesis middle eight inspired songs became eventually quite endearing as I watched, enthralled by his antics. And the audience, a number clearly for whom this was the rationale for being there, were clearly enthralled and uber-fans, holding court to their gods. Astonishing. By contrast, Dougie Maclean, one man and his acoustic, the writer of Caledonia, was a equally enthralling, but, rather than bombast, more by his masterful manipulation of the field, entirely and effortlessly creating the intimate ambience of a tiny folk club, encouraging and getting the audience to sing along with his choruses. Wonderful voice, classy picking, exemplary songs and between song banter resplendent. Fabulous.
The finale, 9 until midnight, is always Fairport at their own festival. This was my 5th Cropredy and perhaps the stakes were higher with the build up. Much was presented in historical order, so the original line up, minus Marin Lamble, deceased, kicked off. Wonderfully, with the prescient Time Will Know the Wiser. With Judy Dyble and Ian Matthews kicked off stage, semi-regular Sandy Denny alike regular Chris While came on, allowing a rattle through several staples from that period, with 3 or 4 from Liege and Lief, the glorious guitar motif of Tam Linn being a standout. Without Swarb either, Chris Leslie deputised with his fiddle and vocals being no great variation from the style of his acknowledged prime influence. A brace to tracks from the Full House period could have been better rehearsed, I felt, mainly on the vocal front, Dave Pegg never having the voice he thinks he has, being mixed too high in the mix, and RT thus turning himself even higher, often drowning out Leslie and Nicol. In turn each incarnation of the band had a mention. The illness: a severe stroke, of Jerry Donahue was acknowledged by a brief mini-Fotheringay tribute and a nod to the Rising For the Moon line-up, with Sally Barker now playing Sandy, with PJ playing Trevor Lucas and Donohue at the same time. Suddenly it seemed to be the 1984 reformation of the band and the early Cropredy festivals, with, for me, the welcome return of Maartin Allcock and the more muscular style he brought to the band. And the deeply dippy of Ric Sanders. Into the home strait, and the 2 fiddle line up of Chris Leslie replacing Allcock, and Gerry Conway replacing Mattacks, although he wasn’t tonight going anywhere, as 2 kits remained alongside in use to the end. Hell, in the flesh, even that ghastly Cherwell song from 50:50, the last album, sounded good. In a flash the 3 hours were gone, and it was, after a banjo led Matty Groves, which worked, all hands on deck for Meet on the Ledge. And, indeed, it all came round again.Midnight and the throng dispersed to their tents, all seemingly with the same smuts in their eyes.
Old and faithful, more band branded T-shirts than you could shake a stick at, all previous years represented from the 90s to this. Many had (had to?) bring family members, by which I feel many were grandchildren, amused and bemused by it all. More chairs than standing, a picnic atmosphere throughout. Not really a very hip audience by any stretch, but a fanbase enough to keep this band solvent for possibly even a few more years, age being the only withering factor.
It made me think..
There is life in the old sods yet. I had been in 2 minds about going, in the end delighted I did so.Unashamedly for me a nostalgia trip, remembering and recalling my acquaintance with the family Fairport from, for me, Si Tu Dois Partir, to, hell yeah, even now.
Would I go again? No. It is too much of a time warp wallow. Yes, Thompson, Hutchings and, especially, Mattacks, were on their toppermost form but there seemed too much responsibility upon the past to deliver. Where was some new? A band like, say, Ferocious Dog, or Lau, by complete contrast, could have added no small extra to the pot.
Would I go again? I don’t think so.