From Oxford (not, not that one) to Cropredy - Part 4,
The next morning, I parked my car in its normal slot, but then decided to walk along the canal and into the village instead of the more direct route to the showground. Many of the barges were selling crafts of different types, and there was even a record shop! I soon found myself in one of the lower fields and caught up with Malcolm Holmes of Talking Elephant Records. I have known Malcolm for well over twenty years, from when he and Barry used to run HTD Records. That label morphed into TER and to my mind it is one of the most important labels around as it reissues “lost” progressive albums as well as keeping their finger firmly on the pulse of musicians such as Ashley Hutchings, giving them an outlet for their new material. With many their albums stashed carefully away, it was time to walk past all the craft stalls and make my way to the field for the first band of the day.
Whispering Bob Harris introduced the day, talking about when he and John Peel were at Middle Earth and first came across Fairport, and the first band then came to the stage, Morris On. When it comes to the people behind the folk-rock movement of the late Sixties, early Seventies, there are few that can have had as much impact as Ashley Hutchings. He was a founder member of Fairport, left them and formed Steeleye Span, and the in 1972 was behind the ‘Morris On’ album, which was the first attempt to rock up traditional Morris music. The Melton Mowbray Morris Dancers came on stage, as the band moved between more traditional styles and electric. Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders came on stage in time for “List For A Sailor”, so there were now three fiddlers involved. Then Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson all came on to swell the band to 11 (accordion, bass, two drums, three fiddlers, four guitars) and they showed just how traditional music can work so very well in an electric rock environment.
Judy Dyble & The Band of Perfect Strangers calmed everything down, and even after all these years Judy still has a wonderful voice, and her version of “If I Had A Ribbon Bow”, which she had originally recorded almost exactly fifty years earlier with Fairport (it was their debut single, released in 1968), was simply stunning. I was making my way to the Wadworths tent when I bumped in Ric Sanders and had a long chat before turning almost straight into Maart who I had last interviewed some fifteen years earlier. Before making it to the beer tent I walked past Maddy Prior and saw Clive Bunker having an animated conversation. It all just brought home to me just how friendly and special this festival really is
It was now time for another member of the early days to come to the stage, and this time it was Plainsong, led by Iain Matthews who was in the band from 1967 – 1969. Just three guys, two acoustic guitars and one electric, with original members Iain and Andy Roberts sounding as if it was the early Seventies all over again. Their arrangements and vocals were wonderful, and they swapped leads according to the song at hand. There was a big cheer for ‘Even The Guiding Light” from their debut 1972 album, and the use of the electric guitar being gently picked really added to the ambience. There is a very American late Sixties, early Seventies, feel to the music, and this was sheer class from start to end. Their a capella version of “From Galway To Graceland” was just wonderful.
Did I mention that the festival line-up can be somewhat eclectic? Next up was Cats In Space with their version of Eighties Uriah Heep style melodic rock, and they were a blast right from the introduction tape (the only band to use one). These guys were throwing shapes, very strong images, they are all rock gods – it may just be that the rest of the world hasn’t found out yet. I had a smile on my face throughout this, and it wasn’t a surprise to discover that a couple of them are in the current line-up of The Sweet. The power ballad “Fooling Myself” went down well with lots of audience participation, and they also pulled out a great version of Slade’s “How Do U Feel?”.
So, the stage was now set for a band that I have seen quite a lot, Marillion. I probably have every album they have ever released, I’m just not sure why. That they are all great musicians is never in doubt, and that they have released some great songs is also true, it’s just that I don’t think that have released anything totally worthwhile since ‘Misplaced Childhood’ although ‘Season’s End’ did have a few moments, but that came out in 1989! It may be the same line-up as that album, but seeing them again just reiterated what I have been thinking for some time, and that the soul and heart has disappeared. Steve Hogarth is always going to be a happy man, and it does seem to me that it has almost become him and backing musicians. Pete Trewavas puts on a brave face, but it appears that he is trying too hard while Steve Rothery seemed fed up, and Mark just looked like he didn’t want to be there (couldn’t even see Ian Mosley). “Easter” was okay, but I was soon looking for a food stall and deciding whether to have curry or Mexican, and was I okay for another beer. “Man of 1000 Faces” had some life to it, and there was a cheer from the crowd when they announced, “This Strange Engine”, but it is only when they rock and show their power that they again became the band that was so important to me 35 years ago.
One of the reasons they could have been a little upset, is that there was another act between them and the headline, singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean. Here is a consummate showman, displaying that all one needs are good songs, strong musical skills, and an affinity with the audience that only comes from long years of playing anywhere and everywhere. By just the second song, “Shadow of the Mountain” everyone was singing along and having fun. In some ways, I felt his storytelling and relationship was quite like that of Billy Connolly, and “Caledonia” received a rousing reception.
By now it was approaching 8:30 and the natives were getting restless. Given what we had seen over the last couple of days it was obvious that tonight was going to be very special indeed, but I don’t think anyone ever expected it to be quite like this. Fairport Convention were formed in 1967, and since they reformed and released ‘Gladys Leap’ there have been just two line-up changes, but tonight wasn’t about the last forty years, but instead a concentration on the first ten, and using the original musicians wherever possible. Judy was only in the band for the debut album, so she was there for “Time Will Show The Wiser” but she was soon replaced by Chris While for Sandy songs, while Chris Leslie took the part of Swarb. Richard Thompson was having a great time, and to see the guys perform classics such as “Come All Ye” and “The Deserter” was amazing. But when Ashley asked if we wanted to hear “Tam Lin” my jaw just dropped – it is an absolute classic of theirs, but they haven’t had the line-up to do it justice so to finally hear it performed live was something I never thought I’d experience.
Line-ups were being switched for different songs, and we were treated to “Walk Awhile”, and I was again transformed to see Richard Thompson perform the solo to “Sloth”, another number I never thought I’d hear. Simon sang “Fotheringay”, while the band shifted gears with “Now Be Thankful” and “Sir Patrick Spens”. Maart came on to start switching between keyboards and guitar, while Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway were now providing a double drum attack, and “Rising For The Moon” was followed by Ralph McTell joining for “The White Dress”. They almost got up to date with “The Hiring Fair” and “Jewel In The Crown”, while “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” and “Dirty Linen” were incredible. “Matty Groves” tonight was started on a banjo, but then it was the curfew and just time for “Meet On The Ledge” which everyone of us sang with gusto. All too soon, it was over. I looked at my notebook and the person stood next to me asked if I felt they had missed any major songs from the set. After looking through them all I said that I couldn’t think of any from the earlier period, they had all been played tonight, or over the weekend. I drove back to the hotel, happy but also sad that my time overseas was coming to an end. But I still had some more people to see first…