From Oxford (not, not that one) to Cropredy - Part 2,
Thursday morning came around, and it was time to make the trek to Cropredy. For those who are unaware of the history of Fairport Convention and the festival, perhaps a small explanation is in order. Although the band had released one of the most important albums of all-time in 1969 with ‘Liege and Lief’, they had a somewhat confusing time in the Seventies with band members leaving (and some returning), and by 1979 there just didn’t appear to be a market for folk rock. This, combined with Dave Swarbrick having been diagnosed with tinnitus and the band now unable to play electric, meant that they decided to call it a day. They played a final tour, ending it with a small event in Cropredy, the village where Dave Pegg and his wife Christine were living. The next few years saw the band getting back together for the event, which Peggy then recorded and sold on his label Woodworm Records. This event gradually got bigger, and Peggy, Simon Nicol and Dave Mattacks eventually thought that possibly the time was right for the first studio album by Fairport Convention since 1978’s ‘Tippler’s Tales’. Swarb was unavailable, so they asked Ric Sanders to guest on fiddle while Richard Thompson and Cathy Lesurf also helped. The resulting ‘Gladys Leap’ album found the band gain many new fans, and a new line-up was formed of Mattacks, Nicol, Pegg, Sanders and multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock. Fairport Convention were again a viable touring and recording band but by now the festival had taken on a life of its own. The whole village is involved with the festival in one way or another, and musically everyone knows that Fairport will close the gig with a 3 ½ hour set on the Saturday, and that various members and ex-members will appear throughout the three days, and that it is the friendliest and most eclectic around.
The stage is at the bottom of a sloping field, so no matter where you are sat, or stood, there is a good view of the stage. They have screens either side so that even those sat at the back in their deck chairs can see what is going on. There are stands and stalls up both sides selling both craftwork and a wide variety of foods, while of course the most important tent was Wadworths. Us folkies like our real ale.
So, Fairport started the event at 4:00 on the Friday, with some acoustic renditions of well-known songs, and when Maart made his way on stage for “Portmeiron” I could see it was going to be a special weekend. I wandered around just soaking up the ambience as I looked for beer, food and CDs (in that order). I did meet with Richard Thompson at the signing tent being a real fanboy and getting some albums autographed. I did also speak to him about possible coming to NZ one day, please! Feast of Fiddles are a band that include nine fiddle players, and they did a great job of warming up the crowd. Soon it was time for the highlight of the day, at least for me, Show of Hands. Steve Knightley and Phil Beer have probably played every toilet in England over the years, and it probably shook the establishment when they first booked (and sold out) The Royal Albert Hall. They are consummate performers and showmen, and with double bassist Miranda Sykes adding an additional element, this was always going to be special. Chris While (Albion band and others) joined for one number, but the highlights for me had to “Country Life”, a sad indictment of what has happened to rural communities and “Roots”, which asks some serious questions about why so few of us know our own musical heritage. They have played thousands of gigs together, and they have an ease and relaxed nature on stage that only comes with that familiarity. All too soon they were walking off, surely not, they couldn’t have finished without playing “Galway Farmer”? But it was okay, they walked towards the back, turned straight around and launched into a song that is now so ingrained in musical culture that it is listed as a traditional Irish folk song, even though it was written by Steve!
I enjoyed it so much that I decided I had to go and grab some of their newer albums, the last one I had was ‘Witness’, and why not get them signed at the same time? I was talking to Steve (who is from Widecombe), and I told him that he had made a Devon lad very happy. He asked where I was from, and when I said that I was from Brixham he started telling me just how dirty The Fishermen were. I had come all the way from New Zealand, and here I was yet again talking about rugby.
By now the next band was playing, The Trevor Horn Band, which is based around music either performed or produced by Trevor Horn, Steve Lipson and Lol Creme. They kicked off with “Two Tribes” and immediately I knew I was in trouble, as this was not good. They followed it with “Video Killed The Radio Star” and “Rubber Bullets” but by now I was already making tracks. I decided to get out of Dodge as quickly as I could so that I didn’t have to listen to any more poor covers, and could instead crash as the jet lag and travel was catching up with me. It did mean that I missed out on the final band of the night, The Divine Comedy, and apparently, they put on a fine show.