17 Rajab - Year 1427
We're back from the festival and it was generally a good time, but marred by a few unexpected events--that and some of the music just didn't seem to me to be as quality as last year. I won't post a diary like I did last year, in the interest of not boring the reader. I'll post highlights (and lowlights) of each day.
Thursday (10th August): After setting up camp, our crew headed down to the main stage area. We missed the wRants, so I can't tell you how they were. PJ Wright came out and played a set of trad. folk stuff--not bad, but not spectacular, either. I'd have thought he'd throw in a Bob Dylan cover, as he's the singer in The Dylan Project--a Fairport off-shoot, but no..not a sausage. Feast Of Fiddles provided the best set of Thursday, with six or seven fiddlers on-stage (including Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders of Fairport) sawing away. They coaxed some wonderful textures from their instruments and they even had Pixie dancing at one point (I kid you not). Their closing tune was a credible version of Fairport's Battle Of The Somme (found on the Live At The L.A. Troubadour album) and I was impressed at their arrangement (though I still missed Richard Thompson's sliding, gliding guitar notes). The musical low point hit with Chris Newman and Maire Ni Chathasaigh (pronounced 'Ha-Ha-Sig, if you're interested), an Anglo-Irish duo whose music would fit better in a small tea room than an outdoor festival. While they gamely tried to engage the crowd, Newman's guitar plucking and Chathasaigh's harp couldn't provide much spark. Then Chathasaigh sang in a strange ululating fashion that sounded a bit off-key and that sealed it for the audience. They were given some polite applause to send them on their way. Steeleye Span closed the night, not exactly in a triumphal manner--but at least it made up for the previous act. Maddy Prior's pipes still can hit most of the notes and Peter Knight's fiddle-playing is up to scratch. They've recruited Ken Nicol from the Albion Band on guitar and Liam Genockey on drums, for this line-up. The set seemed to go on a bit too long for my liking--but then suddenly they finished with a lively version of All Around My Hat. The nadir of the festival also happened during Steeleye's set when some thoughtful individuals (who had actually purchased tickets) decided to rummage through tents in the various camping fields and relieve people of some of their valuables. Security were able to thwart the thieves after a time, but quite a few festival-goers were robbed before then. That kind of thing puts a damper on the good-natured vibe of a place like Cropredy.
Friday (11th August): Shameless Quo opened the day at noon--we missed them, but we heard a bit walking into the arena. They played all of the Quo's "boooogie" stuff, no Pictures Of Matchstick Men or anything from Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon..meh. Bodega were next--another Irish/Scots combo. They won the Radio 2 Young Folk Award for this year. Competent musicians and some nice reels, but again, a feeling of deja vu crept in after a few tunes. I was disappointed with Then Came The Wheel, despite their pedigree (members of Maddy Prior's band, Albion Band and so on)--they played sub-Dire Straits blues-rock and I took to calling them "Reinventing The Wheel". Ashley Hutchings, original bassist with Fairport, was up next with his new-ish group, Rainbow Chasers. While it was cool to see 'The Guv'nor' still up there, jammin' away--he sorta resembled a creepy older uncle, as the other band members are probably half his age. The lyrics of some of the tunes left a lot to be desired also. They played a tribute song to Nick Drake--and it was pretty much Hutchings' anecdote about meeting Drake, set to music...I'm not joking. Speaking of pedigree, Deborah Bonham was on-stage after Rainbow Chasers, and yes, she's related to that John Bonham. Almost needless to say, her set was heavy on the blooze-rock and they were easily the loudest act of the fest. She's got a good rock-n-raunch voice, but really, does the world need another Janis Joplin or Suzi Quatro? They did perform a decent version of Zep's The Battle Of Evermore, with Deborah taking both Robert Plant's and Sandy Denny's part--and their encore was (natch) Zep's Rock And Roll. When Deb's band cleared off, Frank Skinner (yes, the comedian) walked onstage to do announce that the 1969 line-up of Fairport were receiving gold records from Island Records for their ground-breaking Liege & Lief album. Skinner did a bit of stand-up first--with the best line being that the crowd's attire was "Wicker Man chic". They managed to round up almost the complete '69 line-up--with Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol ambling out to accept their awards. Chris While accepted Sandy Denny's and Ric Sanders accepted Dave Swarbrick's. Flook, another trad. Irish group, bookended Bodega with some sprightly bodhran playing and flute work..and then it was time for "Johnny Too Bad", John Martyn. I do admit to being slightly disappointed with his set. It's not entirely his fault, as he is confined to a wheelchair now, much like Robert Wyatt--and it's tough to give a charismatic performance in that state. When he dug into the Solid Air songbook, he showed he's still got some spark--with brilliant versions of May You Never, I Don't Want To Know and the title track. The rest of the set was made up of newer tunes and a couple of re-arranged One World selections. He was having problems with the effects gear for his guitar--so there were a few delays. He finished with a cover of an old jazz song--possibly originally recorded by Billie Holiday--it was a class touch and well done. We skipped Graham Gouldman & Friends, billed as 10cc (which Pixie changed to "1cc")--but from what I could hear, they performed credible versions of 10cc's tunes, like The Things We Do For Love, as well as Gouldman-penned hits from the 60s, such as The Hollies' Bus Stop. No robberies reported in our field for Friday night, thankfully.
Saturday (12th August): We cheated a bit on the festival experience and set out for Pixie's brother's house (about 20 minutes away from the site) for hot showers and bacon sarnies for breakfast (not Pixie, as she's vegetarian). We decided to miss out on Richard Digance's "Family Folk Hour" or whatever he's calling it now--it just seems really bland and really trad. to me. We also missed Sam Holmes & Her Band--I don't know who she is and the programme doesn't give her much of a description, so she's an enigma at this point. Returning back to the festival site--Pixie and I helped her brother and his family disassemble their tent, as they were going to leave a bit later in the afternoon. While we were doing that, Dave Swarbrick's latest venture, Lazarus (a joke on Swarb's medical conditions the past few years), took it to the stage. A trio, with Swarb on fiddle, Kevin Dempsey and Maartin Allcock on guitars, they played for an hour and we caught the final tune while walking toward the stage area. I regretted missing Swarb in action--but I figured he would join in on Fairport's set later in the evening. He didn't. King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys were up after that. They're a six-piece 50s rock-n-roll/jump blues retro band--straight down to the matching blue zoot suits and names like Shark Van Shtoop and Crab-Claw Tromans. I was thinking "Oh no--it's Sha Na Na time" but they got the crowd dancing and clapping and I had to give in to the sheer exuberance of their performance..and Cropredy this year desparately needed a pick-me-up of any sort. Dervish took the stage after King Pleasure and various Biscuit Boys vacated--and while they are deft musicians, the Irish reel overload was kicking in at this point. Singer Cathy Jordan put in an energetic act and the band followed behind, but it was all too much jigging and bodhran-ing for one weekend. Glen Tilbrook, formerly of Squeeze, was the penultimate act. He's the subject of an indie film documentary, which followed him around as he toured the U.S. last year. He played some mannered folk-style pop tunes and his stage presence was amiable enough, with his long in-between song banter. He would say "Cheers, luvs" every time he took a sip from his beer. As seems to be the way..his own songs were met with mild enthusiasm and the old Squeeze tunes drew the roars from the crowd. Finally, Fairport Convention hit the stage sometime after 9 p.m. They played a good mixture of old and newer tunes--including a surprise The Journeyman's Grace, from Angel Delight. I also heard Sir Patrick Spens, Tam Lin and The Deserter. Chris While joined the Fairports to sing Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Time Goes? and back-up on "The Deserter". I admit to losing some of my enthusiasm when they played some of the newer stuff--but it doesn't seem to have the quality of the "classic" years. That being said, they can still rip it up when they want to--as when they performed The Lark In The Morning medley. Glen Tilbrook also joined them for a mini-set of his tunes--the highlight being Squeeze's Tempted (covered by Richard Thompson--which was mentioned by Simon Nicol). Everything wound up at midnight, with the obligatory Meet On The Ledge, but we were already back at the tent by then. The next morning, in the rain, we packed up our gear and headed home. The end of another Cropredy.