Sweetmorn, Bureaucracy 7, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3173
We definitely got a vibe that this year was going to be a bit different when, not even halfway through the village of Cropredy on the way to the camping fields, we were caught in a traffic jam. That hadn't happened in the past couple of years. We weren't sure what was happening--only that we were crawling along slowly in the blazing afternoon sun. On the upside - the village looked splendid, all sun-drenched and pastoral. It turned out that since the festival was sold-out--the security and work crews were turning away the hopeful multitudes who had arrived on the day to try and score an elusive ticket. Eventually, they had to let some of them camp, because the traffic would have been even worse.
We set up our tent fairly rapidly and then scouted the field for any conveniences (Porta-Loos, coffee/food stands, etc.) . After a little while, it was time to brave the ticket/wristband swap queues. Pixie decided to go back to the tent to grab our chairs and water and snacks, so I stayed in the massive queue to hold our place. The wristband staff proved more efficient than we thought and soon I was almost at the entrance and Pixie hadn't arrived back. I asked the bloke just inside if I could wait a moment for her, so she wouldn't have to go to the back of the line--but he refused, as the punters were arriving fast. She showed up about two minutes after I had my band and then we trudged with the stuff back to the end of the queue. To make matters slightly worse (and somewhat comical), we were in front of a few grizzled rockers who could've been roadies for Spinal Tap. All we heard for 20 minutes were things like "Saxon, 1978" "Cor!..oh yeah, Iron Maiden, Donnington 1981"...and on and on. While we were in the queue - we heard a bit of Anthony John Clarke and most of Kerfuffle's sets. Clarke seemed just O.K., trad-folkie type stuff and Kerfuffle had the neo-Celtic groove covered. Wishbone Ash, who did seem a bit out of place with their guitar-driven rawk, delivered a decent set and wisely stuck to selections from their first three albums, especially their 1972 foray into prog-rock, Argus (though, having said that - the 15-minute version of Phoenix, from the debut record, did seem to drag on some). Seth Lakeman was up next. He's a rising star in the Brit-folkie world and he did bring a flash of youthfulness to the afternoon. He does appear to be a bit over-hyped, though. I did enjoy the tunes - but they sounded a bit same-y after a while. We didn't stay for the final act of the day, Jools Holland & His Super-Duper Rhythm & Classical Orchestra...er something like that. Pixie wanted to head back to the tent and I was feeling run-down from being in the sun most of the day, so I joined her. We could hear them from the tent anyway..and when they got to Lulu's version of Shout, I was hoping Otis Day & The Knights would show up instead.
The next day we walked into Cropredy village, amongst the throngs of other festival-goers. I visited the Talking Elephant tent and was tempted into buying a couple of over-priced discs yet again (I don't think I'll ever learn). At least the two I purchased seem kinda rare. Curved Air's 1972 record, Phantasmagoria and The Enid's Something Wicked This Way Comes. They had a DVD of Tangerine Dream's 1975 Coventry Cathedral performance - but I decided to hold off..I can probably get it cheaper on-line anyway. By the time we made it back to the arena (after stopping by the showers--we needed one at that point--and the tent for supplies), Hummingbird were finishing their set. The band features three women, one of whom, Edwina Hayes, we had seen as a solo act a couple of years ago. They get compared to Crosby, Stills & Nash quite a bit--but to me, they sounded like an English version of the Emmylou Harris/Dolly Parton/Linda Ronstadt "Trio" records...only not as harmonically rich. Mad Agnes, an American trio--were up next. I wasn't overly impressed with them, despite not sticking to "traditional" subject matter in their lyrics. I suppose it was a bit tough for them to connect with the crowd, talking about adopted kids growing up in New Jersey, to a field full of British folkies in the middle of Oxfordshire. The next two bands, The Demon Barbers Roadshow and Last Orders, seemed more inventive - the Demon Barbers incorporating near drum-and-bass rhythms into a couple of tunes and inviting Riverdance-esque clog-shufflers to hoof it during a few others. Last Orders are a promising young band who, while retaining the trad-folk sound, bend it a bit here and there. They didn't seem to be stunningly original, but they definitely put in a good performance. The 'classic-rock du jour' was provided by Viva Santana. You guessed it, they mimic Carlos and his ever-changing cast of cohorts. They played all the well-known ones, Oye Como Va....Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen...Evil Ways...even the annoying Smooth. They did a workmanlike job of cranking out the Santana sound and it went down well with the (mostly baby-boomer) crowd--though I bet there was some berk at the front yelling "Oi! Play summat off Moonflower!" Show Of Hands were up next and they performed a pleasant-enough set of singer-songwriter-type folk where a lot of the lyrics seemed to be about "What-happened-to-the-ways-of-rural-England?" Ummm....time, I guess? I dunno, guys. I noted that Phil Beer, who recorded the single Pass You By with Mike Oldfield, is part of Show Of Hands. Then--the magic moment everyone had waited for was happening. The fabled 1969 line-up of Fairport were going to perform Liege & Lief all the way through--minus Sandy Denny, of course. Chris While was on vocal duties and she was admirable filling in Sandy's folk-goddess shoes. The opening riff of Come All Ye pealed into the evening air and away they went. I, unfortunately, had an anxiety spell (possibly from the heat) just as they walked on-stage and we had to listen from the medical tent--the irony was not lost on me. Dave Swarbrick, who was pronounced dead some seven years ago, due to a debilitating illness--was up there sawing away on the fiddle--I think that obituary column is worth a lot to a Fairport fanatic. They sounded good, especially during the Matty Groves coda jam and Tam Lin. While did a nice vocal on Farewell Farewell--I think Sandy would've been proud. Then, 40 minutes after it started - it was over. I was advised to head back to the tent for the night--so we missed watching Richard Thompson and his band. I did hear the set, though, and he sounded great as well--performing Dad's Gonna Kill Me, from the new Sweet Warrior album and some old faves like I Want To See The Bright Lights..., Al Bowlly's In Heaven and Wall Of Death. He did play a surprise Tear-Stained Letter, which got loud cheers from the crowd. The applause died away and Friday was over.
For the final day, we headed into the village in the morning. Pixie wanted a paper to get caught up on the news--but when we got to the shop, the only papers left were tabloids. So much for the news, then. We did find out about Tony Wilson's untimely demise, fittingly at a music festival, so it wasn't a total loss. We arrived at the arena, while Richard Digance was finishing his usual trad-folk...er...'comedy' stylings. GiveWay was up next, but we were off to the showers again, so we missed most of their set--they seemed O.K., going by what we did hear. We missed most of The Bucket Boys as well--but despite their pristine classic-rock pedigree (Tim Renwick, who's guested on inummerable albums and tours--including the 80s/90s Pink Floyd--is in the band), they seemed sorta run-of-the-mill to me..good musicians with bog-standard tunes. I sifted through some more of the stalls and found one that was selling vinyl. I ended up buying Al Stewart's Past, Present & Future, Ravi Shankar's Homage To Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. John's Remedies. I've never owned any Stewart, and it was only about £5, so I took a chance...and the Dr. John LP was still shrink-wrapped, so I considered it a find. Iain Matthews, Fairport's other lead singer from 1967 and '68, took to the stage. His voice still seems pretty intact after all these years, with a slight bit of Marty Balin-twang to it. His tunes were mainly singer-songwriter fare--lost love, times gone by, etc. There was a nice surprise when Richard Thompson (near ubiquitous over the weekend) joined Matthews for the two final numbers. The set closer, Back Of The Bus, an anti-racism ditty, unfortunately didn't leave RT much to do except provide sparse, choppy chords and a half-decent solo toward the end. The re-formed Strawbs were up next and I was looking forward to seeing them. The band are mostly a trio nowadays - but the main three (Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk) have been joined by keyboardist John Hawken and drummer Rod Coombes, thereby completing the 1974 line-up of the band. That incarnation released possibly the best-known Strawbs record, Hero And Heroine. Like Wishbone Ash, they knew the crowd they were playing to and stuck to selections from the 'glory days'--like Benedictus, from Grave New World and Witchwood, from their 1971 album, From The Witchwood. "Hero..." also featured--they played the entire three-part opener, Autumn, as well as Out In The Cold, which segued neatly into Round And Round. A tune (or two, maybe) was played from the group's newest studio effort, Deja Fou--but I can't remember the track names. They sounded good--well-rehearsed and they seemed to enjoy playing to a receptive crowd. We headed back to the tent after Strawbs' set to get some rest after being in the sun for another long day. We missed Billy Mitchell & Bob Fox--but I gathered it was going to be more of the same trad-folkie stuff. I hadn't realised that Mitchell was part of Lindisfarne, during their late 80s/90s reunion--and Jack The Lad in the late 70s. Ah well..another time, maybe. Around 8 p.m. - Fairport began their 40th anniversary set. They played for nearly four hours--with R.T., Iain Matthews and original lead singer Judy Dyble all joining in. We took a bit of a stroll and watched for a little while, hearing Jewel In The Crown and a spirited Walk Awhile--then we headed back to the tent for the night. I listened as to as much as I could - but I fell asleep before the now-traditional closer, Meet On The Ledge, was played, ending another Cropredy.
We awoke the next morning, packed up our gear - and headed back to our "regular" 9-to-5 existence. Thankfully, there were no traffic jams on the way back out through the village.