It is that time of year again and I had an invite to join the lads from folking.com and ‘do’ the 2016 Cropredy Festival. As a Cropredy virgin and non-camper, three days before the event I was filled with trepidation and angst, although the music beckoned! How could you not with such a line up?! This is what kept me going.
I arrived at Folkmaster Towers the day before, to be greeted by camping equipment and God knows what else – strewn all over the front lawn. Were we packing for the army? Decisions of which tent to take, go wash this, do that, but it kept my mind off sleeping in a cow field the next night! I announced I had bought a pop up tent for the occasion as it was quick and easy to put it up, I confidently said, I was told they are a nightmare to put down……..that’s another story!!! A visit to Waitrose followed the front lawn episode.
The day dawned. We were to meet the rest of the team at the ungodly hour of 7am at a service station over an hour and a half away. Everyone turned up at the appointed time, and we sped off in convoy to all arrive at the same time, to be in the same field and set up the Folking.com camp. Paul turned up with a transit van, complete with proper bed, fairy lights, toilet but no kitchen implements or the food and cooking equipment he was supposed to be bringing.
Great start but we had a laugh! We ended up in Field 4, full of cow pats but no cows thankfully. My tent went up a breeze with the help of the wonderful Chris, but our Beloved Leader was hampered by a slight drizzle and size of his tent, and then fluffed about filling it with comfy mattress and everything including the kitchen sink. Jon, Chris myself and Paul just amused ourselves while we were waiting the two and a half hours it took him to create the classic boudoir experience for himself which was only marred by the forgotten sarong which was meant to have provided some sort of Bedouin shade.
Onwards to The Field…. The Festival was opened by Fairport MC – Anthony John Clarke and Thursday kicked off with a Fairport Acoustic set, lots of people already in attendance and we had a good view from where we were, and two huge screens were either side the stage for those further back.
I was on photo duty, so could get to the stage area easily to capture the artists. One of the acts – Coco And The Butterfields were a new name to me and were suggested by Debs Earle and her daughter Rosie from Folk In The Barn, to the Fairport Team, and a good choice. Energetic vocals from these Canterbury buskers.
These were ably followed by Hayseed Dixie, whom I have wanted to see for ages. A rip-roaring Bluegrass Rock with attitude!
Madness with front man Suggs, completed the first day as Headliners. They certainly didn’t disappoint and belted out their hits and more with gusto.
We returned to our tents. I discovered a hill where my head was going to be and managed 4 hours sleep!
Friday dawned very hot, not normal Cropredy weather I’m told , went off for a shower to find the Cricket Pavilion showers blocked. I was the last one and was told I couldn’t have a shower there. Darren suggested that I should have used the excellent Fairport free ones (which he promised to point out to me, but never actually got round to doing). This advice was provided after he paid his two pounds fifty at the Cricket Pavilion, had queued, showered and dressed within ten minutes… Well, if it was going to happen to someone… It was going to happen to me! By this time the acts had started and I missed A J Clarke and Peggy, also BBC R2 YFA winner Brighde Chaimbeul, although I could hear them. Thankfully I surfaced for the female rock duo – Sound Of The Sirens who I had seen earlier this year supporting Rick Astley, they are a favourite of R2 presenter Chris Evans, have performed at Glastonbury, and are so energetic and a joy to watch and listen to. Definitely ones to watch out for.
I had to visit the medical tent… again… it could only happen to me… went in to get some different tablets for a water infection as the ones I had were not working and came back out having being wired up to an ECG machine for an irregular heartbeat. I said I had a Festival to go to, was a first time camper, had a shower disaster, had lost my tooth brush, so what did they expect!? If my ticker was dicky it would last until Sunday! (No alcohol had been consumed by the way).
Another band I enjoyed but had heard before were Willie And The Bandits who are labelled as a classic blues rock band, but they are so much more. They have played Glastonbury and all over Europe. The Cropredy crowd loved them.
Next came festival favourites Steeleye Span with Maddy Prior, who had everyone on the field eating out of their hands. Performing a mixture of songs including their latest album – The Wintersmith and of course – All Around My Hat! In 47 years, the band has notched up a family tree of member changes and like Fairport, have been one of the bands responsible for putting folk-rock on the map. They still sound great!
Friday ended with Headliners – The Bootleg Beatles – who have appeared some years ago at Cropredy. As expected, they belted out a variety of Beatle Hits and a couple of dress changes denoted different eras the Beatles went through. “George” wowed the audience with a fantastic rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I think Cropredy were lucky to get them as they are touring all over the world shortly. Apparently they are the most successful Beatles Tribute act ever. I’m not surprised. Fabulous!
After the main act finished, the rest of the crew (all bar Chis and me) headed off to see the other Paul, Mr. Johnson who was camped near the bottom of the disabled field to listen to him do a couple of his own songs as well as meeting up with his daughter and daughters partner “Dave Longboat’ who had lost his way on the Thursday night back to campsite 4, misplaced his footing and ended up in the Canal. Dave asked me to extend his thanks to the Cropredy villagers, who were having a party at the time and came to the rescue with towels. My camping buddy Paul said, “there are only two things that go in a canal, one a longboat and the other is Dave”, hence the name. I believe that the folkmaster penned a poem to mark the occasion and Paul Johnson is rumoured to be writing a tune for it for next year.
Saturday – main day and another hot one in more ways than one – early start for getting a decent spot on The Field. Richard Digance kicked off the day’s proceedings and was so funny. He can sing well too and play a mean old rag! We ended up with 20,000 people plus doing a Morris dance with hankies! Had to be seen to be believed! Good fun.
Other highlights for me were Maia, who call themselves sci-fi folk genre. Certainly different and very watchable. Then we had Gilmore & Roberts who were a duo I had wanted to catch up with and they didn’t disappoint. They played as a four piece band and I enjoyed them very much.
The Pierce Brothers from Australia brought the house down! The brothers were overwhelmed as they had not played such a big crowd before, and seem very humbled by the response they got from the enthusiastic crowd. Fairport’s Simon Nicol said later that The Pierce Brothers had been knocked for six by the audience reaction to their music. Hope to see them back in the UK soon.
Damien Barber and his Demon Barbers was something else! An energetic fusion of song, dancing, hip hop, trad folk, everything all rolled into one. Very visual and entertaining.
Highlight of the Festival for me was the legend who is Ralph McTell. A classic gifted wordsmith, prolific guitarist and a truly genuine guy. The set included, amongst others, Barges, Pepper and Tomatoes and a rousing rendition of From Clare to Here and he had the audience eating out of his hand and rightly so. A truly fabulous performance from our National Treasure. Of course, Streets of London was there as well, and hearing 20,000 or more people singing it, was a joy in itself. You could tell by the huge smile on Ralph’s face when he finally said goodnight that the love was following in both directions with abundance! Lovely that Paul Johnson and Darren (aka Folkmaster) had done such an amazing interview with Ralph the previous day (listen again below).
Fairport Convention ended the evening and the weekend. They opened with some very funny Olympic themed visuals which you can watch again on the “Fairporters” Facebook group if you missed it. Simon Nicol made a superb speech to the memory of Fairport founder virtuoso fiddler Dave Swarbrick, who sadly died a few months ago, but who has left a fantastic musical legacy and will not be forgotten. Dave has inspired so many people to take up the fiddle over the years and will also be remembered for his song writing, sense of humour and character. The compilation of Swarb photos from across the years was also a lovely touch as well.
An outstanding set from Fairport followed which included a guest appearance from 11-year-old blues guitar wonder-boy Toby Lee, who played the lead on ‘Mr. Lacey’ (I think). Plus the traditional ‘Matty Groves’ and of course, ‘Meet On The Ledge’ ending, the point where the field, all twenty thousand of us, unify around the song that examplifies the reason we all go. My team mates and I all linked up together to sing this and felt myself welling up. I had so enjoyed my first Cropredy, been introduced to some new and amazing artists and their music, and was sorry to have to say goodbye for another year. Yes, I will be going next year for Fairport’s 50th year celebration!