A return to Fairport’s Cropredy Convention was eagerly awaited by thousands of people who would be lining the field in Cropredy, Oxfordshire in the hottest August for a long time, mostly armed with sun cream, copious bottles of water and beer, sunhats, battery operated fans and cooling water sprays to cool us all down!
“We need an early start”, Milesy said and announced he was bringing Lewis Beech, son of our leader and beautiful friend Darren Beech who tragically passed far too soon in March 2021. It was our first Cropredy without him and we were there altogether in his memory. No Chance was coming all the way from Suffolk, Johnno from Kent and me from the Devon/Cornwall border. I bottled out travelling all that way on the Thursday morning and got a hotel nearby the night before!
Thursday morning, we assembled at Tesco Banbury and commenced in convoy to the hallowed ground of Cropredy Festival. We weren’t the only early, eager audience and met with a fair queue of traffic as we neared the site. The Folking Crew managed to keep nose to tail to enable our camp to be all together. The ‘fun’ began putting up our tents, apart from Milesy who had his van kitted out with a bed and kitchen! I was well jell. I did have help from ‘Chewie’ Lewis who did most of the work and could put a tent up quicker than his Dad who made a proper balls-up every year of creating his boudoir and on which we all had a good laugh and memory of.
After a chill, a beer and a discussion what we were going to do in this very hot weather, we left mid-afternoon to queue up for our spot on The Field. Neatly assembled while we awaited the gates opening, we admired the front trusty few in front of us to charge the field with more energy than a bull at a gate, and in 30 plus degrees too! The first thing I did was to get a programme (beautifully collectable crafted book) to plan where we were going to be when certain artists were appearing plus contained stories and facts about each artist. A jolly good read and now in my bookcase with the others.
Thursday afternoon kicked off with compere A J Clarke to open up the proceedings and introduce Fairport Acoustic to the roar of the crowd. Three years is a long time coming. They all looked very pleased to be back where they belong – on the stage – and a huge audience. The first day (Thursday) of the festival had kicked off in style. The Thumping Tommy’s were next, new to me, but will be following them. Debut album out recently and have toured around Europe. Regulars at folk festivals and UK venues but I seemed to have missed them.
Next came Edward II. A favourite band of mine who are so uplifting and full of bounce and enthusiasm. English roots blending rhythm of Caribbean with traditional songs from the UK. We were treated to some new songs too. Plenty of dancing was seen at the front and on the field.
Folk legends Clannad were before the top spot, one of the last gigs before they disband so very lucky to have seen them at Cropredy. I’m not a great fan personally but the majority of people watching were obviously great supporters. It must have been hard for the band to play to such a large audience knowing it was all going to end.
Headliners The Trevor Horn Band rounded off the first day and were just so electric! His big hit – ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ was greeted with rapturous applause, and everyone was dancing to the end of their spot. What a party! Not forgetting Trevor produced many well-known hits in the 80’s and 90’s including ‘The Power Of Love’, ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’, and a host of many other well-known stars. Many of his band played on the original recordings.
Friday we were struggling with the heat but managed to catch some of the Maddie Morris set – a contemporary folk singer from Leeds – who was waiting for this spot since winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards in 2019! Not my taste but good luck to her. Australian Emily Barker was next including husband Lukas Drinkwater in her band with one of my most favourite sets of the festival. In fact, all of the Folking Team who were there said the same. Fantastic songs and playing. Her new album – A Dark Murmuration Of Words hit number 1 on the Official Americana Album Chart in the UK. Certainly a band to watch out for.
Home Service featuring famed singer songwriter John Tams gave us some political numbers and political thoughts from John Tams. Well known for his part and singing in Sean Bean’s Sharpe, he announced his retirement in 2015 and was replaced by folk stalwart John Kirkpatrick, John has now come out of retirement to join the band again alongside John Kirkpatrick. Well received by the audience.
I was right at the front in the mosh pit for one of my favourite artists – Martyn Joseph – who was on fire for the set. Full of fire and passion for his music and what the world is going through brings his music to the top of his game with 30 years of performing under his belt. Dubbed affectionately as the Welsh Springsteen he has certainly earned that title. Just brilliant. His penultimate number off his latest amazing album 60 entitled ‘There Is A Field’ made me well up thinking of ‘our Darren’ and what the words mean. I had a chat with Martyn afterwards and he said he had really enjoyed playing at Cropredy, but he looked a tad warm as we all were. Everyone enjoyed it too judging by the very long queue for newly bought CDs of his to be signed.
I was sorry Darren wasn’t with us to hear his favourite band that he was always telling me to see for years – The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams. They were in the middle of a UK tour from their native America and absolutely drove the Cropredy audience wild! Americana, folk rock, craziness, psychedelic. Its not surprising the New York Times said that they take the stage by storm! Can see why Darren loved them.
The Sharon Shannon Trio with her traditional Irish tunes and compositions gave us beautiful tunes and fast paced jigs and reels and has promoted Irish music around the world. Sharon has collaborated and toured with the likes of Bono, Steve Earle, The Waterboys, Willie Nelson and so the list goes on. A set of Irish culture.
Big wow for me on Friday was Turin Brakes. Just amazing! 2022 sees them release their ninth studio album Wild-Eyed Nowhere set for release 16th September. Their debut album The Optimist LP achieved gold status in the UK and was Mercury Prize shortlisted. A four piece band which sounded like an eight piece. A storming set.
Headliner Steve Hackett did not do it for me at all. Some fans at the front but we went back to our camp, where we could still hear him but enjoyed the cool air and a beer.
Saturday came too soon. Seth Lakeman Trio comprising Benji Kirkpatrick and Plymothian Alex Hart kicked off the Saturday proceedings in what is normally the Richard Digance slot. White hanky waving was still evident, and Seth gave us an absolutely belting set. Fan favourites were played, Mercury Nominated Music Prize track Kitty Jay was just electric, old and new numbers were a blast and I loved the whole set from the mosh pit in the blistering heat! The audience and the band were clearly enjoying it too.
Six-piece folk rockers – Holy Moly And The Crackers – thrashed out Americana, rock and indie with a circus punk feel. You certainly knew they were on stage wherever you were on the field. Absolutely mega. Used to have sold out shows in the UK and Europe and have played Glastonbury. Their biggest show to date was The Sage in Gateshead. More tours next year.
Another favourite of mine and everybody else’s – The Bar-Steward Sons Of Val Doonican – Complete with colourful tank tops and wigs (how they cope in the heat)? Bounced onto the stage with their usual craziness and reworded well known songs and then some. Fab humour and just wonderful to see. You have to witness ‘Goat Yoga’ to believe it. Lead singer Scott is well known for his crowd surfing in a dinghy which looks pretty formidable but after getting the audience to jump to their song ‘Jump’ in 35 degrees, they and the audience deserve a medal! Just brilliant.
Rosalie Cunningham toned down the proceedings with her acclaimed Kate Bush style and has been heralded by such publications as Classic Rock, Mojo and Kerrang. One to watch.
The Matthews Baartmans Experience, born out of going separate ways with Matthews Southern Comfort and featuring Iain Matthews, this duo wowed the audience. I was on walkabout up the field but returned to my seat to listen intently in time to hear Woodstock. Really loved their style and hope to see them again soon in the near future.
RT – aka Richard Thompson OBE needs no introduction and delivered a spell binding set. He looked relaxed and happy to be back at Cropredy. As always, exquisite guitar playing with countless Awards under his belt, he played a fabulous set. A founder member of Fairport Convention its great to see Richard regularly guesting at Cropredy Saturday night before the last spot. Joined by a few friends including new wife Zara Philips, great favourites such as Vincent Black Lightning and new songs were played, and Richard certainly had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Fairport Convention arrived on stage as the evening headliners to a rip-roaring rapturous cheers and applause. All of them looked so happy to be back at Cropredy after 3 years absence. Peggy beamed from ear to ear, but all of the band including Dave Mattacks who flew in from the US as usual to join his friends and ex bandmates and all were on fire. As part of the set Fairport did the full rendition of the album Full House, which was the 50th anniversary of it in 2019, but as we all know things got delayed for some reason. Richard Thompson joined the band as he was on the original album but sadly missing was, of course, fiddle player maestro Dave Swarbrick. ‘Meet On The Ledge’ brought all the Folking Team to tears as we remembered our pal and everybody else’s – Darren.
All this was made even more special as the full moon rose quietly above the CD tent!
I must mention the wonderful food and drink stalls around the field who kept us fed and watered in the oppressive heat. The bar staff kept the bar running and as there was staff shortages the staff that worked didn’t take breaks and just kept going. Amazing of them. Thank you. The signings tent which had long queues for artists to sign their new CDs or whatever was in full sun, yet people still waited. The hat and other stalls were doing a fabulous trade and I lost myself in the CD tent for ages. AJ Clarke did a sterling job of reading out messages during the festival snd announcing the artists and we thank him for reading out our remembrance in Darren’s memory.
Very well organised as always and us all from Folking.com thank everyone involved and eagerly await August 2023.
Jean Camp aka Campie
Festival website if you need more: https://www.fairportconvention.com/