Cornbury Festival 2017 Review Posted on Thu 13th July 2017

‘The Fabulous Finale’ ends the Cornbury era in wonderful style

After fourteen years Cornbury Festival is no more. 2017’s ‘The Fabulous Finale’ was the end of the road for this most civilised of festivals. The decision was driven by the organisers desire to return to something resembling a quieter life … so Festivals For All (FFA) expected something very special this final year – and so it proved.

Key Cornbury attributes over the years have been Quality, Style and Sophistication – the festival has the word ‘Civilised’ running through to its core. Some have besmirched the event as ‘Poshstock’, but they fail to appreciate the bigger picture; look beyond the VIP Lounges and Champagne Buses and there beats a real heart to this Oxfordshire gathering. The whole crowd are wonderful, and were genuinely some of the friendliest bunch of festival goers these FFA reviewers have experienced – they even made FFA’s unreconstructed Mancs welcome! The facilities were first class, the organisation splendid, and the eateries, bars, stalls, and entertainment absolutely on the button…there really was nothing of substance to fault … if that counts as ‘Posh’ in some eyes, then Debretts have it all wrong.

Factor in a large, spotless site, a full sized funfair, splendid kids area, plenty of stages featuring a truly diverse ragbag of musical genres, comedy, workshops, some great food and drink with everything from pop up restaurants to real ale bars and gin palaces, (with a remarkable lack of visible excess of anything, of any nature), slick organisation and friendly staff, plus that wonderful crowd, and the result is a truly wonderful weekend.

Many of the artists who had graced the Cornbury stages over the years returned for one final party … and it proved to be one hell of a bash. FFA had an absolute ball. In an heat haze of a weekend, here’s a few of our highlights; if you were lucky enough to attend then FFA’s highlights may not be yours… but life is all opinion after all :).

Thursday was set up day with the main arena closed, but the Campsite Stage and bars were heaving. The Overtures were rather excellent and regaled the bouncing singalong crowd with a very polished 60’s centric soundscape. They played for hours and covered all the bases with aplomb… a great start to the weekend.

Friday simply illustrated the depth and variety of talent across all the stages. Many artists played multiple stages and the Jack FM radio stage provided a great forum to catch short cameo performances from some wonderful performers. FFA caught the excellent Callaghan there. A US based singer-songwriter of rare talent and fine voice. Main stagers Stone Foundation blew us away with some splendid Mod fuelled brassy soul reminiscent of the Modfather himself; so it came as no surprise that they had recently been in the studio with the man Weller, and it showed. A splendid hour. 

The Caffe Nero Stage provided another minor stage with some cracking unsigned and independent performers. Tony Moore was a highlight with a fine voice and a very enjoyable set. We caught up with the excellent Sophie Ellis-Bextor over on the second, Songbird, stage. Bouncy sophisticated pop and a very classy act; which was indeed delivered in the most refined Received Pronunciation we heard all weekend! Set of the day, and one of the best of the festival followed up later. No, not headliners Kaiser Chiefs, who although a cracking studio band, were somewhat lacking on this live outing. Variable quality main stage sound didn’t help of course, but it was all a bit disjointed and flimsy with a needless overemphasis on audience participation padding for a headliner in this reviewers ‘umble opinion. It was Kansas Smitty’s House Band’s absolutely excellent late night set on the Campsite Stage that set this reviewer alight with some stunning musicianship and wonderful improv breaks from the whole band. A good-time lounge jazz feel to this crew and a set tempo that totally rocked the place. A splendid performance. Do check these guys out.

Saturday FFA experienced the rather splendid Vintage Mobile Cinema; a worthy project and labour of love welcoming your ongoing support. Police Dog Hogan delivered the perfect set for a lazy cauldron of heat that engulfed the site on one of the hottest weekends of the year. Largely tongue firmly in cheek lyrically, but against a backdrop of accomplished musicianship the afternoon simply drifted by. Ward Thomas’s gentle country feel and voice of an angel Tom Chaplin excelled on the main stage before Scouting For Girls, who are all grown up now, offered up a great singalong hour over on the second stage. 

Then the superb Bryan Adams hit town. The man defines the term ‘Class Act’ and this was a genuinely professional headline show from a wonderful talent. Never mind Grammy’s and Halls Of Fame, the greatest tribute one can lay on an artist is that they have written a Pub Band Staple everybody plays – for there lies musical immortality, and when Adams played the first couple of chords of ‘Summer of ’69’ the whole arena exploded; Adams simply let the crowd sing the first verse unaccompanied. Marvellous stuff. Now listen up Budding Muso’s, a little story for you entitled ‘Rock Dreams Can Come True!’ Adams apparently popped into Caffe Nero for a drink earlier in the day and caught Twinnie Lee-Moore performing on their tiny stage. So impressed was he that asked her to sing a duet with him during his show! Three hours later and the woman was indeed singing on stage with Bryan Adams during his headline set… and a decent fist she made of it too. As I said; Adams is a class act.

Sultry Sunday was a wonderful day for music across the whole site. Keywest brought good-time Celtic shenanigans to the party with some great tunes and amusing craic, not to mention some excellent guitar / vocal notation interplay. Next up was an artist that had largely passed this reviewer by. Midge Ure was absolutely stunning and arguably delivered set of the festival, for this reviewer at least. Ure is astute enough to surround himself with wonderful musicians, and playing as a three piece, has managed to pull off the rare treat of reworking old favourites in a manner to render them as fresh as a daisy, with a genuinely contemporary feel. This set was no lazy rehash of hackneyed former glories to top up the pension. Ure simply excelled, with the arrangements exposing all the fragile beauty of Ure’s sometimes profound and poetic lyrics. With emotions bottled in by only the finest of wires, the man’s soul was laid bare. In a fabulous career-spanning set of both old and new, it was final track ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ that sent this reviewer all dewy eyed. Stumbling upon performances of this calibre is why FFA do this job. Beautiful. The Pretenders are a cracking band aren’t they? Hynde had the crowd eating from her hand from the off, and cruised through an apparently effortless set that had the sunny crowd jumping. Splendid. Nine Below Zero wowed the crowd over on the second stage with a fine set, as did Staxs & Guests to close the stage. A riot of funky soul and outstanding vocalists producing a great show to bow out the Songbird Stage one last time.

It was just left to Cornbury old stager Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra to close the whole show. Holland and his talented ensemble did so in great style with Ruby Turner in particular excelling in the vocal spotlight. Pretty much faultless. The spectacular fireworks ended the night in a riot of noise and colour and then the curtain fell for the last time on a wonderful festival which bowed out at the top of its game. Now that's class.

Article by Barrie Dimond

Photography by kind permission of (c) John Lambeth / 

Check out more of John’s excellent work here:

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Last modified on: Tue 1st August 2017

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