|Cornbury Festival 2022|
8th - 10th Jul 2022
The Great Tew Estate, New Road, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, OX7 4AH, United Kingdom
Tickets for adults (with camping) from £226.00
Set deep within the Sunlit Uplands of rural Oxfordshire, Cornbury is a class act, and the music is just part of the cornucopia of offerings over a fabulous weekend. They delivered on all the usual suspects, from spotless facilities and excellent organisation, to Gourmet Caterers, to Kids Village, to full blown Funfair. The list goes on. There genuinely is something for all ages and tastes here. It also attracts a wonderful and friendly crowd. Although there are few outward signs of excess, this crew certainly know how to party! The crowd is the festival. It’s a place to see and to be seen. The festival is big and bold, but never brash; it’s rather charming and, well, civilised. It’s a 20,000 capacity Garden Party. A safe, friendly haven in these crazy times. Their VIP facilities are renowned, and they even offering a Nanny Service this year – how’s that for the complete festival experience!
In what is again slated to be its final year, there remains a niche place for Cornbury on the wider festival scene. It’s standards, its ambience, the sheer quality that pervades all things; it will leave a huge gap in the market and will be sorely missed.
The weather for all this Cornbury 2022 malarkey was ‘Glorious’, which is of course understated British code for ‘Unbearably Hot’. The mercury hovered around thirty degrees over the weekend (that’s mid-eighties in old money, Imperial Unit fans). The game of Finding Shade became the new mantra at this Cornbury.
Cornbury’s musical policy is Quality over Quantity, which is pretty much the ethos of the whole event. The main stages ran alternately rather than concurrently, which of course had the advantage of providing the opportunity to see everyone without scheduling clashes. Apart from the two main arenas, the festival also featured a third stage largely focussed on emerging artists, as Cornbury commendably did its bit to promote new talent. Arena music ceased at 11pm, but the party simply decamped to the Campsite Stage, an altogether more bohemian vibe with live music and sounds through until 2am. Who said Cornbury doesn’t do Raucous?
Enough. If you were there you’ll know. If you weren’t then you missed something rather special. This really was a Leaving Party to remember. Here’s Festivals For All’s take on just a snapshot of what went down across some of the stages …
Stone Foundation delivered funky, RnB fuelled soul beats, with a pumping brass section – shades of Wet Wet Wet at their best. A great hour which set the standard and tone for the rest of a fabulous weekend across all the stages. The Shires brought Nashville to Cornbury, and generated a brilliant crowd reaction; none more so than with the beautiful ‘I Just Wanna Love You’. When Rhodes asked who had the song played at their wedding, half the audience shouted yes! (The other half – i.e., the husbands, couldn’t remember). A great set. Alice Russell; what a voice and what a sterling performance. Her interplay with her backing singers was absolutely mesmerising. Cornbury continued to ramp up the talent quotient.
James Blunt kicked up a storm to close the day and produced a couple of class Cornbury ‘moments’ – during a lovely version of ‘Same Mistake’ the whole arena seemed illuminated with phone lights swaying in unison in the darkness. It was a magical vibe. Now this Reviewer always had Mr Blunt down as rather a sensible young man, but during a stonking version of Slade’s ‘Coz I Lov You’, said Blunt casually donned a full face WWII rubber gas mask before proceeding to crowd surf! A class act AND Covid compliant… what more could one ask?
Now Police Dog Hogan are an entertaining bunch with classics such as ‘Shitty White Wine’ delighting the crowd, but like most humourists, there is a strong bedrock of talent underpinning the casual mirth. Their seamless segueing between the jocular and genuinely poignant ballads produced a perfectly balanced set. An extremely dapper Andy Fairweather Low, master of the summer heat, produced, in this reviewer’s ‘umble opinion, one of the sets of the festival. With a twin percussionist powerhouse of excellent musicians surrounding him, the man trawled his RnB, Rock & Roll, and Blues roots to musically define the early influences that made him the artist he’s become. Throw in all the Hits along the way, and this set was one hell of a ride. Despite being a huge hit, arguably the ‘Whole Of The Moon’ is not truly typical of The Waterboys sound, and the band laid it to rest very early in the set, essentially so Scott and crew could play excellent bluey rock & roll. With some stupendous Sax from the excellent Anthony Thistlethwaite, this was the band at their best. ‘Blackberry Girl’ took the absolute biscuit for song of the night.
Bryan Adams was as much cheerleader as musician on Saturday night. Don’t get me wrong – he and the band were superb, but so emersed and knowledgeable were this crowd, that they knew, and sang, the lines to every song with passionate gusto; the boundaries between artist and audience blurred into one collective whole – and it was wonderful. A frankly electric atmosphere. The set was unashamedly Greatest Hits territory, and why not given the man’s back catalogue. Indeed, for all his Grammy’s, Halls of Fame, Global Number 1’s, and Platinum Albums, for this reviewer, any artists greatest achievement is penning Pub Band Classics, songs that become Standards, embedded in our culture that last across the generations; there is not a bar in the country where you won’t hear some band knock out ‘Summer of ‘69’, or someone torture ‘I Do It For You’ on karaoke. Forget the honours and trinkets, the man’s achievement is writing music that resonates with the people. At Cornbury’s final Hurrah, he did just that.
Find of the festival for many? No contest. I give you - The Dunwells. The excellent Café Nero stage always throws up a few crackers, and 2022 was no exception. That ‘I Could Be A King’ never garnered more commercial success simply proves the unfairness of the music industry. This reviewer has never witnessed such a standing ovation for an artist at Café Nero, or such demand for multiple encores. The lads were simply splendid, and could have graced any stage. Geno Washington, was yet another old stager to excel. Simply playing with a truncated three-piece band, the guy hasn’t lost a thing; the banter, the gentle humour, the sheer casual professionalism, and more importantly that smoky blues voice, which produced yet another hour to savour at this very special Cornbury. When he let rip with a stunning ‘Mojo Ain’t Working’, he was the Blues personified.
STAKS are a big collective – with a big band sound. Running the gambit of Soul and RnB classics, they were tremendous. Throw in guest appearances from the likes of Steve Winwood, and surprise Madeline Bell (could you better the bands’ ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’?), and this was one hell of a set. Winwood had a modest outing of a few songs, but managed to squeeze in the likes of a splendid ‘Higher Love’, and a clearly emotional ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ in a moving tribute to the late Gary Brooker. Rather like Fairweather Low and Washington, it was a privilege to witness these Greats whilst we are all around to enjoy it. Nuff Said.
The One Show was right – Ronan Keating is a lovely bloke! Self-effacing, modest, with a love of family and life, and with a genuine appreciation of where his considerable talent has taken him, the man charmed a rocking Cornbury crowd. The guy spoke simply, yet eloquently, about his love of performance, and the devastating last couple of years for us all. It was all rather moving. The Christians are a cracking band. British Soul with a strong social conscience… always a potent combo. Their vocals and harmonies as smooth as a silken Nat King Cole. The funky break-out into ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ was exceptional.
All roads let to Cornbury stalwart Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra who naturally closed the whole shebang. What a show! Never underestimate Holland’s standalone talent, or that of his superb orchestra (around 20 little bundles of excellence), but it’s when the guests hit the stage that whole circus comes to town. Think Louise Marshall, Eddi Reader, Chris Difford, and Ruby Turner. Marshall and Reader were fantastic, as was Difford. ‘Cool For Cats’, given the Orchestra’s treatment, was an absolute gem. However, magic happens when Turner joins Holland. Still an absolute powerhouse, the woman set the arena buzzing. A worthy final headliner to end it all on a veritable high. Wonderful stuff. Cue the Fireworks. Ooh Ahh.
So, there you go. A special Cornbury to end a special era. Thank you for everything.
Article by Barrie Dimond
Images by kind permission of Hush PR