Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2018 Review Posted on Fri 17th August 2018
…another gathering of the finest musicians for a big summer party!
Early August and it’s the annual pilgrimage for many a Fairport Convention fan to the little shindig they hold in Cropredy Village. 'Little' might be a bit understated as numbers are generally in the 15k to 20k region and people come from far and wide to be part of this event. While its Fairport’s party it’s not all about Fairport, even though most punters are in some way linked to the band’s music, whether it be FC themselves or many of the offshoot bands they have spawned over the years. The organisers generally try to get an eclectic mix of music however; over the past years the changing face of the festival has bought in a wider choice of bands, which in some way reflects that the crowd is changing - to dare I say in a younger generation! This year however they seemed to have gone back to a more stable selection of bands with no real left field ones, apart from one, but still an interesting and varied selection albeit with a few bitter sweet moments.
One of the newer traditions saw Fairport Convention Acoustic opening the festival, joined by Maartin Alcock for the first of his many appearances over the weekend. Followed by one of my bands of the weekend, Smith and Brewer, a guitar duo very much in the vein of Simon and Garfunkel. Soulful vocals atop some amazing guitar work, one to look out for.
Wandering round the site I took in a bit of Police Dog Hogan, who despite some technical issues put out a good set that got the crowd warmed up. I've seen the Oysterband on many occasions but for me they just seem a bit lacking this evening or whether it was the fact that the buzz in the air was for a certain Beach Boy that was in town.
Did someone mention the Beach Boys! we could have been Surfin USA by the number of Hawaiian shirts on show for the legend Brian Wilson, frail he might be, but he is still the face of the Beach Boys and that’s what counts. Helped by Al Jardine and his son Matt who took over a lot of the vocals they rolled out the ‘Pet Sounds’ album, a full hits sets might have been a better choice but nevertheless one of those sets to remember. The crowd danced the night away without a care in the world.
In the midday Friday sunshine, the bohemian looking harpist and BBC R2 YFA winner Mera Royle treated us to some fine musicianship whilst Midnight Skyracer went all country and bluegrass. The welcome return of Manchester’s Travelling Band followed, a different line-up since they last appeared but still the same high energy rock tinged sound from their new album ‘Sails’, they also managed a rather good version of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’.
For those venturing into the village, Cropredy Fringe has grown up with the festival and the Brasenose Pub puts some superb acts on, one of the best over the weekend was Zal Clemson’s Sin Dogs, kick ass rock and roll that would certainly go down well on the main festival stage. Those that stayed on the main stage were treated to Jim Cregan and his renditions of the many Rod Stewart track he had a hand in writing. Joined on stage by most of Fairport for ‘Baby Jane’ the whole field were up and dancing. Le Vent Du Nord did their level best to keep the temp going with some fine French Canadian Cajun music.
As the afternoon rolled on there was another welcome return for Fish, he is as good a story teller as he is singer, and mixes up a great set that included ‘Incommunicado’ but missed out a number of the more well know hits. A visibly emotional Kate Rusby delivered a moving set, in between cups of tea to keep warm and telling northern tales, she sang about Barnsley’s only super hero, ‘Big Brave Bill’.
Onto the Levellers who threw out a curve ball, instead of the full-on foot stomping high energy set they opted for an equally powerful acoustic set, this had some of the crowd running to their tents but those who stayed were treated to one of the best sets from them in a while. It showed that the meaning and power behind the music transcends the way it is performed. Those who stayed enjoyed the set and well the others… enough said.
Saturday and the traditional dash when the gates open as punters rush for their fave spot ready for the return of another of the festival faves, Richard Digance. The set never varies too far from norm, unlike his political ramblings, which always raise an eyebrow or 2. Following on was Eric Sedge, ex Broadside Boys, and someone I had not heard of before. Currently touring with Richard Digance, he gave a decent set of songs mainly from his own solo back catalogue.
You cannot be subtle about the next band, Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican made Tank Tops trendy again as they take their slapstick ditties and puns around the festival circuit. While ‘Zipper’ bought the men to their knees, ‘Jump Ararnd’ made everyone get up and jump. It’s a great comedy set and to see the reaction of the uninitiated is fun in its self. Maart’s appearance on stage with them was a surprise but he was having as much fun as they were. You don’t often see crowd surfing at Cropredy, but Scott Doonican did it in style in a dingy whilst rescuing a pint from the BAR in the crowd.
Having seen Will Varley do a solo set at Cambridge Folk Festival a few years ago I know he was not one to miss, this time he was joined by his band and delivered a superb set. The subtle twang in his voice makes him stand out from the rest. Still touring his new album ‘The Spirit of Minnie’ he certainly hits it off with the crowd.
I didn’t catch much of Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys due to wandering round and taking in the many sights, smells and stalls of the festival. The BBQ pit has to go down as the best smelling stall of the weekend - although the vegies might not agree!
Did I mention the rain, it was a bit wet but one of the best things I heard over the weekend summed it up ‘Some people walk in the rain and some people get wet’, for those who wanted to have fun it didn’t stop them. Even the Afro Celts couldn’t stop the rain, but they did make sure the crowd had a great time getting up and dancing to their ethnic beats.
As the sun sets over Cropredy the buzz and anticipation is in the air for the FC finale, before that though we have one of the hardest sets of the weekend and this year Al Stewart makes a return and takes us through his latest 'Acoustic Evening Tour' - highlight for me most being 'Year of the Cat'.
Every year the rumours of special guests goes around but, in my eyes, the special guest are Fairport themselves, 2 hours isn’t near long enough to hear the best of their music. A set that included a moving tribute to Sandy Denny and Dave Swarbrick and several the weekends artists come back for a quick song or 2. For most the highlight was when Maartin Allcock took to the stage in his last public performance. 'Metal Matty' Groves’, last played back in 1995 I believe, led into a very emotional 'Meet On the Ledge' where Maart was joined by his close family and friends as well as the rest of the bands and artists. A fitting end to the festival and to Maart’s retirement due to his health issues.
Cropredy has changed and is still changing but it holds at its core the tradition upon which it was based, Fairport Convention and the gathering of the finest musicians for a big summer party. Roll on next year.
Article and Photographs by Simon Dunkerley