More people watch Countdown than you think, believe me. And therefore a hefty crowd gathered to see dictionary corner’s Richard Digance take on the ‘graveyard shift’ at noon on Saturday. His comedy songs held a weary audience’s attention just long enough before people starting falling asleep in their deckchairs. To his credit, he allayed the collective hangover by coaxing the crowd into a mass-Morris dance to his acoustic version of Bohemian Rhapsody. As he does every year, he made a joke about wishing Guy Fawkes was alive today to blow up Number Ten. This was two days after police found men trying to board trans-Atlantic flights armed with explosives. Bad taste? Bad shmaste, I’m sure Digance would say.
Friday was an epic day of music, and it seemed until Fairport on Saturday the schedule of acts offered a bit of down time no one too famous or hugely interesting, perhaps apart from Ashley Hutchings’ Rainbow Chasers. There was a lazy vibe.
But Sam Holmes changed all that. As well as promoting young bands such as Bodega, the organisers are commendably eager to encourage local talent. The Brackley-based Holmes worked backstage at the 2005 festival and was able to hand her demo to Dave Pegg. He liked it, so here she is this year. Her delicate, romantic songs were perfect in their simplicity and melody, particularly in comparison to the many amazing maestros on show this weekend. All that technical brilliance sometimes stood in the way of emotiveness, which Holmes’ songs, which are reminiscent of Vashti Bunyan or of more contemporary artists, Joan as Police Woman, have in abundance. What is more, Sam is one stunningly beautiful young lady. Indeed, it might work against her that it is so hard to take one’s eyes off her face and appreciate her songwriting.
Tired. So it was back to the graveyard for a lie down, a drink and some hackey-sack. A moment to reflect. One thing about this year’s festival worthy of much praise is the organisation. With a fully functioning press office backstage for the first time, and new facilities for the disabled, the Cropredy is evolving yet maintaining its relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere.
“Health and safety reared its ugly head, and there are tweaks to make each year,” said Fairport Convention guitarist and festival organiser Simon Nicol. “But we try and keep them to a minimum. We want to preserve the spirit of the festival as its developed over the past twenty-five years.”
Entering into that spirit was Glenn Tilbrook. Armed with only his twelve-string guitar he took to the stage in the fading light and churned out hit after hit from his Squeeze days. Singalongs ensued and there were cacophonous cheers when Tilbrook played the first chords of Up The Junction, his finest pop moment. Joking that he is Jimi Hendrix‘s son, he showed immense guts to have a go at Voodoo Chile, complete with guitar-behind-the-head histrionics. He returned during Fairport’s lengthy set for Tempted by the Fruit of Another.
Fairport Convention remain a formidable live act. Chris Leslie’s vocals improve each year, while they consciously explore the whole spectrum of their career from a slightly flat Matty Groves to the title track of their latest album Over the Next Hill, including much impressive meandering from Ric Sanders on fiddle.
Meet On The Ledge was wonderful, as it is every year. But there was an air of predictability and a lack of urgency to Fairport’s set a certain going through the motions. This is perhaps due to next year being billed as extra special as the fortieth anniversary of the band’s inception, and an overwhelming and sublime performance this weekend might make next year too hard an act to follow. Just a theory.
In the meantime, the future of the festival is assured.
“It is a massive reinforcement of faith that people from all over the world join us in this remote corner of north Oxfordshire” said Nicol.” I hope both Cropredy and Fairport Convention can survive me.”
And perhaps we might see some interesting faces here in the future.
“It’s no secret James Taylor has always been top of our wishlist,” he says. “And I’d love to see Paul Simon play here. His new album is an amazing piece of work. It’s small scale and would fit on that stage.”
If those monoliths of popular music have any sense, they’ll get themselves to this field full of cowpat in Oxfordshire as soon as they can.