First up, let’s set aside the music for a moment. For what places Cropredy Festival above so many others is the utterly immaculate organisation behind it.
First of all here is an event that is barely policed at all – a deserved trust placed in the hordes of folk fans who flock here from all over the world. Second, they let you take in your own food and drink, possibly the only festival that lets you do this, exhibiting a wonderful aversion to maximising profit, and allowing people the freedom to enjoy the festival however they please. So many lesser festivals could learn from the Cropredy spirit.
Much is made of small festivals emphasising ‘family’, but at few do you get the sense that everyone there is part of one big one. Reading the programme at this year’s event was like reading those horrible round-robin letters you get at Christmas from self-absorbed middle-class families who assume their friends have been waiting for the latest update all year. The only difference is that all 20,000 people here were interested – because the institution that is Fairport Convention remains fascinating, and long may they and this festival continue.
The whole shebang kicked off with Anthony John Clarke, who also compered the first day. His bland acoustic ramblings eventually gave way to Seth Lakeman that evening, who bestowed upon the festival a welcome indication of how traditional music is interpreted contemporarily. Backed by his brothers, the tight T-shirted one played tunes old and new, a crazy-eyed rendition of The Kitty Jay being his most stirring.
While it is true that Lakeman is bringing folk music to a young audience, and he deserves almost all the plaudits he receives, at this festival he does not stand out so much, and indeed younger practitioners like Kerfuffle, who also played day one, are doing things just as interesting as Lakeman – clog-dancing and all.
Indeed, the phrase to ‘bring folk to a younger audience’ will soon be null and void as young bands like this, sickeningly proficient musicians (to the point of being soulless, almost), take over the genre completely. Folk will not die, trust me.
But Jools Holland is not folk. Tonight he made the crowd dance to the point that the ground shook, and I heard at least half a dozen conversations the following day that described him as one of the best nights the festival has seen in a long time.
Every time he spoke of his boogie-woogie between songs, a little part of me died. I was reminded of the famous Mark E Smith threat of violence if Holland added boogie-woogie to The Fall’s performance on Later. We could have done with a Mark E Smith here tonight, as the cringe factor at every Jerry Lee Lewis-style solo or, kill me now, when he sang, was high.
Lulu strode on for a couple of songs, including Shout, obviously, before rushing off stage straight into a waiting 4×4 whisking her away from all these beardy folk types with their flagons of cider. She wasn’t going to hang at the bar, and it said something about her and Holland’s attitude to the festival that they were the only two acts on the entire bill who did not have a signing session in the CD tent.
Those two abberations aside, day one was typically warm-hearted. Indeed, the gods of mandolas and tin-whistles were smiling on the Cropredy battle fields more than ever it seemed, as sunshine would bake the pasty minions for the rest of the festival.