Friday night at Cropredy 2007 had been billed for a year as being special, and is probably the reason the festival sold out. 40 years after its release, Liege and Leif remains the template for anything pertaining to be ‘folk rock,’ something that today might mean countless different things. The old line-up reunited here, minus the deceased Sandy Denny, replaced by Chris While on vocals.
While had performed at Cropredy before as part of a duo with Julie Matthews, and that particular monstrosity of twee (Cropredy has a few of these each year, more on this in a moment) did nothing to suggest she could fill these biggest of folk shoes. But from the first guitar riff of Come All Ye, which in those notes symbolised the triumphant fusion of those two seemingly disparate genres coming together, this performance of the album in its entirety, and Chris While’s part of it, could not fail.
Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Mattacks and the great Richard Thompson were all returning home to these songs; Matty Groves, The Deserter and Crazy Man Michael all rendered perfect, as was this whole glorious occasion. I’m not usually this reverential, but I have to thank Fairport Convention for this hour.
But! Fairport were not headlining that night. Richard Thompson and his band were. A new album to promote and some genius to exhibit, he did his best to ride the wave of Liege and Leif emotion, and did with some success, especially with the older songs: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight one to stoke the fires of nostalgia amongst the mature in the audience.
Further down the bill were Wishbone Ash. “We’ve been trying to play here for years,” said Andy Turner, longtime front man and guitarist, “but we’ve always been considered too rock”. If Jools Holland can get a gig here then you can, sir. Only, once here surely you had to bring out the big guns: Jail Bait and the like. But you resisted, which was disappointing. Nevertheless, as the programme notes said, it’s been a long time since Cropredy has seen a Flying V on stage, so thanks for bringing an alternative attitude along.
As is custom now, part of winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award is a slot on the Saturday at Cropredy. This year, Last Orders were given the honour. A perfectly capable foursome (joined by a very sweet female vocalist for a few numbers), they differed little if at all from Kerfuffle the previous day, that is, consistent if not startling interpretations of the folk canon with original compositions scattered in. Heavy accordion use too, which is the one folk instrument that with overuse jars a little.
That essential, wretched hour of twee was provided by first act on Saturday, Hummingbird. This trio of three female singers and guitarists can write tunes in a sub-Suzanne Vega, Eva Cassidy sort of way, but have managed to arrive at lyrics that make Katie Melua look like Sufjan Stevens. A cover of Dylan’s I Shall Be Released did not improve things, and apparently police arrested the threesome afterwards for the grievous bodily harm inflicted on this holiest of songs.
A word must go to the excellent Mad Agnes. These New Englanders had never been to Old England before, and were an exciting and challenging injection into Saturday afternoon. Synthesisers are rarely seen on the Cropredy stage, but they managed it without anything approaching incongruity. Two middle-aged women and a middle-aged man, the combination of mystical English folk in the manner of say, Pentangle, with American folk traditions of the Appalachians was a winner. Well done Fairport for finding them.