Cropredy is, for me, a bit like Christmas. You look forward to it happening once a year, you get to eat and more emphatically drink to a relatively guilt-free extent, and of course, there are beards everywhere. So I followed the calendar like a Yule-stricken child anticipating happy surprises on Christmas morning. But always, the event doesn’t measure up to the expectations.
This was initially the case at Cropredy this year. Not because of the music, which was mostly fascinating, but because of a certain amount of sloppy organisation. Not to harp on too much, but I was ordered to four consecutive, separate places to collect my tickets, and ended up getting them from the initial place I asked for them, an hour after my first enquiry there. It was also a great surprise to receive a surly brush-off from all stewards I encountered. Its whinging, but I also had an atrociously heavy backpack to lug around and this hurt. I can show you the bruises.
Now I know I am a wimp and my plight was on behalf of the measly press and those who set up the festival might not be very sympathetic, but it was when I noticed several people with disabled tickets going through the same rigmarole as I, did it hit home that the organisation of who gets in how and where, left a lot to be desired. Enough of this now.
The festival that almost never was (see Cropredy preview) kicked off on Thursday in bright sunshine to Tickled Pink. Following them came Hilary James and Simon Mayor. The latter is a mandolin and fiddle virtuoso with Celtic leanings, who went down very well indeed with a knowledgeable crowd set to lap up this sort of thing. These two were fine performers and truly at home at Cropredy.
Things were turned up a notch when Jah Wobble came on stage. I don’t think Cropredy has ever seen anything like this before. It is a symptom of the festival’s growing proclivity to open its bill to anything innovative and original regardless of whether it is folky or not, such as the ex-Public Image Ltd bassist’s incredible music. It does help his Cropredy cause though, that he calls his group the English Roots Band. Wobble’s thudding and swirling basslines made the ground vibrate, combining with the frenetic, free-jazz of Jean-Pierre Rasle on pipes and bagpipes, ambitious female vocals and Chris Cookson’s subtle guitar work. Eerie stuff, and the pick of the first day.
Country Joe MacDonald of Woodstock fame headlined. He could never get away with playing a festival without the F-U-C-K chant———-, and obliged us in the encore, along with Woodstock classics Fixin’ To Die Rag and Rock And Soul Music. Other interesting points included his take on the current middle-east debacle, with songs such as Cakewalk To Baghdad and the awful Support The Troops. An enjoyable if not completely arresting performance.
A word on the stalls and things. There was some truly wonderful grub on offer, including Mexican, Caribbean, Indian and Chinese options. The real ale was somewhat overpriced but this obstacle to inebriation could be overcome by nipping to the cheaper Cropredy village cricket club, where one could also catch up on proceedings in the Ashes. With all this food and beer, sensory delights at Cropredy extend beyond splendid music.
It did seem that there were a lot of people hanging around that I believe the term ‘chav’ refers to. In other words, there were many more gold chains, tracksuits and lines shaved in short hair than anticipated. I wondered if they paid to be there and if they were truly interested in the music on offer. What I didn’t do was go up to them and ask whether they thought the double C tuning on the banjo was preferable to the open G for accompanying a fiddle. Perhaps I should have.