Each year Cropredy has an act designed to play covers, allowing us something we all know to sing and dance along to. This year, that band were Big Eyed Fish, opening on Friday. A good, solid, no frills rock band, they played covers of Neil Young and Led Zeppelin, among others. In fact, Zeppelin riffs appeared frequently throughout the festival, in as strange places as The Muffin Men‘s Frank Zappa interpretations, and more predictably the stadium-rock of The Hamsters. The spectre of that supergroup hangs heavy over this folk festival. Not a fiddle in sight, Big Eyed Fish were great.
With mid afternoon came the angelic Edwina Hayes. Her soft voice and delicate frame may have seemed at odds with her audience, mostly portly, middle-aged gentlemen grimacing into their flagons, but she went down very well and is an artist worth monitoring. More success may beckon for her emotive folk melodies.
Then came the most nauseating hour of the festival. Chris While and Julie Matthews may have been nominated at the Radio 2 folk music awards (haven’t we all?), but their material is nothing more than unimaginative songwriting with cringe-inducing lyrics. This pair have an inflated sense of the twee, but I was willing to put them down as just an inoffensive filler of an afternoon slot, until that is, they reached their final song, in which they sang about getting ready for a ‘wave of love all over the world’, and getting on the ‘love train’. I almost had to brave the port-a-loos to be sick.
I needed something to shock me out of it, and The Muffin Men were exactly what was required. This six-piece play the compositions of Frank Zappa with a bit of Captain Beefheart thrown in too, doing so with such incredible musicianship that the old fella himself must have been looking down in approval. His old drummer Jimmy Carl Black was on vocals here for material from the whole spectrum of Zappa’s career. Every member of the group was allowed time to express themselves with untamed solos, with particular credit going to the trumpeter and the young saxophonist. Classic Zappa such as Peaches En Regalia, Willie The Pimp and My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama had much of the Cropredy faithful boogieing without inhibition.
The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain deserve more of a write-up than is possible here. They were quite superb. The seven of them are virtuoso musicians and on several ‘proper’ songs they proved this. But here they hammed it up as a comedy act, and a fantastic one at that. Playing Kate Bush‘s Wuthering Heights in a loungy Ratpack style, complete with mock Frank Sinatra vocals was a stroke of genius. Further theatrics included all seven members playing one ukulele between them (it is possible, I saw it) and bizarre versions of songs by David Bowie, The Who, Talking Heads and most impressively Ms Dynamite.
Richard Thompson‘s performance was one of those rare occasions when music seems to be in harmony with nature, and an almost telepathic understanding bonds the audience in hearing a great performer at work. The songwriting is, of course, wonderful with Withered And Died standing out, along with material from his new album including the excellent Let It Blow. To the joy of this reviewer he played Persuasion, a lovely song he wrote with Tim Finn. But songs aside, each time Thompson picks up a guitar something new and exciting begins. He was joined by the legendary Danny Thompson on bass, whose distinctive playing gave Thompson’s compositions added emotional gravity.
Though Thompson was technically the headline act on Friday, The Dylan Project were the last on. Promoting a new album, this side-project of members of Fairport Convention gave their versions of Bob‘s classics. Ballad Of A Thin Man stood out, and the audience loved it, but their performance seemed deflated, what with having to follow Thompson. Putting these guys on after the great guitarist was a curious piece of scheduling.
Friday night was cold. It seemed like a winter night, with even a ground frost seeming imminent – a sign of things to come the following day.