The cold, rainy depression that haunted the morning faded around lunchtime, and soon The Red Lion, the village pub where hedonists swarm around the tombstones in the church opposite necking Magners and real ale, was doing a roaring trade.
Geoff Hughes, that toothless fat bloke from Heartbeat and who played Onslo in Keeping Up Appearances, was today’s compere on a day that held the most musical promise of the three.
Fairport are so very good to us. While the celebration of acoustic roots music with a few jigs thrown in comes first, Nicol, Pegg and the guys know that each year a mindless rock band must play to give proceedings a good kick up the arse. Thus Friday’s opening act was Shameless Quo. No more than a bit of fun to wake up the masses, they attracted a surprisingly large crowd for a noon start probably because they are one of the few bands playing here whose songs the audience can be sure of knowing. What’s more, Francis Rissole and Rick Profit proved to be substantially better musicians than the real Quo.
Their novelty was slim. But soon the crowd had swelled to witness Bodega, a five-piece aged between 17 and 19 who hail from various remote climes of Scotland. Geoff Hughes said of them in overly dramatic terms: “When you see young talent like this, you know the future of folk music is in good hands”. And granted, they were fantastically good.
Perhaps Scotland’s answer to Nickel Creek, Bodega are sickeningly proficient in their playing of busy Gaelic music and have a confident and good natured manner on stage. Backstage, they were a bit more reserved.
“It was a huge buzz, what with twenty-thousand people in the audience” said vocalist and djembe player Norrie Maciver. “Its a privilege to play here”.
On keeping folk music alive among young people, fiddler Ross Cooper said:”A younger audience will appreciate us more because it’s music coming from their own age group”.Good point. Sometimes the wrinklies in Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span seem so old and remote as to be impenetrable to the young. The energy and fun Bodega put into their own music should connect with a youthful audience, hopefully proving Geoff Hughes correct.
But sometimes older is better: Deborah Bonham for example. Here was some ballsy blues-rock from the sister of the king of balls, John Bonham. She played songs from her latest album, Old Hyde, including the lovely title track, an ode to her brothers and father. Her takes on other artists’ material including Led Zep’s Battle of Evermore in tribute to Sandy Denny and in a riotous encore, Rock and Roll.
Her loud, soulful voice brings immediate comparisons with Janis Joplin, though she cites mentor Robert Plant as being responsible for her let-it-all-hang-out style: “Robert was quite Janis-esque, really. He’s helped me in my career a lot.”
Predictably, Cropredy festival is very special to her too.
“It’s just a fantastic vibe,” she says, “All the crew are such wonderful people. Dave Pegg’s an old friend of my brother’s. It’s a way of life I love it! I love Fairport Convention.”
Geoff Hughes had been promising all day that “something very special is going to happen at 6:30pm, but I can’t tell you what it is”. I snuck backstage and found out Fairport Convention were to receive a gold disc for Liege and Lief.
Sure enough, at 6:30pm, on to the stage came, err, Frank Skinner who had been lurking around all day. Yes, he rode out heckles about his hair and clothes to deliver an impromptu stand-up set. He even sang a song. He loves the Fairport so, and soon they were ready for their award. On came the surviving original members including Richard Thompson and Judy Dyble.
Afterwards backstage there was a reception with a seemingly endless supply of champagne and a cake with Liege and Lief’s cover in the icing. This was a mildly surreal experience bumping into Richard Thompson, then Ralph McTell, Bob Harris, Frank, and then there was a conversation with Joe Boyd about his old friends Syd Barrett and Nick Drake. Truly, this was every retro, melancholic teenager’s dream.
A strange hush fell over the audience when John Martyn was wheeled on stage. Talking very little to the crowd (aside from remarking that if George W. Bush were to be murdered it would be, ahem, countryside geddit?), refusing interviews and playing no encore, he retains his considerable enigma.
His set was the highlight of the entire three days. His warm and lilting vocals are somehow unharmed by years of drink and drugs and even in a wheelchair his skill up and down the fretboard is a marvel, while the heavy, jazzy bass that characterises his sound made the ground throb. In a performance that included songs from throughout his career, most touching were tracks from 1973’s Solid Air, particularly Don’t Want to Know and the title track, his paean to Drake.
It was very moving, but the mood was lightened by a reformed 10cc featuring Graham Gouldman. Gouldman wrote for The Hollies and The Yardbirds before forming 10cc in the 70s, and The Yardbirds’ hugely successful For Your Love went down a treat here. But it was I’m Not In Love and The Things We Do For Love that we all wanted to hear. And hear them we did. This was pop balladry at its best even inflicting Dreadlock Holiday on us in the encore didn’t spoil the fun.