Live Music + Gig Reviews

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2008: Day 3 @ Cropredy, Oxfordshire

9 August 2008

This year’s Cropredy felt a bit strange.

What with last year being the 40th anniversary of seminal Fairport album Liege And Leif, and 2006 celebrating the newly achieved platinum status of that record, as well as the fact that that year was when the festival’s long-term future was secured.

Therefore, 2008 could have had a bit of a ‘back to normal business’ atmosphere to it, potentially detracting a little from the sense of occasion.
Except this wasn’t strictly so. It is 30 years since Sandy Denny died. Easily the coolest and most exciting of any Fairport Convention member ever, she met her end when she fell down the stairs in her parents’ Cornwall home. Therefore the three-hour headlining set from her old band was extra poignant. We had the extraordinary talent that is Julie Fowlis take Denny’s place for Farewell, Farewell while Fairport’s own Chris Leslie gave a quite breathtaking rendition of Liege And Lief’s Reynadine.

Then came the biggest gasp of the weekend as bassist Dave Pegg introduced none other than Robert Plant to perform The Battle Of Evermore, the only Led Zeppelin track to feature a female voice. Filling in for Denny here was Kristina Donahue, and quite marvellous she was too. Plant went on to introduce a montage of Sandy Denny images on the big screen behind the stage to the song The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood, and after three days of wet weather, mud and erratic performances, this was a genuinely moving tribute to one of folk-rock’s great lost nymphs.

Otherwise, Fairport were typically excellent, proving their evolution continues largely thanks to the considerable songwriting talents of Leslie, who injects a passion and enthusiasm to the band they would be stranded without.

Earlier on Julie Fowlis provided the festival’s best set. Inundated with critical praise following her 2007 album Cuilidh, she deserves it all. Her songs, sung in Gaelic, provide soul, tragedy, wit and beauty sung with the fragile voice of a lady steeped in the complicated history music. A dab hand on tin whistle too.

Before her we had The Muffin Men, a band reinterpreting the compositions of Frank Zappa. Now, last year I saw a similar show from Frank’s son Dweezil at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which was quite unbelievable, so this lot had a lot to live up to. But as bass player Roddie Gilliard said, they are here to play to the music because they like it, not to get it right. Their enthusiasm does shine through and makes their set a success, but it cannot be denied these fellows are dedicated students of Zappa’s music. It takes more than being fan to master the intricacies of this most complicated of bastards. Possibly the finest musicians on show at the festival.

Cropredy 2008 was fantastic, of course, but not due to the line-up. The sense of community and fellowship is its key, and with a bit more edge to their programming next year should be an improvement, music-wise. We had Supergrass this year, and with steady increments through synths, live looping, laptops and keytars, we should have beatboxing here by 2020.

That aside, may we here politely suggest some potential candidates for next year? Robin Williamson (possible, and much loved here), Rachel Unthank And The Winterset (essential they come here), Alasdair Roberts (unlikely, too nu-folk), Kris Drever (possible?), Kathryn Williams (ah come on), Meg Baird (no chance!) and Animal Collective (when hell freezes over).

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