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A Look Back at Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2011, Part 4 of 4
This is a final part of our very special look back, in words and photos, of Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2011, featuring the photography of Ben Smith. Special Guest Reviewer Phil Widdows is the presenter and producer of FolkCast, the UK’s top independent folk music podcast, and the official podcast of Fairport’s Cropredy Convention. To take it from the top, click here for Part One, here for Part Two and here for Part Three. Be sure to check out the outstanding photo sets!
The third and final day of the festival carried on where the Friday had left off; the fine weather holding and the crowd in fine mood.
For the last 10 years Saturday at Cropredy has got under way with comedy singer-songwriter Richard Digance leading the gathering audience through his now traditional routine of singalongs and armchair morris dancing (bring your own handkerchiefs).
Scottish all-female folk band The Shee continued the traditional folk theme, in rather more authentic style, before making way for those veterans of the British ska-pop scene, The Blockheads, who rattled through a gloriously nostalgic and blisteringly danceable set of songs from their totemic frontman, the sadly late Ian Dury.
Former roadie Derek Hussey, his acid-green “ban the bomb” logo shades staring out from the giant screen, did sterling work on vocals for hits such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3) and the winkingly-cheeky Wake Up And Make Love With Me.
From the knockabout pantomime of yesteryear the focus switched to one of Great Britain’s most serious — and seriously talented — folk bands. Lau are Kris Drever (guitar, vocals), Martin Green (accordion) and Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle), but together cook up music of such intensity and fire that they seem to multiply on stage, boiling up a tour de force of rhythm and tempo. Indeed, it may have been too intense for some, and the close-up sight of O’Rourke’s bulging, concentrating eyes — magnified on the huge TV screen at the back of the stage — was at times mesmerising and not a little scary!
The sun was slipping slowly into the west, lighting up the contrails of high flying jets with a crimson wash, as another blast from the past took to the stage, and again the hand of history was felt on the collective Cropredy shoulder. In 1970, Fairport Convention played a gig in Ireland and the support band that night had suggested that one day they would come to England and play with them again. That band was Horslips, and it had only taken four decades for the pledge to be fulfilled. Horslips – who injected rock into Irish folk music just as Fairport did for traditional British songs – did not disappoint. They were mighty! The sound of Jim Lockhart’s flute ringing across the vast expanse of upturned faces as we danced to Trouble With A Capital T will live long in my memory.
Badly Drawn Boy’s solo set was also memorable, if for rather different reasons. The nom de plectrum of singer-songwriter Damon Gough, Badly Drawn Boy had perhaps the most difficult job of the day: filling the slot before Fairport Convention, when many in the crowd take the opportunity to eat, to move around the festival field, or move forward to stake out a space nearer the stage for the finale that awaits. All he had to do was go out, be pleasant and sing his songs, but instead presented an ill-tempered, rambling and dull performance that suited Cropredy even less than Gough’s trademark beany hat suits him.
It was with relief and anticipation that the audience welcomed Fairport Convention back to the stage, and they presented a set of two halves. First was the complete performance of their 1971 “folk-rock opera", Babbacombe Lee – a song suite inspired by the remarkable true story of John Lee, the “man they couldn’t hang", who, in 1885, escaped the gallows after three failed attempts to execute him for murder. Fairport had performed this in its entirety during their British concert tour earlier in the year and it had been well received, but its reappearance at Cropredy was more contentious. Long-time Fairport fans loved it, but those less familiar with the piece (the majority) were less sure.
The band was on firmer footing in the latter half of their marathon set, performing a litany of songs drawn from throughout their long career, but especially from their latest studio album, The Festival Bell.
One surprise was that relatively few “Friends” shared the stage with them. Cropredy is usually an opportunity to team up with musical mates old and new, but this time the guest list was restricted to Ralph McTell, another long-time song provider for Fairport.
Many little traditions have grown up around the Cropredy Festival and around Fairport. One of the greatest is that Fairport’s set and the festival as a whole concludes with the singing of one song – the “national anthem” of the Convention, if you will.
As the strange but stirring lyrics of Meet On The Ledge fill the field, collections of friends stand in groups, hugging and singing, tears flowing down cheeks as the song turns into an elegy for lost comrades missing from that field – "blown off the mountain by the wind” – and a pledge to have another reunion in the same place in another 12 months time because, as the song says, “if you really mean it, it all comes round again.”
Get your tickets NOW! Fairport’s Cropredy Convention comes round again from August 9th to 11th 2012, at Cropredy, Oxfordshire, England. It promises to be even more special, as Fairport celebrates its 45th anniversary and many of the surviving band members will be reunited on stage once more. Other artists on the bill include Squeeze, Joan Armatrading, The Saw Doctors, Bellowhead and Big Country.