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Fairport's Cropredy Convention, Part 2
2011 was the year that, for the first time, Fairport Convention was not only the finale of festival but also started it, too, playing in their “acoustic” line-up early on the afternoon of Thursday August 11th … although the difference between Fairport acoustic and Fairport electric is a philosophical one only really apparent to their most ardent fans. Simon Nicol leaves aside his electric guitar, while drummer and percussionist Gerry Conway (ex-Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens Band, Pentangle and many more) relinquishes his full rock kit for a collection of hand-drums and a skiffle washboard, complete with home-made thimble-tipped gloves. Bassist Dave Pegg, fiddler Ric Sanders and multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie remain plugged-in to their amps.
Click through for the rest of Opening Day!
Having launched the latest festival, Fairport made an exit after just 25 minutes and folk duo Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts took over with a rollicking set of traditional and self-penned songs. Gilmore’s powerful fiddle and Roberts’ gutsy acoustic guitar – often played lap-style – plus shared vocals and a bright stage-presence delighted the crowd as they settled into the rhythm of festival life. At Cropredy this is a simple and unstressed affair as the single stage and one big, sloping field create a sublime auditorium where sunbathing, eating, drinking and shopping for oddities and ethnic nicknacks combine with wigging out in the mosh pit.
Singer-guitarist Blair Dunlop has strong family links to Fairport. His mother is folk singer Judy Dunlop and his father, Ashley Hutchings, was a founder member – arguably THE founder member – of the original band in 1967, before going on to create first Steeleye Span and then The Albion Band, the other two biggest names in the early British folk-rock scene. So now, with 19-year-old Blair taking a year off from education to focus on his music, it was appropriate that Cropredy – spiritual home of Fairport Convention and a place he has known all his life – should provide one of his first big stages to showcase his impressive skills with a six-string electric. Incidentally, that “year off” before university may have to be extended as he’s since stepped further into his father’s shoes by helping form a rebooted incarnation of The Albion Band, with all-new band members including the afore-mentioned Katriona Roberts.
Although it was not even early evening when the next band took to the stage, for many of the older members of the crowd this was definitely the headline slot. Home Service was, to some extent, another child of Ashley Hutchings – or at least of his original Albion Band. Home Service was a side-project made up of the Albions’ brass section coupled to the soaring vocals and scalpel-like songwriting of John Tams, flourishing with politically-charged, classic albums in the 1980s. A long-lost live recording of the band had been rediscovered and proved so good that the nucleus of surviving members felt that they had unfinished musical business to conduct. How right they were! A stunningly powerful eight-piece folk-rock with an added brass-knuckled punch produced by trombone, tuba and trumpets. Graeme Taylor adds a soaring and searing electric guitar, and the whole is fronted by the charismatic Tams, whose highly individual folk-vocal drips deceptive honey onto his acutely observed lyrics that can cut to the heart in a beat. Home Service were at home indeed at Cropredy.
How to follow that? Wheel on the energy and flair of Hayseed Dixie, of course – and the American parody “rockgrass” pioneers instantly seized Cropredy by its collective throat for a kick-ass party full of their trademark rocking bizarro bluegrass that turned that corner of England into an outpost of Moonshine County, Appalachia. It’s fair to say that many in the crowd were unfamiliar with Hayseed before that show, but they all knew the name by the end … and loved it!
The real headliner of the day — at least as far as the festival poster was concerned — was UB40, the multi-million record-selling British reggae band. Reggae has long been a constituent part of Cropredy, but this was the first time a reggae band of this stature had played and while they undoubtedly brought their own crowd to swell the ranks of the folk-rock dominated audience, their performance was smooth yet uninvolving. But there’s no denying their heritage, as hit after hit poured forth from the stage as the sky turned from the purple-blue of evening into inky black of night and the festival field took on its nocturnal adult carnival persona of coloured lights, swaying flagpoles and the intimacy of darkness.
Stay Tuned for Part Three!
In the next installment, Phil Widdows looks at the performances from Friday, August 12, 2011 … THe day dawned bright, dry and warm and ended with iconic American blues man Seasick Steve, all accompanied by the photography of Ben Smith.
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, but for many in the crowd at this one-of-a-kind festival it doesn’t really matter who is playing. If it’s the second weekend in August, there’s only one place they want to be. Why not join them this year?