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A Look Back at Fairport's Cropredy Convention, Part 3 of 4
This is Part 3 of our special look back at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2011. We apologize for the unavoidable delay in getting you the last two parts but hope to rush them both to you this week. To take it from the top, click here for Part One and click here for Part Two. Be sure to check out the outstanding photo sets!
The weather has a vital role to play at any outdoor festival, and the weather in England – even in high summer – is notoriously fickle. But Day 2 of Cropredy 2011 dawned bright, dry and warm and the crowd stirred from their tents and campers in the fields surrounding the stage. The first job of the day is to find breakfast, and for many that means taking the short walk into the village that gives the festival its name. There the few hundred full-time residents suddenly find they have thousands of weekend guests. They respond by laying on “the full English": bacon, eggs, sausage and toast, plus tea and coffee by the tanker full. Money raised from the sale of breakfasts has helped build and run the community hall and funded facilities at the village school. Later in the day, as an unofficial addition to the music on the festival stage, the two village pubs stage live gigs in their gardens to create the “Cropredy Fringe” and the whole place buzzes with life. No wonder the festival-goers are genuinely welcomed by the people of Cropredy!
Back on the main stage, with a warm sun tickling gently and Britain’s longest al-fresco bar selling pints of real ale by the thousand, the day’s festivities began with the now-traditional appearance of that year’s winner of the BBC Young Folk Award, and in 2011 that was teenage acoustic trio Moore Moss Rutter. The friends – Tom Moore (fiddle), Archie Churchill-Moss (melodeon) and Jack Rutter (guitar) – originally met at music festivals and were spending the summer playing their mix of trad and self-composed tunes at a string of stages across the UK, combining music and partying with the stamina of youth. It was impossible not to be impressed by their capacity for producing fine music and for consuming drink afterwards!
Only a little older, The Travelling Band is part of the folk-pop scene that has seen Mumford & Sons pushed to surprising stardom, but these Travelling fellows won over any skeptics in the crowd who may have been wary of the latest “emperor’s new clothes” phenomenon, The band showed that they have the licks and tunes to be the real deal and they, along with Moore Moss Rutter, helped reduce the average age of the day’s musical bill by a decade or two.
Steve Tilston & The Durbervilles eased the afternoon along with a quality set that would have been welcome to anyone with an ear for great playing and writing. Tilston is one of Britain’s best singer-songwriters, and a Fairport favourite, having provided several songs for recent albums by the hosts.
Charlie Dore was a name that may have left many people puzzled, but mention of her hit single from 30 years ago, Pilot Of The Airwaves, usually cleared the mist of confusion. Sadly, sound problems plagued the start of Charlie’s set, and her mid-afternoon set drifted by too quietly and left few ripples in her wake.
The Dylan Project features Pegg and Conway from Fairport Convention, plus singer/guitarist Steve Gibbons, electric slide guitarist PJ Wright and keyboards man Phil Bond. As the name suggests, they sing Bob Dylan songs, but before you can split the word “tribute,” be told that their combined musical skill is epic and their love for the material self-evident. As Bob is unlikely ever likely to grace Cropredy in person, this was the next best thing, and suited the warm later afternoon slot to perfection. Don’t think twice, it was much better than just “all right"…
As technically satisfying as the Dylans were, their set perhaps lacked a little in urgency and drive. That was balanced neatly by The Urban Folk Quartet, who didn’t seem to need any help from the festival’s giant diesel generators to light up the stage and get the crowd on their feet. The flying four-piece’s mainly instrumental set of music inspired by folk from many lands was like a jolt of adrenaline and just what the doctor ordered to prepare for the darkling night ahead.
Another gear change came with Friday’s penultimate band: The Coral. Their jangly English pop was a departure from the steady Cropredy fayre of bluesy-rock and folk, and a lack of communication with the audience detracted from an otherwise enjoyable set of intelligent and driving songs.
But The Coral were always merely the hors d’oeuvre for the main meal of the day: iconic American blues man Seasick Steve. For many in the crowd it wasn’t just the enigmatic Steve but his unbilled bassman that was the big draw. It was no secret that former Led Zeppelin rhythm king John Paul Jones was appearing along with Steve and demon drummer Dan Magnusson, and when Jones stepped on stage the cheer would have ripped the roof off … if there had been one.
Seasick’s beguiling blues set was a winner, but so was the man himself. Stories soon circulated the next day of how the instantly recognisable figure had been spotted early in the morning after the night before, wandering the quiet streets of Cropredy village after raising hell long into the early hours backstage with all-comers. Not bad for a 70-year-old…
Stay Tuned for Part Four!
In the next installment, Phil Widdows looks at the performances from Saturday, August 13, 2011. The third and final day of the festival carried on where the Friday had left off, and ended in a traditional fashion as Fairport Convention took the stage again, 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. We’ve heard there’s only a bit over a week left to take advantage of of the Cropredy tickets early-bird offer. Hurry!