My 21st consecutive year attending the festival and the event is so much more than the music. Kids, once clinging to parents midway up the field, are now grown up and dancing at the front.
Last year the festival had a proggy feel to it which I think really worked well but this year I think the attempt to mix in an 80′s pop feel hasn’t really paid off. The Proclaimers, Level 42 and Toyah actually played very good sets; for the folkies they were a bit leftfield. I think the organisers should be considering more rootsy/folky/world bands rather than anything more mainstream that will polarise their core audience.
Whilst not advertised with the main festival, the fringe has become a major attraction with a full timetable in the Cropredy pubs all over the weekend and we saw an inspired set from Wille And The Bandits, a three-piece blues rock band that certainly push the envelope way beyond the norm. Wille, whose dreadlocked hair spills over the top of his tophat, plays some awesome slide guitar in a set that is at times funky and psychedelic.
Back over at the main festival Dreadzone‘s infectious reggae/dub/folk sound soon got the crowd jumping around with tracks like ‘Rise-Up’, ‘Dread’pon Sound’ and ‘Fire In The Dark’. Even though vocalist MC Spee spends a lot of time seated he exudes more passion and energy than a lot of other performers around as he leads the set through to final track ‘Little Britain’.
Following Dreadzone was never going to be easy but Katzenjammer were up to the task and kept the crowd in party mode with their high energy, folky, sometimes slightly pop sound.
Thursday night closed with a purists set from Emmylou Harris and a songbook that encompasses some of the finest American Country/Folk/Bluegrass sounds. She was joined tonight by Rodney Crowell in a set that included as great version of ‘Love Hurts’ and unwavering in the midst of a heavy rain downpour.
Friday as always kicked off with the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners and this year Talisk masterfully mixed fiddle, accordion and acoustic guitar.
Ahab, a band who appeared here in 2010, have now gone their separate musical ways but reformed their original lineup for a one off gig at Cropredy. It was an emotional set for both crowd and band with ‘Lightning Bug’ a highlight.
Skinny Lister offered an energetic mix of Punk/Shanty/Irish/Scottish as well as a drinking flagon which circulated amongst the crowd. Crowd participation is a must as they rattled off ‘John Kanaka’ and ‘Trouble On Oxford Street’.
Misplaced Childhood was certainly one of the major albums for Marillion and Fish is now touring it in its entirety for the last time. It’s also rumoured that 2016 will be the last time Fish will be playing live so this weekend’s appearance is both poignant and unmissable.
He wandered onstage and announced ‘They Call Me Fish’ before opening with a few of his own songs from his vast solo career before going head on into ‘Pseudo Silk Kimono’ and the equally impressive ‘Kayleigh’ and then ‘Lavender’. A performance for me that made the weekend.
In his now familiar Saturday morning slot Richard Digance gave us sunshine and ditties old and new with a political twist.
The New Grasscutters trod the tried and tested route of redoing old classic pop/rock/metal songs but in a bluegrass style even though some people would have preferred some self-penned material.
Band Of Friends are as close to Rory Gallagher as you will get, led by sometime Gallagher band-mates, bassist Gerry McAvoy and drummer Ted McKenna, with the amazing Marcel Scherpenzeel on guitar.
Kicking off with ‘Cradle Rock’, they were tight and enjoying the huge stage and crowd. They were also joined for a few tracks by Dan Ar Braz and, although a welcome diversion, they didn’t get to play crowd favourites ‘Messin With The Kid’ or the usual set finisher ‘Bullfrog Blues’. They did manage to squeeze in a few of their new tracks including ‘Leap Of Faith’ and ‘Sing It With The Band’ which fit in well with the Rory stuff.
Mid-afternoon, early evening is one of the hardest slots to fill at Cropredy, especially on a sunny day but as the crowd were still on a high from the rocking Band Of Friends Toyah came out to huge applause and reeled off a set that included ‘It’s A Mystery’ alongside some great covers like ‘Rebel Yell’ and ‘Echo Beach’.
Whilst I have my reservations about the influx of 80s pop this year, one tradition that will never change is the final set of the weekend. Fairport Convention and Friends majored on their more recent music rather that dwelling on the past which is well and good but Cropredy is a special event and I felt they should focus more on their heritage.
For example, I love the old Fairport and Sandy Denny songs and was disappointed not to hear ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’. They were joined on stage for a few tracks by Fish and numerous other guests including some of the Joe Broughton ensemble and Iain Matthews. As with another of my weekend favourites, Band Of Friends, this year’s setlist was slightly disappointing.
But, 21 years on, a couple of setlist hiccups did not detract from one of our great, family-friendly, festival events and one that keeps drawing me back year after year.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
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