Gig review: CORNBURY FESTIVAL – Great Tew, Oxfordshire, 5-7 July 2019

Friday 5 July

Arriving onsite just in time to catch the tail end of former Supergrass singer/songwriter Gaz Coombes set. Being a bit of a local musical hero his set was well received although he may have missed a trick by not playing the Supergrass anthem ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ – a perfect musical match for the gloriously sunny evening.

Echo & The Bunnymen still features vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant from their 80’s heyday. Their set also featured the first of the weekend’s serious spate of dad dancing, especially when they reeled out the classic trio of ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’, ‘The Cutter’ and ‘Killing Moon’. Ian McCulloch did have some bizarre between song quips including at one point asking if anyone had any indigestion remedies. An enjoyable set, although their music and stage set would have benefitted from a night time setting as the music’s brooding menace doesn’t work quite so well in the summer sunshine.

Cornbury set out the main stage, the Pleasant Valley, and the second stage, the Songbird, timings well so when one finishes you can wander across to take in more music. Plus in between both is the Riverside stage which featured amongst the acts on Friday night the excellent 2 Tone All Skas. Playing a mix of hits from the likes of Madness and Bad Manners, they entertained a large crowd and are the perfect act for a festival, as they have good musicianship and play songs the crowd will know.

Friday night headliners were The Specials, the line-up still features three original members, namely vocalist Terry Hall, bassist Horace Panter and vocalist/rhythm guitarist Lynval Golding, plus Ocean Colour Scene’s guitarist Steve Craddock is also in the current line-up.

A lively start including ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and ‘The Lunatics’ (dedicated to Boris Johnson!), saw the band quickly hit their stride, however midway through they seemed to falter and Terry Hall, who to be fair never looks that bothered, seemed disinterested. Still ‘Too Much Too Young’ got the crowd jigging about and the encores featured ‘Ghost Town’, another classic known by most of the audience. Many of their fans enjoyed their set, just not sure it won them many new fans.

Saturday 6 July

Saturday and the sun decided to have a day off, instead we had some of that festival staple rain instead. Still it didn’t stop the great music or the crowd enjoying themselves.

The Trevor Horn Band were, in a word, sensational. Being a legendary producer Trevor Horn has not only a great stable of songs he has worked on to perform, but can also call on top drawer musicians including Lol Crème (10CC) and former Dire Straits keyboards player Allan Clark.

Starting with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ they soon had the crowd joining in (always know your audience at a festival and this is something Trevor Horn achieved), quickly followed by the Buggles hit ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Yep that was one of my bucket lists songs to be heard performed live ticked off! (I have been lucky enough to see the other half of the Buggles, Geoff Downes, perform said song in the band Asia). If Friday saw dad dancing, the 10CC classic ‘Rubber Bullets’ witnessed an outbreak of grandad dancing nearby. The other 10CC song in the set ‘I’m Not In Love’ went down a storm, as did ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, the Tears For Fears classic (that band themselves had played just down the road at Blenheim Palace a couple of weeks before).

The set list kept on giving the (mainly) 80’s classics with ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ and another Frankie song ‘The Power Of Love’, before the all too brief one hour set ended with ‘Relax’. I didn’t catch the name of the singer but he got the song spot on. Easily one of the weekend’s highlights, an entertaining set from start to finish.

We needed a little refuelling and one thing Cornbury does well is the choice of food. Everything from Mexican, to fish and chips, artisan burgers and even, if you are feeling flush, for £65 a three course meal in the Hairy Bikers tent. Not sure it’s rock ‘n’ roll but many do like it…

The Shires are regulars at Cornbury and their country pop tunes go down well late on in the afternoon.

Over on the Songbird stage and despite the rain, singer songwriter Billy Lockett pulled in a decent sized crowd. First came across him when he supported Jeff Lynne’s ELO last year and came away suitably impressed, so he was on my ‘must see’ list for the weekend.

He didn’t disappoint playing a well-received set of tunes, his emotive vocals and impressive piano playing help make him stand out from a crowded musical field. He certainly puts a lot into his performance and has a soothing, melodic singing style. Highlights included ‘Blackmail Kiss’, ‘Every Time You’re High’ and ‘Fading Into Grey’ (which he joked was on ‘Love Island’ recently which must have meant he had made it now in the music business). Finishing with ‘Empty House’, it was another fine set by this up and coming musical talent. Good to see a healthy number of the crowd stayed behind to buy signed CDs (including me!).

Jason Ritchie caught up with the guys from Rainbreakers to chat about their current activities and album, plus their take on the pronunciation of “Shrewsbury” (19:10)

The band play Ramblin Man Fair (20 July), Upton Blues Festival (21 July), Tivoli, Buckley (2 August), Buxton Blues Festival (10 August), Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival, Colne (25 August), Off The Tracks, Castle Donington (31 August)

Rainbreakers: Ben Edwards [lead vocals & guitar], Sam Edwards [drums], Ash Milburn [bass], Charlie Richards [lead guitar].

Having interviewed up and coming blues rockers Rainbreakers I was looking forward to seeing them play live. They didn’t disappoint and despite a later start, they were the last band on the Riverside stage and were worthy of their headline slot. Songs like ‘Heavy Soul’ and ‘Need Your Love’ highlighted the band’s love of updating the classic blues rock sound. Guitarist Charlie Richards got a standing ovation at one point after a sizzling blues solo. By the end of their set they had drawn in a large crowd and they are definitely a band to see live, as they are on the up and up. Good to see a band sticking to their guns and playing their own songs.

Elkie Brooks, ‘Queen of the British Blues’, still sounds in fine voice and backed by a tight band, she was belting through her classics and giving a masterclass in how to still sing the blues some fifty odd years since she first started out.

Keane have been on hiatus since 2014 and are returning to action with a vengeance this year with numerous live shows and a new album, ‘Cause And Affect’ due in the autumn. Tom Chaplin takes on the frontman role, although his co-songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley has plenty of stage presence too. Famously a band ‘without guitars’, they do use the six-string it’s just that their music is more piano/keyboards based.

Giving a hit friendly set including ‘This Is The Last Time’, ‘Bedshaped’ and ‘Is It Any Wonder?’, Keane pulled out the stops not only in their performance, but in their light show and the sound was spot on. Finishing the main set with their most recognisable song ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, to a massive crowd sing-a-long, they took a gamble on the encores with new song ‘Put The Radio On’ showing they have lost none of their talent for penning catchy indie pop/rock tunes.

Sunday 7 July

The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers were a perfect fit for a sunny festival afternoon. Featuring various crime writers including Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre and Val McDermaid, they played an entertaining set of covers mostly all with a crime theme.

Kicking off with a Scottish murder ballad they were off and running with ‘I Fought The Law’, with plenty of other classics including a rollicking version of the Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’, featuring Chris Brookmyre on vocals. ‘Paperback Writer’ added a line about wanting to be as successful as Lee Child. They added little quips here and there which worked well.

Sure they won’t be giving up their day jobs anytime soon, however they are good musicians and worth seeing just to see Val McDermaid’s train impression.

Chris Difford at the Café Nero tent was drowned out by the funfair nearby. Shame they couldn’t get him on the Songbird stage. Plenty of Squeeze songs dotted throughout his whistle stop tour of his musical life including a divine ‘Take Me I’m Yours’.

Alfie Boe proves what a voice he has on him, running through a mixed set of songs, including a little bit of country on ‘Wagons Roll’ and The Who cover ‘Love, Reign O’Me’.

Alfie Boe

Photo by Graham Fletcher

Paul Carrack never seems to be off the road touring, something that certainly shows on his slick early evening set. Switching easily between keyboards and guitar he covers many areas of his career including a moving run through ‘The Living Years’, a highlight from his time in Mike & The Mechanics. Arms aloft, this one really connected with the crowd. The set also included the first song he wrote, another classic song ‘How Long’.

Ending the set with ‘Over My Shoulder’ got one of the best reactions of the day. Paul Carrack still has the voice and he proved a Sunday delight for many.

Paul Carrack

Photo by Graham Fletcher

Hothouse Flowers certainly put their all into their set (so much so that vocalist Liam O Maonlai disconnected his mic lead with his enthusiastic kicking), with a sterling version of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’, although another cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ seemed a little superfluous – the third artist I’d heard this weekend performing this song.

Steeleye Span were on a hiding to nothing at the start of their set as the Beach Boys were in full flow on the main stage. Still, they are masters of their art and by the end of their set they had drawn a big crowd, especially after the Beach Boys had finished.

Steeleye Span certainly put their all into the set, despite a few sound gremlins early on, with highlights including the opener ‘Harvest’, a januty ‘The Elf-Knight’ and one of their ‘must plays’ in ‘Thomas The Rhymer’. Maddy Prior is still the focul point of the band, although she is ably supported on singing duties by Benji Kirkpatrick, Julian Littman and Spud Sinclair. Of course ‘All Around My Hat’ got the biggest cheer and crowd dancing of the evening. For a band celebrating fifty years they perform and enjoy themselves like a band half their age. If ever Steeleye Span play near to you, go and see them as they are one of the best live acts around.

What a bill topper Cornbury pulled off in The Beach Boys. Even the weather helped with hazy sunshine as the Beach Boys took to the stage and kicked off the evening with ‘Do It Again’. Featuring co-founder Mike Love and long term member Bruce Johnston, backed by a tight sounding band, they rolled back the years with so many classic songs including ‘California Girls’, ‘In My Room’ (nice touch saw Mike Love dedicate the song to Alfie Boe’s daughter whose favourite Beach Boys song it was), ‘Surfin’ USA’ and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’.

This reviewer was in seventh heaven when they played my favourite Beach Boys song ‘I Get Around’. Just to hear that performed live made my musical weekend! Following it up with ‘God Only Knows’, where Mike Love’s son Christian took the lead vocals, just made it go beyond perfect.

The Beach Boys

Photo by Graham Fletcher

Needless to say the crowd loved the Beach Boys and it shows the lasting popularity of their songs as all ages were joining in singing and dancing along. What a fantastic set to end an enjoyable weekend of music at Cornbury.

Cornbury got the little things spot on, be it loos that still have toilet paper on a Sunday or the fact the two main stages have no overlap (bar Sunday’s headliners), so you can maximise your music and get a few healthy steps in between walking to and from the stages.

One of the best festivals I have attended with a good musical mix and it is always worth venturing off the main stages as there are musical delights to be found like the Rainbreakers or 2 Tone All Skas. Roll on next year’s Cornbury!

Review by Jason Ritchie


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Power Plays w/c 16 September (Mon-Fri)

BLOCK BUSTER Losing Gravity (Frontiers)
WATCH ME BREATHE Don’t Think I Haven’t Thought About It (The Label Group/INGrooves)
FIRES OF FREYA Take A Bow (indie)
BLACK STAR RIDERS Underneath The Afterglow (Nuclear Blast)
STOMPIN’ HEAT Shiny Curly Red Hair (indie)

Featured Albums w/c 16 September (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 THE DEFIANTS Zokusho (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 CORELEONI II (AFM Records)
14:00-16:00 TONY McLOUGHLIN True Native (Fuego)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

BAD COMPANY Company Of Strangers (1995)



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