Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2014: the FolkCast reviews

Fun in the sun, supper in the rain, brilliant music, a woolly "bombing" … and the unwelcome visit by Big Bertha! Here are some "Postcards from the Ledge", impressions of Cropredy 2014  from festival veterans Mark Barton and Jenny Wilding, reporting for FolkCast.

Watching you watching them… All eyes front on the main music field at Cropredy.

Cropredy is a music festival, not a Folk / Folk-Rock festival. It was an early sell out this year, and with a bill that featured Steve Hackett, Marillion and The Australian Pink Floyd it was a dream line up for those of a certain age who grew up with, and still love their prog rock. But the music on stage is just part of the appeal of this eclectic, eccentric event.

On Thursday morning we were treated to a powered paraglider display, a great way to chill out just watching them, and we met up with some friends who had decided that it was already "Pimms ‘O’ Clock". This also coincided with the official photographer turning up. Apparently the whole group would make a perfect shot for the Fairport family album. Would this happen at other festivals? Then it was off to the sports pavilion for a catch up with more friends who meet there every year for a pint and a natter. Sadly we missed seeing the scratch morris music and dancing but it is available on YouTube.

The first live music we saw was in the church. The Old Metal Dance Band got the toes tapping at the start of their set with some polkas. This was the inaugural concert in the church to raise funds for the upkeep of the building.

During Thursday afternoon, the sound checks are done and the PA system is entertaining us with gentle music. A cup of Earl Grey tea – don’t mind if I do. As “A Kiss from a Rose” by Seal is on the PA, in the background there are church bells pealing in the distance in anticipation of the festival. There is a festival bell in Cropredy church, which is rung to start the festival. With good care the bell could be still in use in a thousand years. The bell is followed by a short set by Fairport Acoustic Convention.
Smoke on the Ensemble

Sitting with Babba when Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble was playing, his verdict was: “Brilliant, just brilliant! 43 young musicians on stage all having the time of their lives”. See them on stage and you can’t help smiling. They even managed an impromptu version of “Smoke on the Water” when smoke from a dying generator drifted from behind the stage and across the audience!

In between the acts on stage two giant screens transmit tweets, including some with photos, and text messages. I’m guessing that they must be moderated as some drunken messages may not be suitable for a family audience!

It seems that if you are a veggie you really want to eat haloumi this year and very nice it was too. Then came one of those “Cropredy moments” – a chap seeing me with a pint asked where the bar was. We then ended up having a long talk with him and found out that he worked just down the road from us in Norfolk!

Breakfast on the bank with the Canoe Club
There are a lot of people with Steve Hackett t-shirts from a tour he did last year. The original Genesis guitarist must be one of the draws that helped to sell out the festival to those who do not normally attend. Most of the people sitting near us knew all the words to “I Know What I Like In Your Wardrobe”. Presumably, what they really like is a Steve Hackett t-shirt!

We have a tradition of breakfasting at the Canoe Club. There you can see the narrow boats chugging past on the canal whilst we sit under large gazebos. The people running the breakfasts were very happy to chat with people waiting in the queue, were  genuinely pleased to see us and pleased to get compliments on the quality of the food. We also had a chat with one of our fellow diners. It is not every day that you meet a retired porter from an Oxford college.  Walking to and from the village there were several buskers at different times including Tim Moon, playing on the bridge with a large array of instruments.

Breakfast is served!
The weather is never far from people's minds, and all weekend the forecast was described as ‘changeable’ and the information seemed to be updating on an hourly basis. The one thing that was certain was that on Sunday we would be seeing what was left of Hurricane Bertha. Friday, though, had been downgraded from rain to light showers. What we actually got was heavy rain! At supper time the heavens opened and a plastic plate over our food was the only way to stop it from drowning. This year's new compere, Anthony John Clarke, did a grand job keeping up spirits with a load of community singing.

The Australian Pink Floyd set was held in the rain, which added to the spectacle of the laser beams. Two "experts" overheard in the gents thought that The Wonderstuff and Chas and Dave had been brilliant and TAPF were ‘nil points’ - but many others disagreed and, as we enjoyed “The Great Gig In The Sky”, the giant inflatable pink kangaroo and the light show for the finale of “Comfortably Numb” and “Run Like Hell” were huge fun and very impressive.

Saturday morning was a lovely, breezy morning with clear skies, and out came all the damp clothes and bedding to get dry. By mid-morning the mud from the night before had dried out.
Adderbury Morris Men and a yarn bomb

The village was also the site for a "yarn bombing" event. All around the village, trees and other objects were strangely covered with knitted squares as if to keep them warm at night. The Adderbury Morris Men come to Cropredy and danced by one of the decorated trees. Not only do they dance but they also sing, starting their performance with “Sweet Jenny Jones”. [A YouTube link to an earlier performance].

The traditional car boot sale on Saturday morning was augmented by smaller garage sales dotted about the village, with all proceeds going to either the householder or charity. On the third trip to the village one of my companions succumbed to the clothes stalls by the village store, so a vision in purple was ready for her lunch.

The people in the caravan next to us came round for Pimms. They are first time visitors and they are here for Marillion. They complemented the Cropredy festival on the ambience and welcome they received compared to other larger festivals they had been to earlier this year. On hearing that there is no backstage bar, our neighbour on her mobility scooter said that this could be very dangerous as she might see the Marillion singer and in shock hit the wrong button and run him over!
Busker Tim Moon

Before the Fairport set we had a rare treat of hearing Al Stewart in concert. This was another chance to hear music from the 1970’s and 80’s. Then it was two hours of Fairport Convention, a rather shorter set than usual due to Dave Pegg’s injured hand. It is nearly midnight on Saturday night so it must be a Folkcast group hug on the field for “Meet On The Ledge”.

Bugger Bertha! On Sunday morning the rain came down in torrents. It seemed to wash away some of the feelings of the previous evening, along with topsoil from the fields which stained the sides of the roads an orangey brown as we avoided huge puddles in the car full of very wet camping gear.

Overall a very successful festival, with many people saying that for them, it was their best yet. An early sell out, and, from our experience, it attracted a lot of people who had not been to Cropredy before.



Babba tells the story behind life in the village during the Cropredy festival weekend.

Fairport's Cropredy Convention is unique amongst music festivals for being completely entwined with the local community. So much so that the weekend is officially started by the ringing of the Festival Bell in the tower of St Mary's Church, just across the fields from the main arena. The bell was funded in part from contributions made by festival-goers and by fundraising gigs by Fairport Convention. In years past, similar collections taken up from the Festival audience have helped to purchase a sports field, tennis courts, and a sports pavilion with bar, changing rooms and showers.
Friendly festive folk
During the Festival, many events take place in Cropredy, often to raise funds for local groups. So this year there was a concert in the church on Thursday lunchtime to support repairs to the building, a flea market by the canal dock, a record and book sale on the village green, a car boot sale on the Sports Field, a barbecue at the pavilion and lots more to enjoy. 

Cropredy itself is a short stroll from the Festival site, and there's no problem leaving and re-entering the arena or any of the camping fields, so those wanting a break from the music can spend a peaceful half an hour or so wandering the village streets and deciding exactly which of the lovely honey-coloured stone cottages they would buy if they had the money. 

If you see a resident of Cropredy on your way, they'll usually smile and say "Hello", because the villagers are some of the most friendly people I know. And at the end of a walk, why not a beer at one of the two village pubs? Both of these - the Red Lion and the Brasenose - are useful amenities and are dependent on the extra trade the Festival brings for their continued existence.

Then there's breakfast ... some of the villagers rise early to start cooking for the many who flock into Cropredy to eat breakfast in the Village Hall, The Red Lion, The Brasenose, The Canoe Club, The School and other venues, where profits will go to some local good cause. 
A villager and friend...

For at least four days a year (but probably much more often than that), it seems that all the residents of Cropredy and nearby Williamscot go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome and at their ease while we enjoy our annual "weekend in the country". For those of us who have been returning here for more than thirty years, it's almost as if, for just one very special weekend each year, it's "our" village, too.

And what do we bring, we 20,000 who arrive amongst the 750 Cropredy villagers every August? A traffic jam through Williamscot on Thursday morning, a temporary one-way system through Cropredy to cope with the pressure on its country roads, trucks bringing equipment on and off site for ten days before and ten days afterwards, and all the litter a large crowd can generate. 

So here's a big thanks from me, you lovely people of Cropredy and Williamscot, for all the welcoming smiles, all the greetings, all the full English breakfasts in the sunshine and all the fun, too. You're the best - and your Festival is the finest, friendliest musical event in all the land! 

Well, have you?

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