Fairport Convention’s longstanding folk-and-rock festival, and talking about the changeable weather – two fondly regarded facets of British culture which worked wonderfully together this weekend. For those who weren’t part of the crowd this year, we’ve sent you a postcard: unexpected appearances, breakfast in the sun, supper in the rain and a new-found love for Norwegian band Katzenjammer.
On paper (or internet) the Cropredy Convention this year looked to tick all the usual boxes, with a few engaging twists. The Oxfordshire festival line-up spanned a wide variety including the lesser-known Katzenjammer and old reggae friends Dreadzone, rounded off with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell on Thursday – a wonderful set played in woeful weather. This was followed by a highly entertaining Friday filled with Fish, The Proclaimers and Level 42. For me, the folky highlights were ahab, Skinny Lister and TRADarr, with Katzenjammer nailing the ‘best-of-the-fest’ crown. Saturday saw Toyah Willcox and Paul Carrack relive past glories, and as tradition dictates, Fairport Convention closed the show with a two-and-a-half hour master class in folk. This time, the old crew sailed into new waters by bringing their talented pick of international musicians to the stage – from Ohio-based fiddle players to Breton songstresses. As usual, their sense of fun and effortless showmanship brought the field down and sealed the crowd as a satisfied bunch.
Musically, there was something here for everyone, unless of course you’re a dedicated fan of Electronic Dance Music. Considering that we are dedicated fans of Electronic Dance Music, it’s a credit to the festival that Cropredy offered us such an entertaining diversion from our usual taste.
With such a mixed bag of artists adding to the festival’s genetic makeup, what is it which makes Fairport’s Cropredy Convention so quintessentially English, apart from the constant conversation-worthy bouts of drizzle? For us, the weekend cleared an interesting cultural window. I have grown up with Cropredy fest, a family unit I’ve been a part of since my early teens: more than music, the festival for me meant camaraderie with relatives, community spirit, good vegetarian food (oh Leon, oh Leon), and puzzled poring over the dingbats quiz from the Banbury Canoe Club. For Bizarre Culture’s Indian founder, however, this was a new piece in his musical jigsaw, even including some en-masse Morris dancing thrown in for good measure. London-born and Hertfordshire-bred, I frequently cringe at the English institutional mentality – which so-often mixes national pride with petty racism – but the Cropredy Convention is a slice of our national identity that I am proud to show off. On Saturday – also India’s Independence Day – my friend from New Delhi was accosted on the field by a burly man who politely challenged him about his nationality… and then went on to check that the Indian flag he was flying was the right way up, in case it might cause offence. Cropredy is by its nature and tradition an overwhelmingly English event, but nevertheless it manages to generate an impressively welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.
Identity aside, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention feels like home for anyone. The single stage means the walk from any base camp to the action is a leisurely stroll to the living room; the pretty canal path, archaic bridges and line of art-adorned barges make the perfect back garden; and the range of everyone’s favourite cuisines, from curries and crepes to burritos and organic vegan feasts, create an enviably well-stocked fridge. The metaphor even extends to the toilet facilities, which managed to remain near-to-domestic standard through the whole rain-ridden, curry-loaded and beer-sodden weekend.
The weekend was also peppered with the unexpected: Harry Shearer (The Simpsons voice actor and co-creator of Spinal Tap) performed an unannounced guest spot during Judith Owen’s Friday afternoon set, playing bass on his song Old Joe’s Place from the film ‘A Mighty Wind’. Off stage, the famous front-stage bar was as usual the place to be for celebrity-spotting (Cropredy doesn’t have a back-stage ‘green room’; the artists mingle with the audience to buy a beer). We spotted Bastille’s bass player Will Farquarson, apparently a Cropredy regular since his teens, along with legendary radio presenter ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris enjoying the festivities. On Friday, bass player Dave Pegg (Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull) was mingling merrily, together with several Skinny Lister members and a number of other off-duty musicians.
If you’ve missed out this August, next year’s installment in the anthology of folk ‘n’ fun will begin on Thursday 11th August 2016, so keep an eye on ticket sales and exclusive line-up details here.
Words & photos: Alex Durham