With all the performers originally booked for 2020, then rescheduled for 2021, then rescheduled again for 2022, a lot has happened since this festival line-up was first announced at the back-end of 2019. Festival mainstay, Richard Digance, could no longer make it. He had a booking at the Edinburgh Fringe this year so his Saturday lunchtime set was given over to Seth Lakeman. Matthews Southern Comfort, who had originally been down for the early Saturday evening slot, had now morphed into The Matthews Baartmans Experience, the band having gone their separate ways during their Covid-enforced career interlude leaving just Iain Matthews and BJ Baartmans to fly the flag as a duo. And for myself (who had originally booked tickets for me and my now ex-partner) I would now be accompanied by the lovely Simon (below right) who has stacks and stacks of camping experience but had never been to a musical festival before.
Simon’s verdict: “I couldn’t believe how well-organised it was . It was just like a proper campsite. I was expecting it to be really rowdy and nowhere near as civilised as it was.”
Day One – Thursday:
I’ve been at Cropredy in all sorts of weather conditions, from thunder and lightning to torrential rain to baking hot sun, but it soon became clear that we wouldn’t be able to just sit in the field all day watching pretty much every band that came along. Me and heatwaves don’t mix. I could just about cope with the mid-day sun and the late evenings were exceptionally pleasant once the sun had dipped below the horizon but after downing several pints waiting for Fairport Convention’s twenty-minute opening acoustic set on the Thursday afternoon it soon became abundantly clear that a very different strategy was needed this year.
This was fine as pretty much all of the artists I really, really wanted to see had either early lunchtime slots or later evening slots. It meant I would miss out on the experience of trying out some new bands in the afternoon but even a jam session with the reincarnation Elvis and Jimi Hendrix would not have got me back on that festival field in the afternoon sun.
Following a snooze to recover and then listening to Edward II from the comfort (and shade) of our campsite gazebo, we headed back over for Clannad. A band I’d long wanted to see, their set was absolutely stunning and a fitting finale to their 52-year career. Back in 2020 they had decided to call it a day but the pandemic has meant a two-year delay to the completion of their farewell tour. When Cropredy 2020 was cancelled I treated myself to a copy of their double-disc career retrospective so I was pretty familiar with pretty much all of their set-list (not just the ubiquitous TV theme-song classics) by the time it came to Cropredy. Well worth the wait.
When they last played Cropredy in 2017 The Trevor Horn Band went down an absolute storm. However, not particularly being a fan of either Buggles or 80s-era Yes, back then I decided to take a break for a snooze. I soon realised I’d made a big mistake as we heard Horn and co. churn out hit after hit from the comfort of the campsite. No such snobbery from me this time around and we made sure we were there for a set that encompassed songs from the back catalogues of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, 10CC, Tears For Fears, David Bowie, Dire Straits and many more – not to mention the obligatory Yes and Buggles hits. There were numerous guests, including Lol Crème from 10CC, Steve Hogarth from Marillion and the wonderful Toyah Wilcox and Robert Fripp who became those surprise YouTube sensations during lockdown. It was fun, brilliantly-performed and a wonderful party atmosphere, even for me who is generally quite snooty about 80s chart hits.
Day Two – Friday:
Our heatwave survival strategy came into play whereby we would catch a couple of lunchtime acts and then retreat from the afternoon sun until the evening. BBC Young Folk Award 2019 winner, Maddie Morris, finally got to perform and wowed the crowd with her sweet voice, socially-conscious lyrics and powerful advocacy of LGBT rights. Next up was Australian singer-songwriter, Emily Barker, who I’d enjoyed twice before, once doing an in-store performance promoting her wonderfully-soulful Sweet Kind of Blue album (recorded in Memphis) and once on tour with Marry Waterson (daughter of Lal) of the legendary Waterson family. The was no Marry on stage this time but we did get a wonderful rendering of the Watersons’ ‘Bright Phoebus’, alongside Emily Barker’s own unique blend of soulful Americana.
It was then time to escape the sun and also meet a late-comer to our ten-strong Cropredy camping group so I spent some time in one of the marquees at the Cream of The Crop campsite in Field 8 which runs its own parallel small festival alongside the official Fairport one. Anyone with a wristband for the main festival can get in and while I, unfortunately, missed the brilliant Dandelion Charm I did catch some other great music. After showing our new arrival to the camp it was then time to head off to the main stage for Turin Brakes.
Formed at the turn of the millennium their chilled-out and gorgeously-melodic brand of indie rock was just perfect for a summer evening and one of the weekend highlights for me. Playing a mixture of old favourites like their 2005 top five hit, ‘Painkiller (Summer Rain)’ alongside newer material, they certainly looked happy to finally be performing and it was an emotional moment for drummer, Rob Allum, when it was revealed his first visit to Cropredy was as a youngster way back in 1980.
If the previous night ended with the party sing-along atmosphere of the Trevor Horn Band’s set, this was not exactly what Steve Hackett was offering. I can dip in and out of early Genesis but this seemed very much a strictly-for-fans only set, I’m afraid, and after grabbing some pictures of the stunning full moon over the festival crowd we decided to call it a night.
Day Three – Saturday:
Seth Lakeman never disappoints at a festival and although his set is a world away from the entertaining mix of sentimentality and silliness served up by Richard Digance, he was an inspired choice to fill the latter’s regular Saturday lunchtime slot and a big enough name to guarantee that the field would be full by the time he came on stage to open proceedings.
After Seth Lakeman we slipped away, once again, before the afternoon sun really started doing it’s worst but were back at the main stage by early evening.
Early Fairport alumni, Iain Matthews, always seems as comfortable playing solo with just his guitar as he is playing with a full band, so the duo format suits him down to the ground. Playing a mixture of Matthews Southern Comfort and solo material, plus some well-chosen covers (including ‘Reno Nevada’, a regular live fixture from Fairport Convention’s early days) the Matthews Baartmans Experience are nicely timed to start off an evening of Fairport and friends. Richard Thompson (who would be back on shortly for both his own set and Fairport’s) comes on for one song. In a colourful shirt and baggy shorts sans his usual black stage uniform, he joins the duo to perform a crowd-pleasing cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, Matthews Southern Comfort’s biggest and best-known hit.
Then it’s straight into a set from Richard Thompson. With a great mix of old favourites (‘Genesis Hall’, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, ‘Beeswing’, ‘Bright Lights’ et al) and newer material (‘Singapore Sadie’, ‘The Rattle Within’), he’s always a star turn any time he’s been at Cropredy and he had the crowd roaring for him from the word go. The voice, that guitar, those songs: this was always going to be a winning combination at Cropredy. And it was. Iain Matthews returned the favour by providing vocals on the wonderful ‘From Galway To Graceland’ and, all in all, it was the perfect prelude to the grand finale.
2020 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Fairport Convention’s first post-Sandy Denny album, the much-celebrated Full House) and two years later they finally get to perform it in full with all of the original line-up from that album, bar Dave Swarbrick (whose place was taken by current member, Chris Leslie, taking on the late Swarb’s fiddle and vocal parts). First, however, the current line-up deliver a handful of old favourites not from that album like ‘Ye Mariners All’ and ‘Fotheringay’, alongside a very hefty dose of songs from the most recent studio album, Shuffle And Go, which was released back in 2020. On their 2022 Winter Tour earlier this year Dave Pegg joked that given they had not had chance to flog them on tour for the last couple of years, there were still stacks of these albums sitting in his garage and so they were making no apologies for heavily pushing it. Clearly, the same rule applied but there are some pretty entertaining songs on the album and the musicianship is never less than excellent.
The moment virtually all of us were waiting for, however, was the start of the Full House segment and it was a really special seeing ex-Fairporters Dave Mattacks and Richard Thompson taking their places alongside Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and Chris Leslie. Together they captured the drama, intensity and outright weirdness of that classic 1970 album – and some more. All are seasoned players compared to their younger selves and while Dave Swarbrick’s presence was sorely missed, they played and sang with such confidence and swagger that it almost felt better than the original album.
The between-song banter in the early part of the set and the non-negotiability around playing the Full House album in full meant that they had started to run short of time towards the end of the set, where they were up against an equally non-negotiable curfew. ‘Matty Groves’ was unceremoniously dumped but we still got a beautiful rendition of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ with a lovely video introduction from Sandy Denny’s daughter, Georgia Lucas, as well as the traditional end-of festival emotional sing-along that is ‘Meet On The Ledge’.
I didn’t mind missing ‘Matty Groves’. My only real niggle is that I felt there should have been a proper on-stage tribute to original vocalist, Judy Dyble, who sadly passed away in 2020. I was expecting something to be played from the first album and perhaps an accompanying video tribute. Yes, she was only around for one album but she participated in numerous reunions and was an enthusiastic attendee of the festival each year.
Nevertheless, it was great to be back, it was a spectacular evening courtesy of Fairport and friends and it was an emotional end to the festival. It all comes round again (eventually).
Photo credits: Simon Putman
Book review: ‘On Track: Fairport Convention – every album, every song’ by Kevan Furbank
Fairport Convention at Bexhill 2020
Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2018
Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017
Album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’
Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel 2017
Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014
Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 2014
Iain Matthews in Etchingham 2016
Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’
Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’
Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’
Album review – Sandy Denny ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny’
Fotheringay at Under the Bridge, London 2015
Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 2015
Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall 2015
Richard Thompson at Folk By The Oak 2014
Album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’
Judy Dyble at WM Jazz at The o2