Some 14 years ago, when I started my second teaching post, I soon got chatting to Pat, who shared my love of folk music. It must have been the first day, in fact, because we were in casual clothes and she was wearing the t shirt from that year’s Cropredy Festival. She asked me if I’d ever been, and I hadn’t. I’d heard of Fairport, but my experience of folk was mostly Irish, not English, and didn’t know anything about the events that take place every year in a field in Oxfordshire. I said to her then that I’d try to get there one year, and it’s taken nearly a decade and a half for me to do it.
A few months ago The Bloke and I were mooching around the ‘net and happened to come across something about The Levellers’ ‘Beautiful Days’ festival. That jogged our memory and we decided to check out the date of Cropredy. It was perfect – it just so happened to be the weekend at the end of the week he’d booked off for a summer holiday, and as we hadn’t booked anything, we purchased our tickets straight away.
They arrived about ten days later and we had two whole months to get excited about it, so I put some Fairport in the car, got chatting on an internet forum and settled down for the wait.
By the time mid-August arrived I was unbearably excited. The line-up looked fabulous; we were both really excited about seeing Ade Edmondson’s band, The Bad Shepherds, and The Bloke was going to finally get an opportunity to see The Buzzcocks, whom he’d listened to in his yoof. Neither of us slept much the night before and we were up with the lark. We’d allowed extra time to get to Cropredy but we were there within the hour, and were pitched and settled in our tent by the time the official campsite opening time came around.
The bands started at 4 on Thursday afternoon, and we saw a local band, Harlequinn, then Manchester based quartet 4 Square, who were absolutely splendid. Ken Nicol and Phil Cool did a spot, a mixture of music and comedy which amused me, then it was The Buzzcocks followed by Steve Winwood; neither folky, neither my cup of tea, but a good experience anyway. We left the arena field early because we were extremely cold, and returned to the tent. We were troubled by the poor behaviour of some of the younger campers and this meant we had an unsettled night, but we were still up and about before 8am the next day.
Queues for the showers were looooooong, but it was worth waiting for. We had a mooch down to the village and then returned to sort out the stuff we wanted to take to the arena – chairs today! Some more new experiences followed; I’d never seen or heard ColvinQuarmby, or Megan and Joe Henwood, or the afore-mentioned Bad Shepherds. Neither had I heard Scott Matthews, John Jorgensen or The Dodge Brothers, but suffice it to say it was an amazing afternoon of music, with something for everyone. The evening’s acts were Richard Thompson and Seth Lakeman. It’s almost sacrilege to say that I think both of these are over rated, but the atmosphere was good and we enjoyed it, although once again we left the arena before the end o f the night. I also managed to seek out my old colleague Pat and catch up, which was lovely.
Camping was even worse on the second night. The gang of youngsters had grown and we were treated to some yelling and screaming before one of them fell into our tent. At one point I did receive an apology, but only when I yelled ‘Shut UP!’ This must have been around 2am. I cannot for the life of me work out why these kids had gone to Cropredy; in all areas of the campsites there were enclaves of youth who appeared to have no interest in the music and who didn’t move away from their tents. I can only assume they feel the need to ‘do’ a festival and Cropredy is considered ‘safe’, but that won’t be the case if these behaviours continue – it’s a shame. By the time we were up on Saturday we’d decided not to drink alcohol, so we could pack up the tent before the bands ended and drive home as the event drew to a close. I’ve since learned that we weren’t the only ones to do so. I suppose the plus side is that while they’re around the campsite these kids are not spoiling the arena.
Anyway, up on Saturday and all the camping gear put away, we made an early start down to the arena to bag a good spot for the next 12 hours or so. Saturday was my favourite day musically, opening with the lovely Richard Digance, who was followed by The Churchfitters and then Feast of Fiddles – both bands providing marvellous, upbeat tunes. The surprise success of the day were Dreadzone, described by Fairport as “an eclectic fusion of dub, techno and folk into a powerhouse of ideas, experiments and imagination.” They’re basically a reggae band, and the audience, for all the misgivings they may have had, loved ’em. Then Nik Kershaw played; yes, little Nik Kershaw of The Riddle and so on. Lots of people liked him but I have to admit he left me cold; nice to hear the songs of my girlhood but his nasally delivery drives me mad. Some GREAT people watching to be done though; I had a ball with my camera! It’s really interesting to see the vast range of types of people who go to folk festivals (aside from the people I wrote about earlier.)
Ralph McTell began the evening’s music, and I loved his set though it was very short. After Ralph came Fairport themselves, the highlight of the evening for many. It was wonderful to see Yusuf Islam (Formerly Cat Stevens) up on stage with them, and I think my favourite tune of the weekend was Fairport’s ‘Ukelele Central‘. Just fabulous.
Because we were driving home we didn’t see all of Fairport’s set, and we hope that next year we’ll have a better camping experience, but overall, the festival was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Good weather, fine music and great people – what more could you want? Cheers!