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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
FESTIVAL SPECIAL by Nick Morgan
FAIRPORT'S CROPREDY
Cropredy, Oxfordshire, August 8th and 9th 2008
Ok Serge, let me start by explaining about the new Whiskyfun Festival Van, although I have to say I’m still at a bit of a loss to understand exactly what happened. We were testing out the kitchen gear, and what better way, I thought, than by turning out my Signature Festival Dish, Pork Pie Flambe avec Chips? It was going pretty well, and I honestly do believe that the recipe (I used to have one somewhere) said use a cupful of cask strength whisky for the flambé (I’d chosen a lovely 22-year-old Rare Malt Mortlach, which at 65.3% looked as though it would do the job). It certainly did, and by the time the flames hit the chip pan I knew that perhaps I’d been a bit heavy-handed with the whisky (next time I might try a Willie Dixon spoonful). Anyway, the long and short of it is that the van’s getting what you might call a bit of a facelift, and that we headed off to Cropredy sans luxury accommodation, with the emergency Whiskyfun tent in the back of the car, to spend a couple of days with the hoi polloi at ‘Britain’s Friendliest Music Festival”. Whiskyfun van
We passed on Thursday – just as well as it rained very heavily meaning that the site was already pretty wet and muddy when we turned up and pitched tent on Friday, just in time for lunch. That meant that we missed Supergrass, who had headlined the night before. “Who?” asked on my on site informant, who we’ll simply call Muddy B, when I quizzed him about the previous night’s performance, “Who were they?” he persisted, which I think speaks for itself. Of course like many fellow festival-goers he spent much of the three days sheltering from the weather in Cropredy’s Brasenose Arms and Red Lion. Thankfully, muddy though it was, Friday evening was rain-free. So we avoided the pub, and after a delicious Cornish Goan Fish Curry (a wonderful newcomer to the food purveyors here) got stuck to a spot in the muddy mosh, and enjoyed the company of some largely entertaining Cropredy veterans, many of whom had (of course) brought their beer with them in weather-proof containers.
Cropredy mud
I have to say I often think that for all the gate money they must take (this year’s close to another sell out, that’s twenty thousand people at something like eighty quids each, which adds up to, well, a lot of dosh) the organisers are a trifle stingy when it comes to booking bands. I know a huge amount must be invested in the infrastructure which is pretty good, but there’s a vast over-reliance on local acts of sometimes questionable talents and abilities. Anyway, Friday night is pretty good. We catch the end of Stackridge’s set – remember Stackridge? They’re famous for opening the first ever Glastonbury Festival in 1970, and the original line-up has reformed for the first time since the mid-seventies. Their style was an eccentric west-country melange of progressive rock, folk and end-of-the-pier music-hall. It still sounds the same and I have to say it’s very dated stuff, but good enough for the folks madly waving sticks of rhubarb at the front (I did say eccentric didn’t I?).
After some lengthy chit-chat from compere Whispering Bob Harris (the one-time Old Grey Whistle Test presenter and radio DJ), Paul Brady takes the stage. Brady emerged from the Dublin folk scene in the 1970s, and had a spell with Planxty and a while in a duo with Andy Irvine before launching into a solo career, marked by some outstanding albums of which Back to the Centre, which provides at least three of the evening’s songs, is perhaps the best known. He has also developed something of a reputation as a prized collaborator, partly due to his outstanding vocal performances. And his singing is on top form here – he’s got a very good band, and an outstanding guitarist in Bill Shanley (I’ll ignore the fact that Bill also plays in Gilbert O’Sullivan’s backing band), particularly when he gets going on his Gretsch Tennessee Rose.
Paul Brady
Paul Brady
But for all that I have to observe that Brady’s new songs (like ‘Say what you feel’. ‘Oh what a world’ and ‘The long goodbye’) are weak compared with tunes like ‘Follow on’ and of course his very famous ‘The island’. It’s almost like his been back pedalling since I last saw him over ten years ago. But it’s a good set, finishing with a moving ‘Homes of Donegal’.
Dave and Joe
Dave Edmunds (L) and Joe Brown (R)
Readers may remember that when we last saw Joe Brown he literally had the power cut on him in Bermondsey Park. Tonight he’s here with his band (yes – it’s the Bruvvers) – who have recently earned quite a reputation after barnstorming Glastonbury a few years ago with his charming and very good-humoured mixture of Americana, roots and rockabilly. At the start of their set the band seem a little unsure of how they’ll be received, but I can tell you that everyone loved every minute of it. Brown showed unexpected dexterity on guitars, mandolin and fiddle, and his band (featuring his son on guitars and mandolin) were equally accomplished both in their playing and their delicate backing vocals and harmonies. Brown, you may recall, was one of the UK’s earliest rock and rollers, who then made a name as a novelty act ("I'm Henry The Eighth"), performing in TV light entertainment shows and pantomimes. But he’s reearned his spurs, to the extent that his special guest is one of the UK’s greatest unreformed rock and rollers, the rather reclusive (he doesn’t even have a website) Dave Edmunds. Edmunds joined Brown for a couple of tunes (‘The winner loses all’) and then finger-picked his way with adroitness through ‘Lady Madonna’ ‘Cut across shorty’ and ‘Classical gas’ before being joined by the band for an energetic run-through of some of his hits, including ‘Queen of hearts’, ‘I knew the bride’, and ‘I hear you knocking’. Believe me, no one plays a bashed up customised Fender Telecaster quite like Mr Edmunds. Later he joined Brown again for songs like ‘Yellow dog blues’ and ‘Girl’s talk’. But it’s Brown’s show, which he ends strumming his ukulele with ‘I’ll see you in my dreams’. He also had one of the best jokes of the night. “I expect you’re wondering what I’m doing here surrounded by all of these guitars. Well you lot paid for ‘em so I though you might like to take a look’. Great stuff.
Following Brown were the Levellers, much more powerful and effective in this setting than in a two-thirds empty Brixton Academy a few months ago. They played with verve and vigour (and a very effective light and projection show), and were it not for the fact that after about six tunes all the songs sounded exactly the same (and were played at the same relentless frenetic tempo – hang on, am I showing my age?), and that the crowd around us were going beery-bonkers, we might have stayed to the end. As it was we navigated our way through the mud and back to base camp for a drop of Scotland’s midnight wine, to wait for whatever the weather would throw at us. Levellers Crossing
And sadly that was it. It rained so much the following morning, and the forecast was so bad, that we cut our losses, raised camp, left the soggy tent in the barn of a local friendly farmer to dry, and headed back to the Smoke, leaving the more hardy to the sea of mud that beckoned. We’ve done it before – you don’t really need to earn your medals twice do you?
The Levellers
The Levellers
Muddy B stayed, and here are his brief views on what we missed. Zappa tribute band the Muffin Men, “enjoyable” and Julie Fowlis (whom we saw singing a couple of songs in the Rogue’s Gallery show) “superb - despite singing exclusively in the Gaelic”. Muddy missed Midge Ure (who anyway frankly, like Vienna, means nothing to me) because it was raining so hard he went back to the Brasenose, and had this to say about Fairport Convention: “some good stuff here, but found the Sandy Denny obsession a bit of a drag. She's been dead for 30 years, and to devote a five-song session to her, reliving some of her songs (without any great signs of having re-worked them to reflect where the band is at now) was a bit like an audio mausoleum”. Muddy also seemed to miss out the fact that Robert Plant joined them for ‘Battle of Evermore’. And here is his rather sad conclusion on the whole weekend – “last year was special, this year less so. It almost felt as though the whole idea had got tired, and they didn't even allow an unaccompanied crowd-only chorus in ‘Meet on the ledge”, a pity as it's a genuinely moving moment”. Well I have to say we did, sitting in the warm, on a dry sofa singing it down the ‘phone to Jozzer and his doll, which was a genuinely moving moment for us, if not them. And next year – who knows? It depends if we can get the van fixed. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate and Nick's iPhone)



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