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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
FESTIVAL SPECIAL: FAIRPORT'S CROPREDY CONVENTION
Cropredy, Oxfordshire, UK, August 10th-12th 2006
Part One
 
Well try as we might we just couldn’t resist the lure of the bucolic folk-filled time warp deep in the heart of rural North Oxfordshire’s wonderful green and pleasant countryside. And as true slaves to our art this year we’ve come for the full three days of beer-filled capers, frolics and festivities.
And thanks to Serge and the limitless Whiskyfun review budget we’re here on the Festival site amongst ‘Nuts in May’ campers and cash strapped caravaners in what I can only describe as the biggest fuck-off recreational vehicle I’ve ever seen – a sort of Sheraton suite on wheels, with ample accommodation for both Reviewer and Photographer, and Jozzer who’s here as assistant chef and critic, and his moll Trizzer, who’s here purely for the fun.
A pity then that the Festival started (“Hello Cropredy”) with P J Wright, a distinguished member of the West Midlands musical mafia that also features Dave Pegg, Steve Gibbons et. al.

Ric Saunders with Little Johnny England
Wright was supported by “squeezer” Gareth Turner (accordion) and “scraper” Guy Fletcher (fiddle) both members of Little Johnny England (the name says it all) the local folk rock band for which he sings and plays lead guitar, and by ‘friends’ fiddler Ric Saunders and songwriter Peter Scrowther (who, if you ask me, has a lot to answer for).
Time was when a good old folk song was about the nasty brutish and short universe of the noble factory worker or his match selling fair laydee. Now it seems it’s a sort of Daily Mail dirge decrying the fact that “everything’s made in China now” (even the songs if you ask me, because they certainly all seem to sound the same) and that some wicked evil-hearted men have taken all our factories, honest and true – why even our pension funds aren’t what they used to be. Add to that some simply awful Ralph Mctell style [Editor’s note: steady on Nick, you can’t start on Ralph this early] faux historical ballads (“It was back in the winter of 1637 that I sailed on the East Kilbride steam packet”) and you can understand why I retired for an early aperitif, to the pleasing sounds of Feast Of Fiddles opening their set with that traditional scraper’s ditty, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. We enjoyed them with a Tanqueray and tonic as their breezy tunes were blown across the field to our moorings.
Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior and with Peter Knight (right)
We returned replete (excellent choucroute garnie Serge, with some of your lovely Alsace wines and Munster cheese) for Steeleye Span, who for some reason I had anticipated being a frightful disaster, this poppy face of electric folk having been totally off my musical radar (apart from that dreadful Christmas song of course) since I last saw them in 1970 something. How wrong could I have been? I confess they did play a few real stinkers, like the unconvincing Gracelandesque ‘Seagull’, ‘London’ (a dire follow up to the hit single ‘All around my hat' – which needless to say was the final encore) and a bizarre ‘The troubles of old England’ played in twelve-bar boogie style (very fitting). But these were exceptions in a well structured, well played and well sung set. Peter Knight was outstanding on fiddle, particularly in his duet with Maddy Prior on ‘Betsy Bell and Mary Gray’ and I was particularly impressed with drummer Liam Genockey who injected a real sense of pace and energy as they worked their way through tunes like ‘Van Diemen’s Land’, Tam Lin’, Long Lankin’ and ‘Cam ye ‘oer frae France’ But it was the handsomely proportioned hip swinging Prior who stole the show as she shimmied and gyrated around the stage, her exotic hand movements driving Jozzer into a perspiration soaked fantasy fuelled frenzy. And she sang very well too.
We enjoyed, or should I say endured Friday’s opener (“Good morning Cropredy”) Shameless Quo from the comfort of our mobile condominium over some wonderful chocolate tasting Galapagos coffee and ‘citronnier’ cake. ‘Rocking all over the world’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ was more than enough, so we went shopping in the once-pretty market town of Banbury instead, marginally less depressing than listening to a tribute band to a band that has long since been a tribute band to itself. Scholars may be interested to know that Banbury was accurately described in the nineteenth century by the following verse: “Poor town, dirty people, built a church without a steeple”. Well Banbury certainly isn’t poor today; with the arrival of a motorway connection to London and Birmingham in the 1980s it’s become a prosperous dormitory town. But it is a shocking victim of the British urban disease of shopping centre blight, with charity-shop and building society dominated streets, and a semi-derelict 1980s precinct leading in to its dismal twenty-first century successor.
Our return was greeted by Then Came the Wheel, a highly accomplished group of session musicians who sounded like a highly accomplished group of session musicians. They were followed by ‘The Guv’nor’, Ashley Hutchings and his latest band, Rainbow Chaser, which we had all looked forward to as a potential high-point of the day. Sadly it turned out to be a low. Over long-introductions, painfully over-written songs with tortuously contrived and naive lyrics, perfectly sung and performed but oh dear me, that song about Nick Drake (‘Given time’) nearly had me reaching for the RV keys. Luckily things perked up with the arrival of The Deborah Bonham Band. She’s the baby sister of the late John, and manages to sound like a cross between Janis Joplin and her brother’s former colleague Robert Plant. Her band, joined by pedal steel ace P J Cole, are tight, rough and rocking (her drummer is Humble Pie veteran Jerry Shirley) – and the only weak moment was when she sang Led Zeppelin’s ‘The battle of Evermore’, which famously featured a duet between Plant and Sandy Denny, which just doesn’t work. She’s at her best singing songs like ‘Devil’s in New Orleans’, ‘Black coffee’, ‘Jack past eight’ (yes Serge she’s a whiskey girl) and her encore ‘Rock and Roll’. If her CDs sound anywhere near as good as this then you should go out and buy one.

Ashley Hutchings and Deborah Bonham
Frank Skinner in the shade of the WF RV (left) - John Martyn (right)
Unfortunately a delicious lamb tagine kept us from Flook, winners in the ‘Best Group’ category of the BBC Radio Folk award. And before them we missed Frank Skinner introducing Fairport Convention, to receive a Gold Disc for Liege and Lief, which was also named as the 'Most Influential Folk Album of All Time' at the recent BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (Frank, by the way, had chosen to eschew the luxuries of the VIP area and camp with ‘the people’, pitching his tent, with some difficulty, in the shadow of the Whiskyfun RV). Which meant that we resumed our seats at about 8.15 for John Martyn. Readers may wish to refer to my earlier review of Martyn at the Shepherds Bush Empire in May before going any further. Regrettably I don’t have a great deal to add. Barely coherent, playing well within his former abilities, one paced and formulaic, with nothing to detain the audience who started to drift away at about 9.30. If there was a high point it was probably Ben Harper’s ‘Mister mister’ (which you can hear on The Church with No Bell), but in a weekend crammed with glorious nostalgia this was but a sad reflection on a distinguished past.
10CC
Fortunately enough people stayed on to give Graham Goldman’s 10CC a decent hand. I still cherish this band’s first couple of albums. They gave a new definition to ‘painfully overwritten and tortuously contrived lyrics’, full of in-jokes, knowing references and musical wit. “Bollocks pop music written by advertising men, sneered Jozzer, sedate in his fishing chair as he sipped discerningly at his seventh pint of ‘after dinner’ cider. The ‘ad men’, Lol Crème and Kevin Godley, have long since departed, whilst Eric Stewart no longer performs live. So this 10CC is Gouldman plus some long time Strawberry Studios collaborators and superb vocalist Mick Wilson. Do you remember how many great songs they wrote? The band were like a hit machine and we were played the best of them, ‘The Dean and I’, ‘Donna’, ‘Wall Street shuffle’, ‘Art for art’s sake’ ‘Silly Love’, and the huge hit that I always felt marked their nadir, ‘I’m not in love’. And Gouldman also reminded us of his pre-10CC work by running through compositions such as ‘Bus stop’ and ‘Look through any window’ (recorded by the Hollies), ‘No milk today’ (Herman’s Hermits) and ‘For your love’ (the Yardbirds). But in the absence of the heart and soul of the band neither pedigree nor almost perfect performance could really lift what seemed to an almost soulless affair, and as we left to the final bars of encore ‘Rubber bullets’ (“We all got balls and brains, but some’s got balls and chains”) I couldn’t help thinking back to a fantastic night watching them perform ‘Une nuit a Paris’ way back in the … well you know when. - Nick Morgan (Photographs by Nick and Kate. Frank Skinner photograph by Jozzer.)
 

FESTIVAL SPECIAL: FAIRPORT'S CROPREDY CONVENTION
Cropredy, Oxfordshire, UK, August 10th-12th 2006
Part Two
 
Saturday mornings are always a good time for mature and sober reflection (“Good morning Cropredy” – “Why don’t you just fuck off?” replied Jozzer, head stuck in the oven as he tried to light it for lunch) particularly. You know, three days of this finger-in-the-ear over earnest yet ale-addled holier than-thou-folk malarkey might just be a bit too much. But damn it, we’re here for the duration, and unlike the poor sods who don’t yet know that it’s going to pour from about midnight ‘till the time they bundle their dripping tents and soaking sleeping bags into their cars on Sunday morning, we’re at least living in luxury. So we sat back to watch Jozzer and Trizzer create an impossibly complex (and most delicious) tapas lunch, and waited for our guests to join us as the sounds of Cockney comedian Richard Digance drifted past us in the wind.
A few hours later, following an amusing territorial spat with a social worker called Brian from Matlock (after a good lunch and a bottle of sherry it really isn’t worthwhile coming the Gerrard Winstanley with Jozzer) we pitch our chairs and settle in for the duration. Same crowd, same faces. Our friends in the Pork Pie club are just behind us, eating, errr…pork pies. Tankard Man has his spot to our left – he’s been spending his time doing some watercolours – and of course tankards are de rigueur decoration for the field – as are stupid hats a-plenty.
Did I mention the burly man in the frilly skirt? Add to this piratical dogs, the occasional cat, and the Kitchen Krew, who in addition to their children and pets have their sink, cooker, freezer and even a burglar alarm, and you’ll get the picture that everyone seems pretty much at home. Even us. Hang on! We’re sitting in exactly the same spot as last year too, and the more I look the more I recognise the people around us. Have we become institutionalised too, trapped in this rustic backwoodsman’s retreat, a safe-house from the harsh realties of the twenty-first century, with its hose-pipe bans, hospital waiting lists and humourless traffic wardens?
King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boy
Anyway, due to our extended lunch we’ve missed Dave Swarbrick’s Lazarus (Dave almost missed it too, having got stuck in Denmark due to that other little harsh reality that was going on at our airports), but I can report that they sounded rather nice from a field away, and went down very well with the sherry. By the time we arrive Birmingham’s own King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys are half way through a rip-roaring high energy take on 1940s and 1950s jazz, blues and swing. Great for a party but actually a little wearing, a little too bellicose and certainly a little too long. The King was followed by Dervish – a seven-piece traditional outfit largely from County Sligo, fronted by singer, bodhran and bones player Cathy Jordon (who is “out of Roscommon”), who have apparently “been waiting seventeen years to play at Cropredy”. They are certainly a very talented group of musicians, with several ‘All Irish Champions’ amongst them (apparently this is very good) and a host of awards and plaudits for their performances and recordings. Well – l’d better get this over quickly. This simply didn’t work for me – despite my affection (as regular readers will know) for Irish folk music. I found Ms Jordon’s ‘kooky’ pixie like mannerisms both contrived and irritating in the extreme, and the woops “come ons” and yells unconvincing and superfluous. The ‘sets’ or tunes were good enough but hardly out of the ordinary, some suggesting a desire to capture some of Clannad’s faux Irish commercial success (I note that Dervish’s website talks about “opening the door to the Far Eastern market …” – see what I mean?). And I won’t mention the Cher song.
Former Squeeze front man (and co-writer with Chris Difford) Glenn Tilbrook got the tough pre-Fairport spot and pulls off what can only de described as a blinder (he later returns to play three songs with Fairport, and in ‘Tempted’ produces one of the high spots of the whole weekend). What’s more, he’s quite evidently enjoying himself just as much as his audience, if not more. And as the occasion deserves he gives us a real crowd-pleasing set, with a big injection of songs from the Squeeze back catalogue and a nice selection of his own solo material from his two albums The Incomplete Glen Tilbrook and 2004’s Transatlantic Ping Pong.    
So from the Squeeze days we’re played ‘Annie get your gun’, ‘Tough love’, ‘Pulling mussels (from a shell)’, ‘Up the junction’, ‘When the hangover strikes’, ‘Slap and tickle’, ‘Black coffee in bed’ and ‘Take me, I’m yours’, played on an acoustic guitar with great gusto, and sung with that wonderful soulful voice (“No, I can’t sing ‘Cool for cats’, its an octave too low, I tried it once and it was crap” he tells the audience). And on ‘Black coffee’ he gets the audience to fill in the “doop do do, do do do do’ bits, with remarkable success. In fact he’s got them eating out of his hand. He amuses with Cornell Hurd’s ‘The genitalia of a fool’, and his own homage to masturbation ‘Reinventing the wheel’, and ‘Hot shaved Asian teens’ (which according to one review I read “paints the dark portrait of a man who is trapped in a Daliesque nightmare during the day while his nights are consumed by dreams of hot shaved Asian teens” – Hmmmm). He’s thoughtful with compositions like ‘Hostage’ and ‘This is where you ain’t’ which apparently harks back to divorce and a painful separation from his children, and he simply showboats his way through Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’, complete with an extended guitar behind the head solo (no picture I’m afraid Serge). It was simply a tour de force – cometh the moment, cometh the man.
Fairport Convention
And then of course cometh the three hours of Fairport Convention that most people seem to have been waiting for with bated breath for around twelve months. And having reviewed them twice on Whiskyfun over the past twelve months I’ll keep this short and simple. The Photographer’s friend Chris Leslie sang very well and some of the band’s harmonies were so good that I thought they must have been using tapes. Ace vocalist Chris While joined and sang the Sandy Denny parts on ‘Cajun Woman’, ‘The Deserter’, and ‘Who knows where the time goes’. She also stayed and added very soulful backing to Glenn Tilbrook on ‘Tempted’ (I’ll say it again – one of the highpoints of the weekend – thanks Glenn), with Martin Allcock on keyboards. And they played the very nice ‘Untouchable’ from Transatlantic Ping Pong. Ric Saunders is a hugely accomplished fiddler who manages to inject a few unexpected Soft Machine moments into his traditional repertoire, and he excels on his big solo in Ralph McTell’s ‘Hiring fair’ which merges seamlessly into a Saunders/Nicol instrumental of ‘Summertime’. ‘Jewel in the crown’ (woops – I thought it was called ‘We are a proud land’) is brought controversially up to date with a mention of Iraq (phew – hot controversy!). We’re spared too much of the historical nonsense – I suppose it’s almost mandatory for Fairport to perform McTelll’s ‘Red and gold’ that famously “ill-judged and poorly researched slushy dirge about the Battle of Cropredy Bridge in June 1644”, and I have to confess to rather liking Chris Leslie’s ‘I’m already there’ about explorer Admiral Sir George Back, whose Arctic adventures are commemorated in a window in Banbury’s ugly church. And before we knew it was Fairport’s regular finale, a typically hysterical version of ‘Matty Groves’ (might be time to change this one, boys) and that show-stealing encore, ‘Meet on the ledge’, which we did.
And as we folded up our fishing chairs for another year and carefully tidied away our rubbish (unlike those who chose to leave much of the field looking like a refuse dump – there’s simply no telling with these middle classes is there?) the heavens opened and the rain began to fall. Back in the dry comfort of the luxurious mobile mansion “one last nightcap” followed “one last nightcap” to the accompaniment of that path breaking album ‘Liege and Lief’, Squeeze’s greatest hits (well remembered Jozzer) and bags of Mumbai Mix.
Next year? Surely not? “Time to move on” said Jozzer as he folded his soiled cooking whites – probably not a phrase often found in the Fairporter’s lexicon. - Nick Morgan (Photographs by Nick and Kate)



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