In many senses Cropredy has the vibe of an oversized village fete. One stage, one field, dogs allowed on site and, despite the 20,000 capacity, an overwhelming sense that everybody knows everybody. In some ways this makes for a friendly and relaxed atmosphere but at the same time, if you’re the new kids on the block and not sporting one of the many previous festival t-shirts, it can feel a bit isolating. Like Cambridge, chairs are also compulsory and though down at the front of the stage most people are standing so you can get up close to your favourite band, finding somewhere more relaxed to sit in the middle of the field is difficult unless you’re prepared to get there early. Chair controversy aside, festivals are about music and on that front, Cropredy boasts a pretty impressive line up.
It’s festival favourites Bellowhead who make an impression on Thursday evening. Though Jon Boden and Sam Sweeney have had a busy summer, also touring with Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party, they’re nevertheless as energetic as ever. With a new album due for release this autumn fans get treated to an early outing of 10,000 Miles Away, which preserves their up tempo vibe. However it’s the decision to pull out both Haul Away and Sloe Gin which is the real delight of the set. With Whiskey Is The Life of Man also making an early appearance, and Yarmouth Town and New York Girls working their way in, we even forgave them for the earache that is Little Sally Racket. Despite a few odd song choices, as they round off jumping in time to the beat the audience is reminded that they’re a formidable group of musicians who can’t fail to garner respect in their live performances.
On Friday it’s Irish rockers The Saw Doctors who grant the up-tempo sing-along in the sun. Despite such an impressive back catalogue, they never seem to be short of newer material. Though it’s been a while since Indian Summer was released, it proves they’re still able to write strong tracks which engage the crowd. The crowd are slow to sing along to opener N17 but by the time Tommy K gets an airing, there’s plenty of arm and leg movement as they begin to dance along. With all the classics making an appearance, it’s impossible to pick a favourite. For some, it’s always going to be the more romantic Clare Island which steals their heart, for others it’s clearly the more upbeat Green and Red of Mayo which is the hit of the set.
Whilst Squeeze also deliver an upbeat set, it’s clearly not to everyone’s taste as the crowd move away and form anew. Equally for us it’s not until they launch into Cool For Cats that we become fully engaged. Probably to the disgust of many fans, it leaves us with a sense that their heyday was a good 30 years ago. Although it’s rocky enough to keep those at the front entertained, numbers at the back seem to dwindle further as the set continues. It’s at this point the lack of an alternative stage sinks in, and whilst for many the ability to sit all day without missing anything is likely to be a real perk, for others there’s a risk of bored frustration.
Similarly, though we were keen to see Larkin Poe for the first time, their Friday daytime set feels more downbeat than anticipated. Nevertheless, new song Mad As A Hatter wins us over, drawing us into their intricate instrumentals. Sadly the addition of Blair Dunlop seems misplaced and the rendition of Black Is The Colour (of my True Love’s Hair) lacks the weight that Christy Moore or Cara Dillon’s versions give the traditional number. With a cover of The Band’s Ophelia thrown in for good measure, though they’re not as anticipated, they still deliver a rousing set.
Sadly, Saturday is generally marred by talking. Though during Larkin Poe we assumed this was our error for having sat so near the bar, as the chatter continues to plague us nearer the front through Richard Thompson’s set, we being to wonder otherwise. With his solo and acoustic start this poses quite a problem, but thankfully his legendary guitar prowess means we’re able to zone out and focus on the music. Though vocally he’s something of an acquired taste we still can’t help but be blown away, especially with the likes of 1952 Vincent Black Lightening and Walking On a Wire coming into the set.
As the hyperbole that surround him dictates, Richard Thompson is utterly enthralling throughout. Though it’s his acoustic numbers which draw us in, it’s the closing electric set backed with the likes of Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks and Pete Zorn which seals the deal as one of the highlights of the weekend. Wall of Death and a duet with daughter Kami Thompson on I Want To See The bright Lights Tonight blow even the most ardent fans away, and this is only topped by the closing Tear Stained Letter which acts as a marker of Thompson’s diversity, resulting in an entertaining set which won us over, despite are own expectations.
There are of course too many acts to mention, whether it’s Joan Armatrading’s move to a more pumped up vibe, tribute band Legend filling the field with Bob Marley songs, or the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners Ioscaid, the festival has a diverse line up. Nevertheless, the weekend is of course predominately about Fairport Convention and by the end of Saturday night, it’s clear everyone is primed for their set. At 3 1/2 hours long, it’s a set of Springsteen proportions but the continual rolling line up keeps our focus.
It’s impossible to pick a highlight, from Fotheringay to White Dress (Which sees Kristina Donahue take to the lead vocals) it’s a fun and uptempo set to round of the weekend. With Dave Swarbrick making Lark In The Morning, and a cover of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine, as first timers at Cropredy it quickly becomes clear why this is the moment most of the crowd seem to be waiting for. Percy’s Song (featuring Rebecca and Megan Lovell from Larkin Poe) is beautiful, whilst instrumental The Brilliancy Medley & The Cherokee Shuffle, shows them technically on form.
Of course it’s the closing number, Meet On The Ledge, which has always traditionally marked the end of Cropredy and tonight is no different. With every performer joining them on stage and a faultless harmonica accompaniment from George Galt it’s a predictable, but by no means uninviting end to the festival. With great weather, and the perk of watching the International Space Station move over the site, Cropredy offers a weekend of community spirit and a family vibe. Whilst for us being stuck with just one stage felt somewhat lacking, if you’re looking for a festival akin to a garden party full of friends and good cheer, then Cropredy is the place to be.