It is not often you come across a Gaelic rapper, a musician in 1970s knitted jumper surfing a crowd in an inflatable boat, and, well, The Beach Boys. But it does happen.
This year’s Cropredy festival (officially Fairport’s Cropredy Convention) wrapped up on Aug. 11 after presenting just such spectacles. Par for the course for one of Britain’s most eclectic musical events.
The festival, which is hosted annually by folk rockers Fairport Convention, leans heavily toward folk and folk rock. But it is not against a bit of Americana, reggae, prog rock, hard rock, and world music.
The 2018 edition was a bit more folky than previous years. Among others, singer Kate Rusby charmed the crowd of around 16,000 with her down-home Yorkshire lullaby voice; The Oysterband belted out their particular brand of folk-punk; and Le Vent Du Nord added a rollicking set of updated traditional music from Quebec.
But elsewhere different sounds could be heard. Thursday night’s headliner was ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who presented his ground-breaking Pet Sounds album in its entirety as well as a broadside of other Beach Boy classics.
Now, I have to be honest here. Wilson is well, well past his best. His voice is no longer there, and a few songs (especially “God Only Knows”) were very off. But the band made up for it. Ex-Beach Boy Al Jardine still has it in spades, and his son, Matt Jardine, has somehow inherited Wilson’s old voice and finished off what the great auteur himself could not. There was also Blondie Chaplin driving his guitar all over the place (in a good way).
“Sloop John B” was enough to bring you to tears it was so beautiful.
The headline band on Friday night was The Levellers. To judge by some of the comments on Twitter, not everyone was happy about what was a turn of style from folk-rock to a more orchestral progy sound. But I loved it. This was possibly because I was not familiar with their earlier work. But it mainly had to do with the incorporation of members of the under-appreciated Moulettes as a sound wall. Hannah Miller’s cello was, as always, a glorious treat.
A rain storm on Saturday evening made listening to the exciting Afro Celt Sound System a little less exciting, but the band was amazing and the fact that thousands of people stayed huddled under umbrellas and ponchos to hear their world music mix speaks volumes for the crowd’s love of music and the band’s pull.
Rod Stewart showed up — at least in the form of Cregan & Co, whose frontman Jim Cregan wrote or co-wrote many of Rod’s classics. They were delivered with panache and Fairport Convention itself delighted the audience by providing the mandolin section of “Maggie Mae.”
Similarly, there were roars of approval for The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, musical humorists who were rude about everything, crowd surfed in an inflatable dinghy, and had the crowd shouting about various famous people being less than admirable (self-editing here). What’s not to like?
Other standouts were Police Dog Hogan, who rocked; folk-singer Will Varley, who brought a welcome burst of lyrical poetry to the event; and the harmonious Smith & Brewer, who at times guitar-picked like Doc Watson. (Watch out for these two).
And of course, the wonderful Richard Digance returned to warm up the Saturday crowd with funny and poignant songs, leading to the world’s largest Morris Dance with thousands upon thousands of fluttering handkerchiefs.
Time well spent, for sure.