Eclectic sounds in an Oxfordshire field – Cropredy
Around this time of year, thousands of British “roots” fans gather in a field in rural northern Oxfordshire for a festival formally known as Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, but generally just called Cropredy. It is a cult event (in the benign sense of the word) that attracts an audience – known as Croppers – ranging from babies to the over 80s.
There are people who come to this festival who first attended as babes-in-arms, others who met there and married. I know of at least one Los Angeleno who flies over every year to attend.
The festival’s main draw of course is the music – an eclectic mix of the finest musicians around from the world of folk, reggae, rock, Americana and blues. I am just back from my fourth Cropredy (pronounced crop-ur-dy), head full of new sounds and light on my feet. Primarily for American readers but also others who may not know, here’s a run down of what the festival is and does.
It “belongs” to the pioneering English folk rock band Fairport Convention, some of whose members live or lived near the village of Cropredy. They started helping out locally, playing at village fairs, in the mid-1970s. Then in 1979 they had a farewell concert as they planned to break up. But they liked the concert so much they had a reunion in 1980, never broke up and have done it every year since.
The three-day festival now begins with a short acoustic set from Fairport, who close the show on Saturday night with an electric set and a few “friends”. (The former Cat Stevens, now Yussef, was once such as few years ago. Richard Thompson another.)
In between, almost anything goes – as this year’s Thursday and Friday night headliners proved. Alice Cooper surprised himself by getting a rapturous ovation from what he had wrong assumed was an old folkie crowd. (“Who knew that the best #RockNRoll #audience of the tour would be at the #Cropredy2013 #Folk #Festival?!” was his Facebook comment.) Twenty -four hours later 10CC enchanted with their complex, subversive pop-rock.
It was at Cropredy a few years ago, meanwhile, that I saw one of my all time great sets – a magical performance by Steve Winwood.
But the festival is most definitely not all about old rockers. One of its joys is to introduce new faces. This year’s breakthrough act was Moulettes, an alt-folk ensemble that was truly superb (and of which more in a separate post). BBC Radio2 Young Folk Musicians of the Year winners Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar also showed terrifyingly confident stage presence given the latter had to get two days off high school to collect the award this year.
Among other standout acts were Edward II, a fusion of English folk and reggae (who knew!) and the Mediaeval Baebes, who take ancient texts in Latin, Middle English etc and set them to harmonies. Folk singer Richard Digence, the traditional opener on Saturday, managed to get the whole field to stand up and do animal impersonations.
This year’s event was short on pure Americana. In the past few years, however, there has been plenty. Some examples include: Hayseed Dixie knocking the ball out of the park with their bluegrass-cum-stadium rock, U.S. bluesman Seasick Steve hammering out a fine set with ex-Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones, and The Dixie Bee Liners bringing their Susanville U.S. country concept album to Cropredy’s single stage.
In my four weekends at Cropredy (which for transparency’s sake I must say I attend gratis on a press pass), I have seen heavy rock, light rock, blues, country, reggae, folk, folk-rock, country-rock, bluegrass, prog rock, skiffle and rockabilly.
You can’t get much more eclectic than that.