Live Reviews

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2023: Live Review

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention adds another year to its long list of great bills and festivals. It really is a festival to cherish.


So here we all are again – in the sacred confines of THAT field at Home Farm, Cropredy, ready – and waiting for our 2023 serving of Fairport-assembled delights. We arrived in confident anticipation. This year’s bill is a stonker, dripping with exciting prospects like At The Barrier favourites Merry Hell, The Joshua Burnell Band, Beans On Toast and The Young ‘Uns. We’re not short of stalwart favourites either, with Strawbs, Easy Star All-Stars and Solstice all loaded, primed and ready, and that’s before we get to thinking about the big guns – Toyah and Robert Fripp, 10cc, Gilbert O’Sullivan and, of course, Fairport themselves.


Fairport Acoustic

It’s the traditional weekend opener, and we never tire of it. The tee-shirt queue was still stretching way up past the bar when the Merry Men of Fairport hit the stage at 4pm to welcome us all to Cropredy 2023 with their customary acoustic set. Peggy thanked the assembled mass for bringing the sunshine along – and well he might, after day-upon-day of sporadic rain, Thursday 11th August was bright, warm and sunny – the perfect festival weather – and just in time!

Fairport opened their set with Festival Bell, Chris Leslie’s wonderful commemoration of the bell in the tower at St Mary’s church in Cropredy village, installed and named after the band and festival when this event was merely in its 40th year. How time flies! Simon introduced Huw Williams’s Travel By Steam as “A song that mentions Banbury – for the Olympics!” It’s a song that concludes with a burst of Swaggering Boney, also, also known as ‘Travel By Steam,’ a Morris tune from the Gloucestershire village of Longborough, and we stuck with the Morris theme for The Happy Man, a tune from Chris’s home village of Adderbury, just a few miles down the road from Cropredy. In a nice touch, Chris dedicated the song to Taylor Apollo, unquestionably the youngest Morris dancer at the festival!

Touching dedications are always a feature of Fairport’s acoustic set and Peggy’s dedication of the dance medley Royal Seleccion No.13 to his Banbury neighbours who recently gave their house over to a family of Ukrainian refugees drew a deserved and sustained round of applause from the whole crowd. In many ways, Royal Seleccion IS Cropredy – Fairport used it as their set opener for many of the early festivals, and Thursday’s performance demonstrated that the tune has lost none of its lustre.

After Fairport’s wonderful welcome, we just knew we were in for a fine festival and there were a considerable number in the crowd who were particularly excited by the prospect of what was coming next…

Merry Hell

Perhaps the people’s choice for a slot on the hallowed stage. “We’re not from round here,” Andrew Kettle informs us, and just when you expect him to go off on one of his comic interludes (that comes with their song about a ghost in the house – or is it ‘goat?) he reminds us that Wigan is the home of the Diggers; hard-working, salt of the Earth folk who stand up for what’s right. It’s a philosophy that has Virginia Kettle declaring “If you want to do something – bloody do it!” as the band pay tribute to their roots with a passion, a commitment and a determination that grows noticeably through the set.

It sums up Merry Hell to a tee and why they provide such an uplifting and committed start to the festival while setting the bar high at a point enough for those who follow to attain. It’s not long before they have the crowd in the palm of their hands, the numbers at the front swelling and swaying along to Bury Me Naked and bristling with goosebumps as Lean On Me, Love . The latter sees the fiddle of Simon Swarbrick (nephew of Dave in case you weren’t aware) soaring across the field and offers. a moment for reflection on (a) another Swarb on the main stage at Cropredy and (b) how Merry Hell come up trumps in the fiddle spot having Simon and before him, Neil McCartney in that position.

As the set picks up even more pace, there’s possibly a fly in Virginia’s eye that she has to wipe away during Come On England at the “For I come from the land of the diggers and levellers” verse. Sentiment and her own little solo slot aside where she commands several thousand with a no-nonsense sternness, much joy abounds with John Kettle bouncing and thrashing that poor acoustic guitar stage right while at stage left, Bob Kettle wins today’s prize for the happiest person on stage.

Wilson & Wakeman

Early contenders for busiest musicians of the festival, Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman are no strangers to Cropredy. Appearing in the rather heftier presence of Headspace, they’ve also recently done a set in their guise as a duo that gets repeated as a calming antidote to the charge of Merry Hell.

Their repertoire showcases just a small snapshot of their combined, together and apart, CVs. “I think they can hear you Damian!” Adam jokes as Can You Hear Me? closes and displays the easy partnership that they have alongside enviable musical prowess. Absolutely love Damian belting it out in Threshold and Ayreon among others, but this partnership is perhaps where he’s at his best, and hearing anyone named Wakeman at a grand piano is a joy. Showcasing the voice and the piano, no hiding place, the set is the tip of the W&W iceberg along with Life On Mars (a nice little nod to Adam’s dad there) and hearing Seek For Adventure and From Limehouse To Lechlade is a gentle nudge to seek out and dig deeper into the W&W legacy.

They also pop up a couple of days later at the BBC Radio Oxford tent as a brief Saturday downpour catches them. A couple of volunteers step up with brollies as Damian entertains the assembled – he’s a natural and lovely gentleman with the voice of an angel – while the setup is completed and Adam counts his blessings from his keyboard inside the tent. Damian even throws in an Iron Maiden song; The Evil That Men Do at Cropredy!? “If I’d have been in Iron Maiden they would have been on that stage!” he says, recalling his younger days and audition for the band.


Toyah and Robert Fripp

It was back in 2015 that Toyah Wilcox last had the Cropredy stage to herself. She wowed us then, and -by heck – she certainly delivered the goods this year! Armed with a top-notch band, led, of course by husband Robert Fripp, figurehead of the mighty King Crimson, she left us breathless – and glamour-struck as she blasted through set of favourites from the couple’s hilarious – some might even say ‘notorious’ Sunday Lunch podcast series. The band was on top form, and Toyah had the whole field captivated as she rocked, twirled, enchanted and, of course, sang her way through a set that was thoroughly familiar and contained something for absolutely everyone.

Her rapport with the crowd was almost as entertaining as the songs – she preceded the band’s version of Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way with an assurance to the ladies in the audience that she’s happily married (and therefore no challenge for the affections of their husbands); Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach was introduced with a reference to our bawdy behaviour back in 1987, and an anecdote about sneaking into Birmingham’s Top Rank theatre as a 13-year old was the cue for a thunderous version of Paranoid.

As the weekend progressed, Toyah’s most notorious observation grew to be the stuff of legend. Even Richard Digance passed comment. It was, I believe, the only time she underestimated her audience. You see, she suggested that she’d like to jump off the stage and kiss every man in the crowd, so they could each go home and boast that they’d snogged a 65 year-old lady. Trouble is, Toyah – our beautiful darling – that’s something that lots of men in the Cropredy crowd do every day. And more, if I may be slightly suggestive…

Even in adversity, the pace never let up. When the PA briefly went down in the midst of Toyah’s monster 1981 hit, It’s A Mystery, the band and crowd held it all together and we were all spot on time when the sound was restored.
The highlights were almost too numerous to list here: Bowie’s Fashion was stunning, Sunshine of Your Love – a very welcome surprise – rocked like crazy, Sharp Dressed Man was, well, sharp and well dressed and, with Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, Toyah and the band worked the audience to the point of exhaustion. But, if I was challenged to select my absolute favourites from this breathless set, I’d have to go for the storming Sweet Child o’ Mine (“the best festival song EVER!” said Toyah), Rockin’ In the Free World – dedicated to the people of Ukraine, Toyah’s debut hit I Wanna be Free, and – particularly – a version of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir that was choppy, chunky and deliciously heavy. And, remember, the song’s co-author, Robert Plant was watching on. There was no room for slip-ups, and there weren’t any.

Regularly name checking her husband of over 35 years, Toyah never let us forget where the power behind the band was coming from..Robert Fripp himself says nothing, yet gives away plenty of clues. He’d make a great card player; his face isn’t expressionless – far from it – as he conjures up expressions of joy, rapture, total impasse and more. A clear case of a picture painting a thousand words!

The influence of David Bowie was never far beneath the surface during this weekend – as Easy Star All-Stars would demonstrate during their Friday slot. But Fripp was closer than most to the dream man – he played guitar on Bowie’s 1977 Berlin sessions – so what better choice of encore could there be than a frantic take of ‘Heroes’?

It’s hard to believe that this rapturous set was delivered by a lady who gets her bus pass in the next 12 months. Toyah and the band gave it everything they had, and we loved it. On the assumption that 15,000 of the sell-put crowd had arrived by the time of Toyah’s appearance (and – the rest of you – where were you? – you missed a real treat…) and that 5,000 of those were already in on the Toyah secret, then it’s safe to say that Toyah made 10,000 new friends on Thursday night. As the band bade their farewells, there was the thought that Nile Rodgers might have a challenge on his hands to follow such an energetic and entertaining set. But then again maybe he’s up for it…

Nile Rodgers & Chic

Friday night became disco night as C’est Chic rang out across the Cropredy night air. A stunning backdrop display flashed throughout with the exotic flashing red lights matching the fluorescent red Chanel suit worn by Nile. But it was really all about the vibrant music including every hit he wrote and produced either for his own performances or with a glittering list of  global artists such as Daft Punk, Beyoncé, David Bowie, Dianna Ross, Madonna and Duran Duran.

The audience bopped incessantly along; waving, jumping, shouting along with the multi Grammy awarded Nile who wooed them with anecdotes of his career, littered with Grammy’s and awards of achievement. Supported by his female vocalists  Audrey Martells and Kimberly Davis, their vocal  grooves were given little respite throughout night. Drummer, Ralph Rolle, whipped the crowd into the closest thing to a frenzy a Cropredy audience gets. 

As the performance closed Nile showed his appreciation of their participation. He estimated there were 50,000 in the audience after they jubilantly responded to hearing the rousing hits. He wasn’t close of course but that size of crowd couldn’t have been any louder. Poor MC A.J. Clarke struggled to placate the riotous audience’s demands for more but Nile and the band were speedily jumping on their tour bus and heading out before the20,000 strong crowd had left the field. Nile Rodgers has left the building!

Meanwhile, at The Brasenose…

Surely destined for the main stage, Carla Fuchs enthralled The Brasenose with songs from her album Songbird (our review here). Inspired by the words of Sandy Denny, for which she’s written new music, she completely captured the spirit of Sandy Denny musically and vocally. Following a style heard evoking The North Star Grassman And The Ravens, her songs are superbly crafted. Whilst being adamant that this is not a Sandy tribute album, when Carla uses Sandy Denny’s acoustic Gibson guitar, it is hard not to feel that tribute and presence.

As a multi-instrumentalist, Carla Fuchs is a supreme talent. Switching between keys, acoustic guitar, and a completely mind blowing use of the twelve string with added slide guitar, Carla has a rare ability and one we hope to see flourish for many years to come.

Carla showed loving appreciation for all those who had supported her to create the songs and record them including Georgia Lucas, Sandy’s daughter, who when joining her on stage clearly showed the close relationship they hold.

In addition to Carla’s performance of Songbird, there was also a chance for people to visit the Sandy Denny Exhibition in The Brasenose. Whilst not a humungous display, the chance to see Sandy’s dresses, awards, notebooks, letters, trinkets and wedding pictures (amongst other things) was heart breaking and life affirming in equal measure. Some of the artefacts contained the notes that Carla used to create the Songbird album.

Depending on wherever the exhibition goes next, and it should be somewhere of the greatest importance for this national treasure, you need to make a point to check it out.


The first piece of good news: Friday’s weather was as good as Thursday’s – bright, warm and freshened by a light breeze. The perfect festival weather, (again!) in fact. And the second piece – we started early, allow the one and only Roger Dean to deliver a impassioned, insightful and thoroughly absorbing presentation of his career, work and achievements.

The talk covered his days at art school and the challenges and frustrations he faced, his approach to the design of furniture and living spaces and an explanation of how that work transformed itself into album cover and band logo design. He shared details of how his paintings were developed and told many an anecdote of how his well-known works – including over 50 logos for the band Yes as well as most of that band’s album covers – came about. His presentation, and the accompanying slides, emphasised the quality and durability of his work, with many in the crowd making their way towards his stall and exhibition space over by Jonah’s Oak as the talk reached its conclusion.


Joshua Burnell

A musician whose music we once called “folk infused baroque and roll.” Actually, there’s much more to Joshua Burnell than that as we shall see when he takes to the stage to show off his newest music from the Glass Knight album. He encourages us to join him and “embrace the weird” which we’re more than happy to do and acknowledge why Dave Pegg, like us, rates this young fella so highly.

As he wades into Le Fay, he references one of his heroes who also wrote an album about Arthurian legend (and from whom Joshus stole a hairstyle), but it’s the songs from Glass Knight that make up the bulk of an exciting set. -Lucy, Don’t Lose Your Faith and Why The Raven Cries all offer a gateway to an album that many (including a couple of the national papers) have already latched onto.

He adds a couple from the back catalogue – Plane Tree & Tenpenny Bit from The Road To Horn Fair being his “folk music in the style of Genesis,” whilst offering a glimpse into the influences on his musical world. With the first track from his new album opening the set, Sing For The Island, the first track from his first album, provided the finale with a spirited fiddle and guitar freak out, the opening slot to the day was again an inspired choice.

Joshua also scored highly as a contender for happiest man on stage, it being his first Cropredy, his album release day AND his fifth wedding anniversary. However, it was his guitarist (and mate since the age of 3) Nathan Greaves who simply couldn’t stop grinning in a “can’t believe I’m actually here!” way, as he bounced around the stage like what Edmund Blackadder would call “a very excitable person who has a special reason to be excited.

Kiki Dee & Carmello Luggeri

Now partnered by accomplished guitarist Carmelo Luggeri, Kiki Dee demonstrated that true talent lasts a lifetime. Although many of her current songs and tunes are less familiar than her 70’s hits Don’t Go Breaking My  Heart (a new arrangedment dued off second dong in), Amoureuse and I’ve Got the Music In Me her modern arrangements of them and the new material co-written  with Carmelo  are nonetheless entertaining. Their version of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill was similarly much appreciated by the discerning Cropredy faithful.

What You Wish For, You Can’t Fix The Maybe, Amen and Goodbye all struck a note with theaudience. The latter segued into a song dedicated to her mother with the message, echoed by many over the weekend, to enjoy life to the full whatever your age, was particularly resonant.

The stripped down arrangements of her hits and cover versions were sung beautifully and accompanied by intricate guitar work. Dave Mattacks , who played on the original version of Amoureuse joined them for the final number, the bouncy I’ve Got The Music In Me. She may have been appearing “without the dungarees” but she is still a stunning performer in delivering songs new and old.

Peat & Diesel

Cropredy was warned that ‘Peatlemania’ might strike. Whilst not on the scale of the famous Fab Four, this Scottish trio of musicians certainly turned heads with their rip-roaring and raucous swampy blues / folk / rock concoction ripping through the festival. We’d previously seen the trio at Wickham Festival in 2021, and on this showing they’ve only gone on to grow their repertoire and reputation.

The loose feel of a set is always something exciting, no matter how big or small the act. Whilst there is definitely a clear path for the show, the lumbering nature of the patter is entertaining. With guitarist, Boydie, sporting a traditionally Scottish ‘BAWBAGS’ t-shirt, the band tore through a bunch of tracks from their short discography.

Country Boy opens up with Innes playing his accordion before Boydie brings a rolling guitar riff up behind. On drums, Uilly looks like the meanest drummer of the weekend. “You wouldn’t mess with these guys,” A.J. Clarke has already noted. They sing of their dislike of the city and funnily enough, their love of the country. It’s an odd mix on paper, but when played together the three have something quite unique.

Peat & Diesel hail from Stornoway, so it feels customary to have a song about your homeland. A little borrow from Bryan Adams’ Summer Of ’69 at the start raises a chuckle and leads to an excellent song showing the pride that the band have in their origins. It is no surprise to see a cover of The Pogues’ Dirty Old Town included being that Boydie uses his voice a lot like Shane MacGowan. There were many cover versions offered from the stage over the weekend and this one was one of the most fitting.

Their set ends in typically clunky fashion with Boydie snapping a string and missing out on his closing solo. Not wanting to end their set in this fashion, Peat & Diesel play another short one to end things on their terms with a raft of new fans in tow.


Easy Star All-Stars

Reggae + Sunshine = Sheer happiness. That’s a formula that the Fairport chaps obviously subscribe to, because reggae has become an essential ingredient of the Cropredy recipe over the past several years. In 2022, the Caribbean flavouring was supplied by Edward II with their delicious interpretations of Jamaican folk songs. This year, it was the turn of New Yorkers, Easy Star All-Stars to make the ground vibrate with their reggae-fied takes on the work of Pink Floyd, The Beatles and, particularly, David Bowie and, you know what? They had the whole field on its feet.

A few technical issues delayed the start of their set, but, they were quickly overcome and once we had liftoff, neither band nor crowd had occasion to look back. “Who fancies a bit of reggae on a Friday afternoon?” asked compère Anthony John Clarke. Every bloomin’ one of us, came the response.

Pink Floyd was the first to get the Easy Star treatment as the band reggae-d their way through Breathe, the opening track from their 2003 Dub Side of the Moon album. Dub Side… was the album that introduced most of us to the Easy Star formula, and they’ve since presented us with reggae reworks of Radiohead (Radiodread), The Beatles (Lonely Hearts Dub Band) and, hot off the press, David Bowie, with their new album, Ziggy Stardub. And the Cropredy set was heavily laced with material from this latest offering – Moonage Daydream, Five Years, a wonderful ska interpretation of Suffragette City (highly appropriate here – Coventry, the home of 2-Tone is just up the road), Hang On To Yourself and, of course Ziggy Stardust and Starman.

The older albums weren’t neglected. Dub Side… was represented by crowd-pleasers Time (heralded by a cacophony of cuckoo clocks) and Money (complete with the bubbling of a toking bong) and the Dub Club band charmed the crowd with a bright, sunny blast through With A Little Help From My Friends. They sounded amazing – the bass was guttural, the trombone and flute were blissful. The band was bouncing, and so was the crowd. It was hot, sweaty, and utterly joyous!


Richie Owens & The Farm Bureau

If you like country, and you like rock, and you like it heavy then Richie Owens will be your ‘thang’.

Covering all the standard country themes of drink and love issues with a political protest song are all thrown in to the wonderful mix of good solid country. Not one to hog the limelight, decked out in wide brimemd hat and shades, Richie stood back to showcase the vocals of the exuberant, powerful voices of his musical family members. The Dolly Parton inspiration is there for all to see; as a touring member with Dolly,he’s brought up his family well.

As the audience sweltered, the heat rose on stage; the singers fanned themselves as the repartee between the two of them bounced back and forth with comments such as “she has the body of a sinner” and does anyone know what a ‘moody stoob’ is? The mix of blues, soul, rock and country had everyone jigging and was country music at its best.  They were rousing and at times raucous but always tight. Tom Waits Leaving On The 2.19 closed the set and was the only cover.

Like a good rye whisky his music is  finely distilled and The Farm Bureau did a marvellous job supporting his music steeped in his Nashville roots. This 7 piece unit including amplified washboard are pure Nashville.



Anyone looking for a definition for the word ‘bittersweet’ need look no further than Strawbs’ Friday afternoon show. The “sweet” part of the word was there for all to see, as Strawbs powered their way through an inspired selection of songs from their long array of albums. That sweetness was tempered considerably by the knowledge that, in all probability, this was to be Dave Cousins’ final appearance with the band he helped form all those years ago.

It’s fairly common knowledge by now that Dave hasn’t been well lately and Strawbs’ page in the festival programme was given over to a full description of the issues he continues to face. At The Barrier offers our fondest best wishes to a man that has given so much over the years.

Strawbs signalled their intent right from the outset. Fifty years ago, it was a new world for Strawbs but it was A Grave New World that provided the set’s opener. And a very grand opening it was, too sending shivers down the spine.

During the weeks leading up to the festival, there had been some mild disquiet expressed on certain social media pages that Dave hadn’t persuaded more members from the ‘classic’ Strawbs line-ups – particularly bassist Chas Cronk and guitarist Dave Lambert – to appear with the band for this most historic of concerts but, in truth, the band’s past was well-represented, with John Ford having flown over from the USA to appear, Blue Weaver (THE go-to keyboardist of the late 60s and early 70s) and even the spirit of Rick Wakeman being honoured, when Rick’s son Adam joined in mid-set and stayed for the duration. Otherwise, the band comprised the excellent group of South African musicians that delivered such a full sound for the brand new Strawbs album, The Magic Of It All – reviewed in these very pages just a few weeks ago!

But, new album or not, today was as much about celebrating Strawbs’ illustrious past as it was promoting a new piece of work. Sure, songs from the new album did feature, with the album’s title track, one of several songs on the album to relive life as a Strawb, and the excellent Are You Ready both getting a welcome airing but, to the delight of the hoard of Strawbs devotees, today was really about the ‘hits.’ And they came thick and fast.

Stormy Down was solid and funky, Shine On Silver Sun and The Hangman And The Papist – both featured during early Top of the Pips appearances – were rock solid, Witchwood was majestic, and Benedictus, was simply awesome. Perhaps the highest point of a soaring set was reached with Ringing Down The Years, Dave’s touching tribute to the late, great, Sandy Denny, and the song assumed a particular poignancy today, with Sandy’s daughter, Georgia – mentioned in the song’s lyrics – in attendance.

And then, of course, there were the chartbusters. Lay Down and (surprisingly to some) Part Of The Union both made the cut, and both had the crowd in raptures. Today was, indeed, a celebration of a great band. But, as we’ve already mentioned, today was also a deeply sad occasion. Dave was clearly on the verge of tears as he saluted the crowd at the set’s end. And there were lots of damp eyes amongst the crowd, too.

Strawbs – We love you. Let’s hope there’s lots more to come.

Fisherman’s Friends

Fishermen’s Friends gave us an hour of stirring shanties and sing-a-long tunes. They are indeed the cheery Cornish purveyors of catchy traditional tunes as they expertly chorused in wonderful harmony and plethora of hearty songs. 

Many a seafaring tale was touched upon, from whaling to exploits of roving sailors and even a pirate losing vital parts. They took us on a nautical journey to Amerikay and of course around Cape Horn (several times). The band members now include some younger blood, including Marcus Bonfanti (quite some shift from his bluesy roots) and are accompanied by accordion, guitars and comical interludes between each song .

The fishermen jolly tarred up a happy to participate audience by the end of the show with a large “OOH’” boomed across the field during the apace version of John Kanaka. The set ended with ‘the hits’ – South Australia, a stirring version of Oh You New York Girls with vain attempts at  a communal polka and then the crowd vociferously joining in with the chorus of The Drunken Sailor.

The supremely confident ensemble weren’t phased by the huge crowd probably due to their movie fame which is now grossing more than the Die Hard franchise. The only moment of concern in their set being when an errant  harassing flea invaded the stage!



Switching between the shadows that saw them shrouded in deep blue and blindingly lit by white spots, Graham Gouldman led the latest incarnation of the seminal/legendary…etc (you choose) outfit that includes 10cc long termer Paul Burgess on drums.

There aren’t too many bands other than The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys and Creedence that could fill a 2-hour-ish set with solid gold hits, but 10cc are surely a member of that exclusive club. Their set rolled out hit after hit – 12 of ‘em, we counted – with a couple of, not so much curve balls, but cuts from just below the surface. Wall Street Shuffle, Art For Art’s Sake, The Things We Do For Love, I’m Not in Love… you name it, they did the lot. Every one a perfectly crafted pop song and each done to absolute perfection. These are, indeed, great songs that we shouldn’t be allowed to forget.

But, as we’ve already suggested, it wasn’t just the hits. Clockwork Creep, a song from the Sheet Music album (a fave of ours) is a case in point. A hilarious tale concerning a talking bomb, stowed in the hold of a jumbo jet, it ticked along nicely in our Madness style, until the inevitable moment when the bomb exploded.

Then there was Feel The Benefit, a song from the band’s 1977 Deceptive Bends – the first post Godley/Creme album when we all worried at the time whether any of the magic would be lost (it wasn’t). It’s probably 10cc’s most serious dalliance with prog and it was a triumph. And Graham Gouldman’s bass solo was a delight! Immortalised on the Live And Let Live live album, the opening guitar figure is a warning of twelve minutes of 10cc magic is about to unfold. And is it just us or does the way that the finale builds have a hint of Starship Trooper about it?

And what a conclusion to a glorious set: first came Dreadlock Holiday “I don’t like Cropredy – I love it,” declared Graham. The acapella intro to Donna was charming and it was fascinating and reassuring to discover that the high notes can still be reached! And, to cap it all, the whole caboodle was rounded off with a rollicking Rubber Bullets. Anyone questioning 10cc’s ability to follow that stunning Fishermen’s Friends performance had their scepticism paid back by the bucketload.

Meanwhile, at The Brasenose…

As a prelude to Sin’Dogs, we travelled back to 1977 for an encounter with one of the icons of the era. TV Smith (many will recognise the name), mainstay of The Adverts (many will recognise the name) came along with an acoustic guitar for a set that led to the only place it could with ‘the hit’ (many will recall the song) that was Gary Gilmore’s Eyes. Over the years, he’s continued the good work of the time, carrying the message – the spirit of Punk lives on.

Sin’Dogs brought a change of pace with a set of solid hard rock. Having appeared on the main stage several years ago, they top the bill on Friday at The Brasenose. Appearing masked, the five piece turned it up in The Brasenose and gave the PA system a bloody good kicking. With a new EP in the public domain and a little bit of a seeming rebrand from their main stage Cropedy turn, the band sounded heavy, tight and choc full of chunky riffs. For those wanting something a little heavier, this was the perfect antidote.



Richard Digance

Cropredy Saturday is not the same without the comical, poignant yet thought provoking songs from Richard Digance. His cocky humour cooly takes the mickey out of the ageing audience and of course himself. His witty quips mixed with his carefully crafted songs on the state of the country, British pride and achievements, missed loved ones and the spirit of the young at heart elderly  who still see themselves as rebels, endear him to the Cropredy crowd.

He creates a kindred spirit between himself and the crowd who like himself are subject to cocking things up. So if you think i’ve made some misjudgements here, what the ……..we’re not packing parachutes. Oh and there are hankies.



A family band but a weird band family!

One of the best things about festivals is the opportunity to discover new bands. A major highlight of this year’s line up was the success of many first-timers to the main Cropredy stage. Morganway can be added to that list of excellent Cropredy debut performers. Groups like Morganway are the result of what our hosts started way back at the end of the 60s when the Cropredy festival wasn’t even a twinkle in Simon Nicol’s eye!

This family band is as tightly knit domestically as they are musically. Their brand of highly energised folk rock (whatever that is!)  and gentle ballads with SJ  Mortimer’s dynamic soulful vocals cracked off the final day for group performances. Perhaps the romping Devil’s Canyon invoked the rain gods; the dark clouds drifted in and squally rain hit (Feel The Rain was particularly apt) they lit up the field with their bright enthusiasm. We just need reminding that “you look beautiful in the rain Cropredy!

Their sometimes brash stomping sound – any band with a Flying V needs to have the chance to showcase it – should not be handicapped by any label as their unique sound is a refreshing new addition to the whole musical scene.  Hopefully they are destined for a return higher up the bill before too long. They not only blew away the heavy rain squalls but also buoyed the crowd with their youthful exuberance as SJ belted out the songs with the spirit of Janis Joplin.

The six even crammed into the Radio Oxford tent for a session and rewarded those who’d gathered with a couple of songs they didn’t have time for in the main set including Heading Back To Zero. Songs that in the acoustic format really highlighted their close harmonies and sensitive side.


Beans On Toast

A gigging and festival veteran of standing, like labelmates Frank Turner and Skinny Lister, Beans On Toast isn’t going to be phased by a huge festival crowd. In fact, strolling on in bare feet and casually attired, he looks more like he’s off for a day on the beach. Accompanied, in the main by Magic Fingers Matt on grand piano and occasionally on his own acoustic guitar (each song ending with a sharp flourish – perhaps to remind us to applaud!?) he reels off an impressive selection from his exceedingly wide catalogue. You know the one, an album a year on his birthday.

His set sees him endearing himself even more to the crowd with a couple of forays into the photography pit, declaring how music festivals are even more important now than ever before. The sense of community is the message, just one amongst many that he professes to be an exercise in wellness and well being. He’s also word perfect and considering he gets through over twenty songs, that’s some achievement. Always dreaming of a better world, he suggests that the punks who organise the smooth running of Blackpool’s Rebellion festival would do a better job of running the country than the politicians.

However, it’s not all vitriolic, idealistic and comedic, as his family takes up a large chunk of the subject matter in the set – his dad (who’s in attendance), his wife, daughter and nan are all significant subjects along with his experiences in the Red Lion in Todmorden. As he sings Send Me A Bird (about people we’ve lost), there’s a touching stillness that settles around the site, yet when he asks if we “wanna hear about the collapse of civilisation via the medium of rock and roll?” we’re back in more familiar territory, ending a set that’s been quite some journey.


OK, so Andy Glass might have walked away with our award for happiest person on stage for Saturday with ease, but hardly surprising. Thirty years since their last appearance and as he said, “a validation of 43 years of trying.” Solstice seem a no brainer for the Cropredy bill and listening to the likes of their new music that comes in the shape of Light Up, Solstice are totally relevant today.

We have Jenny Newman’s violin adding to the Glass guitar to create a New Age Prog palette with the focal point and audience gaze inevitably drawn to Jess Holland’s effervescent presence as both vocalist and general whirling dervish. Enthusing the two backing singers to displays of colourful energy and exuberance, the opening volley of Shout has Andy greeting Cropredy with an almost apologetic “sorry if that was a bit loud.” The steam let off, Solstice head off into some more mellow soundscapes that has him apologising (again) for the length of the songs. No-one complains even though he suggests “we’ll do a pop song – one that’s under seven minutes!

Inspired soloing is the highlight, as Glass cuts a Howe-esque figure, even heard shouting “come on!” as he coaxes his guitar into a bout of sustain over some hanging keyboard chords. It’s that guitar presence that sees Andy Glass ranked alongside the Rotherys, the Hacketts and the Latimers, that carries the emotion and heart of Solstice and when the new music is as strong as Sia’ A New Day and Light Up’s epic Bulbul Tranag

When they sing about time healing the wounds, it feels like a testament to the longevity of the band, their performance the very validation that Glass acknowledges. Perhaps the time for Solstice has arrived.

The Young’uns

Having The Young’uns at Cropredy feels like it has been a long time coming. The multi award winning group have more recently found their summer jaunts taking place on the Canadian folk festival circuit, so it was a joy to see one of the UK’s finest folk acts finally on stage at Cropredy.

With a huge audience, the trio waste no time in taking on the masses with an acapella cover of Billy Bragg’s Between The Wars. Between The Wars is another song that the band perform later in their set, as well as their glorious closing with James’ Sit Down. A song ‘borrowed ‘collected’ from a ‘Mr. James, just outside of Manchester.’ There is also the sea shanties that saw The Young’uns form when singing in folk clubs at the age of 17. They regale the crowd with tales of when they met Fishermen’s Friends in a swimming pool at Costa Del Folk in Portugal. As far as shanties go, The Young’uns and Fishermen’s Friends would be some contest to have!

Throughout the set, the wisecracks flow between Messrs Eagle, Hughes and Cooney. You can see the kinship shining through. The Young’uns have really carved out their career over the past 20 years. On their latest album, Tiny Notes, they continued their tradition of writing modern folk songs about modern day people. Jack Merritt’s Boots, Tiny Notes, Three Dads Walking, Richard Moore, Trespassers and Hand Over Hand are all aired with Cooney explaining the usually heart-breaking story behind each one. Whilst heart-breaking, there is hope and love that shines through in the end which is ultimately the message that The Young’uns want to offer.

This message shines through clearest on the truly mesmeric, Be The Man. This is a tale of how a man took his own life because he lived in fear of what people would think about his relationship with his boyfriend. It is rousing, stirring and tugs at every fibre of the heartstrings. The song is taken from the band’s album, Strangers; possibly the bands finest collection of songs.

Birthday greetings and toasts to newly married couples punctuate the set as well as the more comedic songs from David Eagle. He has a few in his locker but Cropredy was treated to a tale of how the Nazis were drunk out of town at a Christian festival.

The Young’uns managed to generate a hush that is rarely seen in the field at Cropredy. People listened intently to the stories and the songs and The Young’uns clearly saw the fruits of their labour with a huge queue at their scheduled signing appearance. In Sean Cooney, they have possibly the finest folk songwriter in the land; long may they prosper.


Gilbert O’Sullivan

After attending the Gilbert and Sullivan festival in Buxton last week to see the Yeoman of the Guard it was disappointing that neither of them turned up! Thankfully Gilbert O Sullivan did!

Not for the first time this week we witnessed popular artists of the 70s showing they’ve still got what it takes and proving the longevity that can be achieved by natural talent and top quality music. His stream of a dozen popular hits (you know the ones, Clare, Alone Again Naturally…) still air on radio these days and are blended new songs like Let Bygones Be Bygones, which stand up in quality easily with his better-known songs. He confidently and with great expertise rhymed off both and prepared the ground perfectly for our hosts….naturally!!

Fairport Convention

Well – as we were promised this time last year, it all came round again. Cropredy 2023 was definitely one for the annals – a monster of a festival – and it was rounded off, as always, by who else? The mighty Fairport Convention, that’s who. A burst of Fiddlestix, Fairport’s 1974 fiddle extravaganza, has become the band’s go-to Cropredy entrance theme and, if the excitement that had been building right through the weekend needed to be cranked up one final notch, it’s definitely the tune to that. And here they were – Fairport Convention!

A full-fat version of Walk Awhile eased us into the set and gave the clearest of signals that Fairport were on fire tonight.. Dave Mattacks propelled the band along and it was clear that all three vocalists were in great voice, even Peggy, who was having to cope with the effect of a wasp sting on his lower lip.

Last year’s setlist was dominated by a performance of Fairport’s seminal Full House album (a performance that has been enshrined on album and CD, and if you haven’t got your copy yet, that’s an omission you need to correct without delay) and we stuck with Full House tonight as the band launched into a sizzling version of Doctor Of Physick.

Peggy and Chris in particular were looking very dapper – Peggy hatless for once and sporting a glittery Chic tee-shirt, and Chris resplendent in a glorious red patterned jacket. Ric was smartly attired, too, with his Grateful Dead tee shirt proving that the hippy dream is still alive and well.

Peggy paid tribute to the incredible quality of the music that we’ve all enjoyed right through the weekend, noting that he’d spent the weekend as an audio member himself, sitting in the field and enjoying all the incredible bands “It was like being on holiday, “ he laughed, “until now!

Fairport’s current lineup, enhanced by the power of Dave Mattacks, bears a close resemblance to the ensemble that produced the Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee albums in the early 1970s, and it was pleasing to hear Fairport resurrect a couple of numbers from that often overlooked period of their history. Banks Of The Sweet Primroses is an enduring favourite and, on this night, they did a wonderful job of it. Some might say the original version of the song featured Dave Swarbrick’s best-ever vocal and Chris did a sterling job of honouring that legacy. Journeyman’s Grace was handled with similar mastery – perhaps the time may be ripe for a performance of the entire Angel Delight album? We live in hope…

Next up: Peggy’s 1979 instrumental, Bankruptured. It’s become something of a Cropredy fixture over recent years, and this year it was delivered at full power, with each band member taking his turn in the spotlight. Chris chipped in with My Love is In America, before we moved on to one of the real annual Cropredy highlights – the obligatory performance of Ralph McTell’s Hiring Fair. Simon lived in the song -as he always does, in this field – and DM supplied the keyboard parts. He’s good at it, too!

The days leading up to the festival had seen the tragic passing of not one, but two musical legends. Robbie Robertson – without who’s vision and influence, there’d have been no folk/rock, no Fairport and definitely no Cropredy Festival – and David La Flamme, the only fiddler to come anywhere near influencing rock music as much as Swarb, passed away on 6th August. Their memories were honoured in Ric’s introduction to Cropredy favourite Portmerion and inthe sentiments he expressed.: “Thanks for all the music you gave us.

As for Portmerion itself, well; Ric’s fiddling was as exquisite as always, and Chris’s mandolin part is always a joy. DM’s keyboard swirls seemed to hit the spot like never before. Simon was at great pains to emphasise that Shuffle And Go is Fairport’s MOST RECENT album, not their LAST one, so that’s perhaps a hint that we’ve all got something special to look forward to in the coming months… Perhaps… And tonight’s selections from that excellent album were three of the strongest. First up was Cider Rain, a song donated to the band by Peggy’s Brittany pal, James Wood, from the Breton band Teegarden. The song is one of the best from Shuffle And Go, and, tonight, Fairport delivered a thumping version.

And even better was to follow. Chris Leslie’s Moondust And Solitude is an exceptional song by anybody’s reckoning, and, you can’t fail to be dumbstruck by the isolation that astronaut Michael Collins must have felt as his soon-to-be more-famous shipmates fell away to the moondust. Floating on a tin can, indeed. Chris gave the song everything he had. Moondust And Solitude is an indispensable component of the Fairport package.

It’s difficult, and unreasonably churlish, to try to argue with the lineup for this year’s festival, because every performer rose to the challenge and delivered far more than could ever be expected. But, if there was one act some may have expected, and would certainly have loved to see take stage in their own right, it would be the wonderful Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage. Well – they weren’t a billed act (this time – but don’t write them off) but they did join Fairport for a lovely psych-folk take of Reynardine. And they nailed it to the mast. DM’s pattering rhythm provided the foundation, Ric’s space coda was perfect for the song – and the occasion. Best of all, Ben’s fantastic acoustic guitar and Hannah’s angelic vocals lifted us all into another world.

Cropredy was delighted to welcome Vicky Clayton back home – all the way from New Zealand – along with The Guv’nor himself, Ashley Hutchings, complete with that sumptuous Danelectro bass of his. It was wonderful to hear Vicky’s beautiful voice resonating around Crorpedy again as she delivered a faithful and heartfelt Crazy Man Michael. If you’d ever wondered what magic sounded like, well. It goes like this.

And next – another real surprise! We’ve often rung the praises of Becky Mills in these pages, most particularly for her contribution to Ashley’s December 2020 Winter Miscellany project – and now, here she was on the Cropredy stage to share the vocals with Ashley on the night’s deepest dive into the early history of Fairport to revisit the band’s close relationship with Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire.

Even better, she stuck around to help Ashley with one of the evening’s real show-stoppers. Back in 1997, Fairport kicked off their 30th birthday celebrations – in this very field – with Ashley’s story of how The Byrds lit the blue touch paper that was to launch the Fairport rocket. The song was Wings, and tonight’s re-visitation to it was another of those great Cropredy moments. So many of us who make it our special business to be in this field during the second weekend of every August are lured to do so by the memory of Swarb’s “flying fiddle strings” and Ashley brought those memories vividly back to life with this one!

Dirty Linen never, ever fails to deliver, particularly when DM is the engine driver, and Peggy was as gymnastic as ever as he touched every fret on every string.

Sticking with Full House, Peggy suggested that Sloth is a song that Fairport, nowadays, only ever get to play at Cropredy. Really?? The current incarnation of this Fairport perennial is a belter and each and every member makes the very most of his time in the spotlight. Simon was first up and showed his chops with a solo that included the now obligatory nod in the direction of Stairway To Heaven. Peggy was next, with a bass solo that was so chunky, it could have featured in a 60s dog food advert! But maybe it was Ric who really stole the show – his histrionics would have lifted us all up the ceiling – if there’d been one. Sloth, Ric and Cropredy is a combination made in heaven.

Dave Pegg is, apparently, a DIY expert. The self-effacing Chris Leslie claims not to be, despite having hand-made a range of musical instruments that would be coveted by the most critical of fiddle-scrapers. His critique of the black art of doing things oneself, Devil’s Work, is becoming another Cropredy favourite and , from where I was standing, it was clear that the crowd particularly enjoy the song’s brief forays into La Rotta and Horses Bransle.

DM was back on the keys for Fotheringay, and he added a comforting touch to a lovely song. Ric’s comedy routine – approaching 70 from the wrong direction, the voodoo doll et al – and, now, the Nigel Kennedy headgear form the latest way-in to the lively, chugging, Steampunkery – a guaranteed field-rocker, particularly at the tune’s crescendo, before we were brought firmly back to the planet’s surface with a sublime Moses Waits – another outstanding track from the Shuffle And Go album.

John Gaudie is, without doubt, a dead cert for the top five songs ever to grace the Home Farm field. When it’s December, cold, dark and miserable, many will be dreaming of Chris’s tale of the tragic John’s misfortunes and Chris and Ric’s complementary (not duelling) violins. Savour that moment – it only comes around once a year.

There’s not another band in God’s wondrous creation that could follow Fairport’s blazing delivery of John Gaudie – except Fairport themselves, of course. And that’s no surprise, when you’ve got a song like Who Knows Where The Time Goes in your arsenal. How on Earth did a 17-year-old girl come up with that line about the birds knowing it was time to leave?? Throughout the weekend, Toyah, Richard Digance – even The Young ‘Uns – had made (sometimes comical, I know) references to aging and the passage of time, but it was Sandy who asked the crucial question, over 50 years ago.

Whenever magic is followed by even deeper magic, then there’s usually only one other place to head for, and that’s space. Fortunately, the Banbury area has always been a bit of a hotspot for flying saucer sightings, and, with an order to “Jive, you buggers” issued by 2nd Officer Pegg, we duly boarded the USS Handjive to celebrate the momentous Year of ‘59 – the year that the space age introduced itself to Adderbury. It’s another one of the highlights of the Shuffle And Go album, and a particular fave of mine. Any song that namechecks Dan Dare is fine by us!

Last year, the ref blew his final whistle a little too early and poor old Matty Groves was left to languish on the bench. Not this year! He returned, refreshed and invigorated. You’d have thought that he’d have learned his lesson and trotted off home after church to spend an afternoon with The Observer Review. Not a bit of it – as soon as he and the voluptuous wife of the local squire made eye contact, they were upstairs and at it again. Some people never learn. And, with Simon at his dramatic best and DM at full power, the inevitable conclusion has never been more gleeful.

Cropredy Festival could never happen without the relentless efforts of Fairport stalwart Mick Peters, and this year, those efforts were deservedly recognised with an on-stage presentation. On behalf of At The Barrier, and anyone who’s ever derived even half the pleasure that we have from this annual bash, we’d like to offer our sincere thanks to Mick. Don’t give up on us, baby – for Gawd’s sake!

And that, was very nearly that. But Cropredy Festival is an event where friends – many of whom don’t even see each other at Christmas – come together in a spirit of peace, love and companionship. Those things aren’t out of fashion – they were never a fashion in the first place. And what better way is there to indulge those timeless values – link arms, sway along and sing your bloody head off to Meet On The Ledge.

Some of us have been at every Cropredy Festival since 1979 and – you know what? – Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2023 might just have been the best one of the lot.

Same time next year?

Meanwhile, at The Brasenose,

Funke & The Two Tone Baby was one of the top billed performers at The Brasenose. Having appeared at the venue a couple of years ago, this was like a heroes return. For the uninitiated, Funke & The Two Tone Baby is a one man act that acts like an out of control tornado. A mash up of acid house, techno, acoustic loops, thumping beats and plenty of other stops in-between make up the glorious music. ‘How many people are on that stage?’ remarks one punter as the maelstrom of music pulses through the dancing masses. It is actually hard to believe it is one person creating this music and on top of that, Funke & The Two Tone Baby work the crowd magnificently. This is an act that you definitely can not sleep on as they are going to go from strength to strength. The Brasenose crowd can attest to that.

Headline act and Cropredy/ATB faves The Bar Steward Sons Of Val Doonican, or at least two thirds (Scott & Bjorn) saw the venue filled to capacity. Social media reported 2200 which judging by our feeble and failed attempt to attend, seems about right. The choice of Tarn Life contrasted suitably sharply with sleepy Oxfordshire village life, with Scott commenting on how good it felt to be unable to get a phone signal. As their popularity (and notoriety grows) dare we suggest that the Doonicans are now too big for The Brasenose?!

Another great year at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention. 2023 was indeed one of the best; here’s to 2024!

We will have an extensive gallery from the festival online very soon!

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5 replies »

  1. I’ve been reading this review while listening to the playback of Fairport’s set on BBC Sounds through my 5:1 surround system in Wollongong, NSW. I finished reading as Sloth started!, well done you for filling me in with everything I missed this time. I recommend others do this too. Love from Oz. JP

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