It’s that time of the year, the summer is upon us and thoughts of the idiot fanboy turns to one question alone. Do we go to Cropredy or not?
Now this used to be a fairly easy question, every year, buy a ticket through mail order, jump the train to Banbury, walk to Cropredy, camp and drink and listen. Then complications happened, marriage, children, moving 6000 miles away. Of course the yearly desire happened, the questioning until it settled into only the 5 year anniversaries and for some obscure reason involving early indoctrination, much children graduation from high school. It all seemed to make sense to the fan.
So as if by some magical alignment of the stars something happened this year. My precocious youngest child graduated a year early giving us the perfect excuse to go to the 50th anniversary Cropredy of Fairport Convention. That is the anniversary of the band not the festival. We duly purchased tickets, called a good friend in the UK who as if by magic is celebrating his 50th birthday this year as well and start plotting.
Now tickets are purchased, flights booked, car reserved in Manchester and the beloved parents informed of our impending arrival. Then it came crashing in on me, this will be very likely the last Cropredy for me. The festival over the years has changed subtly and not so subtly meaning that it is no longer the amateur affair it used to be. There seem to be more people than in the past or is it really the same people but they are larger?
Fairport Convention are a band that can be infuriating, they seem to have settled into a very comfortable groove that is safe and sound and impeccable in it’s performance. The last chance for something different for the fan is Cropredy when old and new members meld and reform into old and new configurations and hopefully Simon plugs in. If this happens we will all gush, if it doesn’t we will all sway along to the old favorites with a tear in the eye. Either way it will be fulfilling of some need that is deep seated in the fan, a connection with a band that is real and tangible.
In preparation this evening I have been listening to Moat on the Ledge, from Broughton Castle in 1981, the year before the Festival became fixed at Cropredy. It was also a time when Matty Groves was in the middle of the set and the band did not officially exist. The Full House lineup of Nicol, Thompson, Pegg, Swarbrick and Mattacks with the addition of Bruce Rowland on drums and Judy Dyble singing with the band for the first time since 67. A rough and ready live recording, no overdubs and at times without a net, it’s a band that didn’t exist performing like a band that has been playing together every day.
The set list is one that could have been culled from those early albums, a Dylan cover, a Joni Mitchell cover a Thompson original or two a classic rock song and a medley along with a Swarbrick classic in Rosie. It’s an edgy album with some tracks at times sounding like they may fall apart as the band play faster and faster. It’s a reminder of what made Fairport so great and a foreshadowing hopefully of Fridays set with Pegg, Nicol and Mattacks backing up Richard Thompson in a throwback to the glory days.
Fairport Convention are a band that created a genre and then never managed to keep it together long enough to capitalize, other bands made British Folk-Rock their own while Fairport merrily sabotaged their way to being the greatest folk-rock band to never have a truly great album that captured them. Yes Liege and Lief is influential and created a genre, Full House is powerful and evocative and Tipplers Tales is a good time had by all, later albums hinted at greatness without achieving it, but there was always the live shows and particularly the Cropredy shows. Like the Dead they are band defined not by their albums but by their gigs, relentlessly touring. Unlike the Dead they had so many lineup changes that it is dizzyingly difficult to maintain a sound, the Fairport you connect with is usually the one you first heard live.
So this year as I sit in that field in Oxfordshire, swaying with the other old farts and youngsters I will think about Trevor and Swarb and Martin and Jerry as he recovers and I will very likely say goodbye to a formative experience of my youth and young adulthood. I may cry and I may laugh but I am pretty convinced that I will not regret not going back to that field as the band I love inevitably thins itself out with the travails of time. I am going to remember the glory years and the howling solo’s and mud puddles and weirdness of the 80’s festivals that moved to the 90’s and then every five years or so. I will complain about the flags and chairs, while I look for a spot for my chair and I may hug the stranger next to me.