Stormy weather doesn’t put off music fans at Cropredy

This Is Wiltshire: The Waterboys The Waterboys

THE atmosphere is electric as night-time falls on a sloping patch of farmland in Oxfordshire. People around me are laughing, yelping and jumping up and down, trying not to spill too much from their plastic cartons and tinnies. Why? Because Mike Scott, beneath customary broad-brimmed hat, is right in front of us singing: “I wish I was a fisherman, tumblin' on the seas, far away from dry land, and its bitter memories…”

We are only two songs into The Waterboys’ headlining Thursday night set at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and the band is already performing arguably their best loved song.

Can it really get any better than the sensational Fisherman’s Blues? Well yes, because the momentum of this 90 minute set – though it barely seems that long – just builds and builds like some mighty crescendo.

We get a pounding, piano-driven The Whole of the Moon. Strange Boat is haunting and mist enshrouded.

Steve Wickham is fiddling furiously next to Mike as Raggle Taggle Gypsy, a traditional Scottish folk song, is rewired with dash and dazzle more than 200 years after it was eulogised by Rabbie Burns.

All very much in the tradition of, well, Fairport Convention… A few hours earlier, as the clock strikes four, Fairport are sitting comfortably, so they begin, as always, with a brief, gentle acoustic set – the calm before the storm of their two-hour folk rock finale of old favourites, heartfelt ballads and fiddly bits two days later.

However, something completely different happens a few numbers into their Thursday afternoon strum… out of nowhere they are surrounded by a loud, brassy mob wielding saxophones, trombones, assorted percussive instruments and even – I swear – a harp.

To say Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble launch the three-day festival in a rousing, rowdy manner is an understatement. There is no let up as around 30 musicians chuck just about everything – from folk to funk – into a boisterous and blustery musical mix.

Talking about disparate, I don’t think there’s ever been a more eclectic line-up in Cropredy’s 35-year history. There is a prog heavy feel to this year’s summer soiree, which sold out a couple of weeks ago.

And while Steve Hackett’s bombastic dismembering of the Genesis catalogue leaves me as cold as a dead fish I am warmed by the sweeping, almost pastoral pieces of neo-proggers Marillion… big surprise, that.

Some wonderful acoustic sessions are to be had over the three days: Capercaillie’s breezy Scots folk, especially, is a joy. Singer Karen Matheson’s voice was once hailed by Sean Connery as “a throat touched by God”. Can’t argue with 007.

Pigs will fly if Pink Floyd ever reform again. But can there be a greater phenomenon on the tribute band circuit than the Australian Pink Floyd? Probably not. Here is a group whose note-for-note duplication of Pink Floyd’s back catalogue sells out arenas around the world.

In a field near Banbury 20,000 people are enraptured by Money, Wish You Were Here et al as if the real thing were onstage.

Close your eyes and it is Pink Floyd. But open them quickly or you’ll miss the sci-fi green lasers piercing the cloud heavy Oxfordshire skies.

– BARRY LEIGHTON

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