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Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00

Still the best in the land

by Karl Dallas

You want weird. How's this for weird. Rock weirdo Alice Cooper wows them at a folk festival.

But that's not really weird. What's weird is that just because Fairport Convention tangled briefly and tangentially with traditional music on their 1969 album Liege and Lief, they - and their annual festival in Cropredy, Oxfordshire - tend to be categorised as folk. They're a rock band, people, and this was a rock festival.

But with the notable exceptions of excellent bands like England's Moulettes and Ireland's Lunasa, who played beautiful folk fairly well down the bill on the Friday afternoon, it was the supposedly "non-folk" acts like Alice Cooper and those consummate popsters 10cc who fulfilled the basic folk function of using the medium to tell stories.

And it was the Dunwells' straight-ahead take-no-prisoners hard rock that was the discovery of the weekend for me. They were the only act that made his old folkie want to get up and dance.

I was disappointed by what was for me a transcendentally awful appearance by the Levellers, a band for whom I have the greatest respect. Theirs are songs with strong messages, but thanks to the awful sound balance, it was impossible to hear the words.

It used to be said that a jazz band consisted of four musicians and a drummer, and while that was a gross slander on many jazz drummers I could name, it was certainly true of the Peatbog Faeries, billed as a band from Skye, but not really reflecting the music of the Scottish islands.

Every Faeries tune had the same up-tempo beat, with the inescapable boom-booo-boom disco underpinning, owing more to Georgio Moroder than James Laughlin's pipeband innovations. I wonder how they manage to tell the tunes apart? Have they ever thought of varying the pace with a slow air? Clearly not.

Fairport began their final set of the weekend with Sir Patrick Spens - number 58 in Professor Frances James Child's collection of the English and Scottish Popular Ballads - and their version of Matty Groves was given a new flavour by Chris Leslie's tenor banjo opening and segue into the, for Fairport fans, now traditional concluding Prince Heathen guitar riff.

The rest of the set was a ramble through the past 45 years of the Fairport Convention contemporary songbook, and a wonderful exposition it was of why they are such good communicators of every aspect of the human condition.

They brought on Kellie While to sing the inevitable Who Knows Where The Time Goes - a hard gig for any girl singer - and she achieves the difficult feat of staying true to the Sandy Denny lyric without sounding like a pale imitation of the girl from the great days of Unhalfbricking etc.

On the whole, I didn't feel this was a vintage Cropredy. I could have done without the ubiquitous signs asking us guys not to piss on the grass. I wonder if the cows who come to take back the fields after we've gone will observe this particular prohibition.

But I'll be back next August, God willing, insh'Allah, and if they'll have me, to hear what's new, what's old, what's borrowed and what's blue, in one of the longest still surviving British rock band, and the best festival in the British rock calendar.

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