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Fairport in a storm – Cropredy 2010

Viewing proceedings from under an umbrella by the Wadworth 6X bar, Jim Evans reports on Fairport Convention’s annual Oxfordshire jamboree. The famous folk band have held a festival in and around this Oxfordshire village for over 30 years.

Folk rockers Fairport Convention’s reunion festival has been taking place in and around the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy for more than 30 years. It started as an adjunct to a garden fete in the grounds of Prescote Manor, the then riverside home of Richard Crossman MP, with 700 attending. “On the third year we had to move it out of that garden and into a field,” says the band’s Simon Nicol. Several fields and many festivals later, it’s now big business and one of Europe’s biggest folk rock events.

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2010 attracted some 20,000 punters over the second weekend of August. Audience, performers and crews defied monsoon-strength rainstorms, while a spectacular electrical storm on Saturday night negated the need for additional special effects.

This year’s bill offered considerable variety and included Status Quo, a remarkably cheerful Rick Wakeman & The English Rock Ensemble, Pauline Black, EasyStar All-Stars, Bellowhead and, over from the US for a one-off appearance – Little Feat. As per tradition, the proceedings concluded on the Saturday night with a marathon three-hour set from the Fairports and friends – broadcast live in its entirety by BBC Radio Oxford.

The sound system was provided by SSE and featured the L-Acoustics K1 system. “I’m looking forward to hearing the K1,” said Gareth Williams, who mixed monitors for Fairport many years ago and returned to the fold six years ago as festival director. “We have had problems with traditional systems in the past, particularly with all the acoustic instruments in the mix.” He would not be disappointed.

At the mixing desk – a DiGiCo D5 – for the Fairport marathon was John Gale, who is currently on the road with Florence & The Machine and who has established a long working relationship with Fairport, their festival and their recordings. “It’s my 11th year here,” says Gale who got his introduction to the business through the late and much-missed Fairport sound man Rob Braviner. “I always make time to come back – it’s something special. There’s a family vibe to the occasion. The whole thing is one of the closest knit crews I’ve worked with.”

So, how did it all pan out? “The sound system seemed to cover the festival field well and I was very happy. I walked the field throughout the day during various other acts, and felt the L-Acoustics K1 to be far superior to the systems we have had in on the festival in previous years. It had a very articulate top end that seemed to throw much further and very tight, musical sub-bass available.

“Initially, I took one look at the main hangs provided and thought that there is no-where near enough PA to cover an audience of 20,000 at probably up to 120m. I am happy to say that I was wrong and chatting with members of the audience afterwards the reports were very encouraging – no complaints yet that I am aware of! We also had some dV-DOSC delays behind the main FOH tower which helped top up the HF in the centre area shaded by the tower, which helps.”

The 2010 Fairport set was quite a lot rockier than in recent years and included selections from the Alan Simon Arthurian-themed folkrock opera Excalibur trilogy with guests Jacqui McShee, Martin Barre and Johnny Logan plus a host of French musicians.

“This section of the show was very busy on stage,” says Gale. “Drums, bass guitar, several electric guitars, four or five strummed acoustic instruments, including 12 stringed acoustics, bouzouki, mandolin, plus pipes, keyboards, and seven or eight vocals – much of the time all playing together. I felt the system coped with this extremely well, in fact I had so much headroom that I was reining the overall volume back in much of the time and never concerned I was running out of headroom.

“When mixing a set such as this, it helps to know the music well. It’s not one of those gigs where you can sit back and relax. There are a lot of cues and tweaking required – you are constantly trying to buy space. You might have a fiddle and a mandolin playing at the same time and you really need to know which one is the lead and which is the harmoniser. You want to keep the dynamics and not compress them out. You need to be prepared for all the various solos.”

And then came the rain. The weather, in predictable Cropredy style, took a massive turn for the worse just before and during Fairport’s set. “We had a massive dump of rain, lighting and thunder but the extremely loyal Fairport fans stuck it through,” says Gale. “Despite this, technically I felt we were reasonably unaffected. The only problem in the entire three-hour set was briefly losing a front line KSM105 vocal microphone – which I suspect might have got wet, but everything else seemed to just work. I had Willy, FOH tech and system engineer, around to make some adjustments to the system taking account of temperature and humidity, leaving me to concentrate on balancing the show.”

“This was among the best musical line-ups we’ve ever had,” concludes Fairport bassist and festival co-organiser Dave Pegg. “We always try to get a wide variety of acts and we only put on people whose music we love. Musically, Cropredy somehow gets better and better with every year.”