David Cameron wandering about deep in conversation with Bear Grylls. I suppose one could say they are both survivors of the extreme.
Superstar Bryan Adams wearing a Chelsea FC beanie hat, sat at a table in the middle of a few hundred punters in a Caffé Nero marquee, many of whom are wearing his tee shirts and there to see their hero headline that night, but have absolutely no clue he is sat within a few feet of them. A few young counter staff spot him as he gets up after the headline artist’s set and exchange waves with him.
Wa’fande, front man of Danish nu soul outfit Black Dylan leaping off the stage and over the metal safety barrier into the crowd, wandering about with a radio mike singing to the delighted fans in the Sunday sunshine, while the band carry on with the track on stage.
Just some of the sights at this year’s 14th and final (sob, sob) Cornbury Festival in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside, in the beautiful location of Great Tew Park about 20 minutes from Banbury. Bathed in fierce sunshine, tropical heat and humidity for all three sold out days this year.
The UK’s Kaiser Chiefs playing an absolute blinder as headliners on the first night, Canadian rock God Bryan Adams the top act on the Saturday night, apparently accepting an invite to appear that has been extended to him for most of the festivals’ 14-year history and only this year has he accepted, to play the very last event after the promoter decided to pack it in.
The final day’s festivities were closed by a UK star who appeared at one of the very first festivals, and wanted to be there for the final event; Mr Jools Holland and his fabulous Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. With special guest and ex-Squeeze band mate Chris Difford making an appearance. As did the great Brummie gospel gal herself, Ms Ruby Turner. The two backing singers Beth Rowley and Louise Marshall also got their chance to stand in the spotlight centre stage, for a featured guest spot.
But the festival was not just about the three headliners, no Siree Bob. The line-up was mouth-watering this year, my very first time of attending and I am gutted it is no more, after popping my Cornbury cherry and experiencing the low key, warm and quite frankly delightful atmosphere of the event. The tasty motors in the car parks, lots of personal number plates and the sight of the Waitrose pop-up store, plus many private VIP areas complete with balconies and champagne flowing like a gentle Cotswold stream, gives a clue as to the type of person who turns up to this annual shindig.
Nicknamed “Poshstock” by the broadsheets, who rave about the event, you’d bet a lot of the same guys and gals here will be seen at things like the Cheltenham Gold Cup, The Henley Regatta and Ascot. The odd Royal is not an uncommon site at Cornbury, and even film stars can often be seen knocking about. The big names appearing there over the years include Paul Simon, Joe Cocker, Amy Winehouse, Van Morrison, Blondie, Robert Plant, Bryan Ferry and many others. But, it is not all toffs and posh designer frocks, not at all. Well, I was invited for a start!
The man stage or ‘Pleasant Valley Stage’ hosted six acts on day one: Wild Front, Laura Oakes, Keston Cobblers Club, St Paul & The Broken Bones, Jack Savoretti and headliners Kaiser Chiefs. The second stage, “Songbird Stage”, featured five bands and artists on the Friday: Callaghan, Kansas Smitty’s House Band, Stone Foundation, Lee Fields & The Expressions and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
Day two, main stage and second stage host a dozen acts, split equally. Victoria, Black Dylan, Police Dog Hogan, Ward Thomas, Tom Chaplin and Bryan Adams on the Pleasant Valley stage. The Wandering Hearts, Earl, Max Jury, Rose Elinor Dougall, Pierce Brothers and Scouting For Girls on stage two.
The final day’s proceedings were kicked off by The Missing People’s Choir and Nikhil D’Souza. The Danberrys, Keywest, Midge Ure, Imelda May, The Pretenders and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, plus guests. On the Songbird Stage, following opener Nikhil was Sarah Munro, Sarah Jane Morris, The Tex Pistols, Nine Below Zero, Right Said Fred and Cornbury stalwarts The Staxs & their special guest Mica Paris.
They were the two main stages, both outside. There was also the Riverside Stage, The Caffe Nero Stage run by Pablo, one of the founders of the Caffe Nero chain. Plus The Comedy stage where TV star Nish Kumar was the biggest name of three days, a campsite stage and a small stage hosted by the local Jack FM radio station, which attracted some of the main stage and second stage acts to make a surprise appearance, including Ward Thomas.
The kids had their own very fun packed zone and a fairground, which looked gorgeous all lit up against the summer night sky. There was a disco shed, a vintage mobile cinema, a teen tent and many stalls and natural therapy areas. The site was beautifully kept, wonderfully compact and laid out so even someone as geographically rubbish as me could find their way around it easily.
Sold out on all three days, circa 10,000 people on site each day. Most of whom seemed to be at the main stage on day two for Bryan Adams’ set; most other areas of the site were deserted when he was doing his stuff.
“Only at Cornbury”
The vibe at Cornbury is unlike any other festival I have been to and covered in 39 years. No one would bat an eye lid if they bumped into an ex-Prime Minister or a superstar rocker wandering about the site. That is exactly what happens. The phrase “Only at Cornbury” was coined during the weekend, and I think it is pretty apt. The security was a tad tighter this time it seems, with bag searches, but that was good news after the horrors of Manchester Arena etc.
Former Keane front man Tom Chaplin in action
But the security folk and police dotted around the site, stayed low key and very unobtrusive, were ultra-friendly and helpful, and in the three days I was there, I did not see or hear one single incident of aggression or trouble from anyone at all. That’s often not the case at a festival after quantities of booze has been consumed.
So, star spotters may have seen David Cameron, Bear Grylls, Simon Le Bon, Dom Jolly, Steve Hogarth from Marillion (there as a guest of Bryan Adams with his wife and son). Bryan’s wife was with him, and I am told he had a good few people on his guest list. I am also told that Mr Adams owns a house just a few miles down the road from the Cornbury site, so maybe he was having a big bash that weekend to coincide with his appearance on the main stage. Where was my invite?
Other celebs and VIPs seen there this year included Jemima Khan and Millie Mackintosh, the former wife of rapper Professor Green, part of the Mackintosh confectionery dynasty, who is worth a small fortune and is a former star of the TV reality show, Made In Chelsea.
Aussie twins the Pierce Brothers and UK country twin sister act Ward Thomas both did a short set on the tiny Jack FM stage run by a local radio station. “My Favourite Waste Of Time” hit maker Owen Paul was in the audience for the Jack FM stage activity on day two, and happily posed for photographs for those who recognised him. That hit was a while back in 1986, but he is currently a member of the Supergroup The Trevor Horn Band, headed by mega producer Trevor Horn, who have previously appeared at Cornbury.
Owen was cute enough to be holding up a copy of his latest solo EP for each photo or selfie. Dragon’s Den star and multi-millionaire businessman Peter Jones was said to be enjoying the sunshine and the music this year, within the confines of one of the VIP areas.
The rumour mill was in overdrive on Friday when the Beckhams – who are having a new luxury home built across the road from the festival site, after paying more than £6 million for the land and barn conversions, bought from Great Tew Park owner and former Eton school friend of David Cameron, Nicholas Johnston – were thought to be there. But their presence on the TV footage from Wimbledon’s tennis tournament put pay to that one.
When Bryan Adams was due on Saturday, the whispers got louder and louder that HRH Prince Harry, a good mate of his apparently, was definitely going to be turning up to support his Canadian pal. No one spotted him, so we assume he didn’t make it.
Coffee with a legend…
So, Bryan Adams; a global superstar and a man who has sold in excess of 150 million records, had 15 Grammy nominations and one win, 56 nominations and 20 wins for the Canadian Juno awards (their version of the Grammy), five Golden Globe nominations and three Oscar nominations.
He has a star on both the Hollywood and the Canadian Walk Of Fame and has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He was invited to photograph the Queen for a Canadian postage stamp to mark her Golden Jubilee year. An accomplished photographer with books, exhibitions and awards to his name, and many major magazine covers and commissions under his belt.
The man was said to be worth $65m in 2016. But here he is, sat in the Caffe Nero tent, surrounded by many of his own fans who had no clue he was a few feet from them? The answer as to why he would ‘hide in plain sight’ so to speak, is simple: Twinnie.
That is Twinnie-Lee Moore, the stunning, talented country singer songwriter who was a star of the TV soap Hollyoaks (she played Porsche McQueen) and is now an established music artist. She headlined the Caffe Nero stage on the Saturday tea-time, delayed by an hour after being stuck in traffic.
Poised for stardom – with a little help from her superstar friends… Twinnie-Lee Moore
I am told Bryan Adams was so keen to see her perform, he had his driver rush him straight to the Café Nerro stage, when they arrived on site. When Twinnie and her band arrived, she was flustered for being late, and had her hair and makeup sorted out before hitting the stage to treat the rammed place to a fantastic set. One of the best acts and strongest performances of the entire festival in fact. She is quite something vocally, and having heard her on the internet and thought she was sounding a tad too close to Shania Twain to stand out as an artist in her own right, I am glad to say I was wrong and take that back. Live, she holds her own and has her own sound and style. Some of her songs sound like mainstream hits to me.
I was very impressed. As was Mr Adams. He was filming some of it on his iPhone, applauding and cheering loudly at the end of her songs. When she finished, he was led backstage with his minder/driver Simon, to meet Twinnie, along with his wife.
After 20 minutes or so, Bryan left the rear of the Caffe Nero tent and posed for a few selfies, before climbing into his silver Mercedes people carrier with blacked out windows, to join family and friends. (Pictured)
He was whisked off to the artist’s area, and I am told he also went to the big house on the estate for a reception, and to one of the VIP areas on the site. He did nip over to see Scouting For Girls on the second stage, and stood at the side of the stage by the monitor mixing desk. I am told he also saw a bit of former Keane lead singer Tom Chaplin’s set, on the main sage in the slot immediately before his own headline show.
For Bryan’s headline set, I was lucky enough to be one of just nine photographers granted permission by his management, to be allowed in the pit to shoot photographs of him on stage. For just one song, his first song of the set, which turned out to be only about two minutes long.
I did not see it, but I was told he brought on a special guest to duet with him during his set; Twinnie-Lee Moore. He must have been mightily impressed with her at the tiny Caffe Nero stage. I am told her mike did not work properly for the duet song on the main stage, so Twinnie’s big moment did not go to plan for her. That’s showbiz!
Former Dunwells guitarist Dave Hanson usually plays lead guitar with Twinnie, but for that weekend he could not make it as he is on tour playing guitar for Martine McCutcheon. The band Twinnie had with her did a good job though. I must get to catch her live again, in her own right. One to watch…
Rumours r us…
Last year Joss Stone was the surprise guest with The Staxs soul band. This time it was the turn of the wonderful Mica Paris. The rumour mill had Beverley Knight down to appear too, but that was not the case. A Poldark actor, TOWIE actress and a Dr Who actor all knocking about on site during the weekend.
So, it is impossible to catch all the artists and bands appearing on the various stages across the three days, as some stage times clash. But here’s who I did get to see, and a little star rating out of five, for each act, for what it’s worth.
Laura Oakes: Very enjoyable Liverpool country artist and her band: *** Kansas Smitty’s House Band. An off the wall jazz outfit and good they were too: *** Stone Foundation. Current album produced by and featuring their mate Paul Weller. They have toured arenas with The Specials and have a big following. Tight and sharp set, great horn section: ***
US soul star Lee Fields & The Expressions. If energy and sweat are the measure of an artist’s performance, then Lee Fields did the business. His sparkly blue jacket was more cabaret than festival stage, but his voice was superb and his band on the money. Think James Brown and Charles Bradley. His act would have far more impact in a club setting, but for a second stage appearance in the sunshine and a 6.30pm slot, they treated the punters to a dynamic performance: ****
The delightful Sophie Ellis-Bextor was wandering about backstage with her kids and friends, filming herself and talking to the camera, before her set. She was brilliant. Looks great, sounds great and has a real sparkly, star quality. Not seen her before, but hope it will not be long before I do again. Her voice is quirky and unique and she has some great pop songs.
Her husband Richard from the hit band The Feeling plays in her band. It was all about ‘the bottom line’ for Ms Ellis-Bextor when it came to plugging her latest album, “Familia”, the title emblazoned across her derriere and prompting her to commit the ultimate showbiz sin, turning her back on the audience a few times in her set, as part of her cunning marketing ploy! : *****
On day one: I did not get to see Callaghan who opened the second stage, or Wild Front who were first on the mainstage. On the Pleasant Valley main stage, Laura and Wildfront preceded Keston Cobblers Club, before US soul stars St Paul & The Broken Bones. I was first in the UK to write about them, when I did an interview and photo shoot on their first UK show; a festival in Nottingham a few years ago. That resulted in a double page spread feature in a major music magazine where I tipped them for big things.
Since then, they have rocketed to fame in the US and around the world, and appearing on “Later…with Jools Holland”, it was good to see them included on this festival. They took to the stage at 5.30pm, Paul Janeway the front man, wearing a flamboyant cape for his entrance and first song. Looking uncannily like comedian Alan Carr, complete with the same glasses, his usual energetic persona was somewhat subdued today. I was told that at a recent festival, he went out into the crowd, climbed on top of the sound desk and sang from there.
I saw him climb a PA stack and then walk along the bar of the indoor venue in Nottingham. But today, he kept to the stage and there were no physical antics. The set started off with mainly slow stuff, and I felt they misjudged it and should have ripped into a few up-tempo numbers to get the crowd on their side from the off. But he was in good voice, and they sounded good. Maybe they were tired from touring and flying…:***
I’m Alright Jack
Chart star Jack Savoretti has been in the line-up at several festivals I have covered over the last few years, most recently in May, and until now I had not caught his act; with clashes meaning I had to be somewhere else when was on. But this time I did get to see and shoot pix of him and was mightily impressed. A very soulful voice and some superb songs. Tight band too. Really, really stunned by his vocal skill. I told him so when we walked along a backstage road together too, later on. He was humble and a nice guy. Well worth seeing live: *****
Jack, who I am told has a home locally to the festival site, opened up for headliners The Kaiser Chiefs, a band I have seen and shot pix of before, a few times. Most recently at the V Festival and at Splendour in Nottingham.
Ricky Wilson popped into the media area for interviews before their set at Cornbury, and was in a good mood, happy to pose for some photos.
They are a band whose songs are catchy, and I can see why they are stars and sell a lot of records. But they have not ever been in my record collection. Not really my thing….until now. They played a blinding set, and I was gobsmacked at just how good they were. Really.
Amazed at how much I liked what they did, for a band whose music usually went in one ear and out the other. “I Predict A Riot” was a triumph and is a brilliant pop song.
I always remember DJ Chris Moyles when he was on Radio 1 and self-confessed to being overweight, doing a spoof cover of that record with his side-kick ‘Comedy Dave’, called “I Predict A Diet”.
I have to say; the credit needs to go to the entire band and not just the singer/front man (who is damn good at what he does and obviously had his profile boosted considerably, when he was a judge on prime time TV talent show The Voice ). It is a mighty ensemble sound and they do have some bloody good songs.
Funny thing; I got back to my hotel after their set, and sat in the bar winding down with a nightcap. Only me and a couple in there. We got chatting and they kindly invited me to join them. So, have you been to the festival, they ask. Yes, I have. So have they. Oh, who did you like seeing, I ask. Oh, we were only there to see one band, the band our son is in, they tell me. Oh, which band is that, I ask. The Kaiser Chiefs. Ahhhh, I think I have have heard of them…
The couple had come down from Leeds to see their lad Nick Baines aka “Peanut”, keyboard player with the headliners. Ricky gave them a mention in the show and said “Peanut’s parents are in the house”. They watched from the sound and lighting desks. When Nick comes out front in the show, many of the band’s loyal fans in the crowd were delighted to see him up close and personal, as he seems to be a popular chap. The parents were telling me about the band’s history and early days, obviously proud as punch as to how well the band and their Nick have done since they formed 17 years ago.
“Be kind to them in your write up, won’t you,” urges Theresa, Nick’s mum. No need to ask me to be kind, because they thoroughly deserved their headline spot and were really, really, really good at what they do. My only complaint; every time I have seen them previously, Ricky always comes down into the pit in one of the first three songs that we get to shoot pictures of, jumps up onto the safety barrier and interacts with the crowd, which makes great photos. But each time, my view has been blocked by other snappers or security, and never got a decent shot of that happening.
So, this time I was determined to get THE shot, and waited patiently in song one, two and three. But then we were escorted out of the pit,and he didn’t do it. Bugger. He did, however, leap in the air between two monitor cabinets in the second song, and I did get that as you can see in the second photo at the top of this feature. He also stood on top of the drummer’s bass drum at the end of song three, and that looked cool with the Neon sign of the band’s name lit up next to him.
He got his mike lead tangled around the mike stand at one point and tried to untangle it, but broke the mike stand, before throwing it into the pit. It got grabbed by a photographer colleague Roger, in mid-air. He placed the stand back on the edge of the stage, but Ricky came forward and mid-song, kicks it off again. Shout out to the sound and lighting guys for the Kaiser’s set, by the way, who did a cracking job.
On the tiny Riverside Stage on day one, I caught a few minutes of the 2 Tone All Skas who got the crowd jumping with songs By Madness, The Specials and Toots and the Maytals among others. On day three on that stage, I popped over to catch some of the 19.15 set by The New Forbidden, with TV star Lloyd Grossman on guitar. Have had dealings with him in the past, so had a brief chat with him backstage and snapped a few quick pix, before he dashed off back to London.
Day two, Saturday: 12 acts in total on the two main stages. My old pal Tim Prottey-Jones is a member of a new alt. country band who are signed to Decca. The Wandering Hearts. They pulled a big crowd for their set, opening the second stage on the Saturday, in the late morning. They got a big reaction and were thrilled. Some recognised Tim from his West End musical roles, including the hit show Kinky Boots.
They had to dash off soon after their set, to Hyde Park, London to prepare for opening for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. the next day Check this cool four-piece band out, they may well be “the next big thing” from the current batch of UK country acts doing well out there, such as The Shires and Ward Thomas: ****
Alaskan born singer Earl was fabulous. She looks amazing and has a killer voice. Cracking second stage set: **** US singer songwriter Max Jury sat at his piano for his set on stage two, with his band, and went down well: ***
I am so glad I caught Mark Ronson collaborator Rose Elinor Dougall, who used to be in the band The Pipettes some years ago. Rose and her band were in full command of the Songbird Stage for the 4.30pm slot, and she makes a lovely noise. A bit of trivia for you: Rose is the granddaughter of former TV news broadcaster Robert Dougall: *** I missed out on seeing Australian twins The Pierce Brothers, who blew the Cornbury crowd away for a second year running, I am told.
Headliners on the Songbird stage, Scouting For Girls seemed taken aback at the huge crowd they pulled and the massive reaction they got. It was an electric atmosphere and the sing-a-long to their big songs, such as ”She’s So Lovely” and “Heartbeat”, was infectious. Probably the biggest reaction to any of the acts on the entire three days, along with Bryan Adams perhaps.
This band are not usually my cup of tea musically, but I thought the front man Roy Stride’s voice was excellent and the band appear to have a lot more life left in them, ripe for more hit records maybe. Great value headliner for a festival. Heard them at V Festival a couple of years ago from the media centre, but didn’t see them. Glad I did this time: *****
Main stage on day two: I missed opener Victoria. But the band Black Dylan who flew in from their home of Denmark, I did see. One of the best sets of the festival for me. Front man Wa’fande leaped off the stage, over the safety barrier and into the crowd, singing with a radio mike and stopping the band a few times to banter about the crowd, the festival and how important live music was. A charismatic guy with star quality and a killer voice. Great band and some good material.
But… his foul mouth let him and the band down, when there were kids all over the place, and some parents grabbed their brood and ushered them away to another part of the site, out of earshot. It was obvious this was a family-friendly event, and on stage in the summer sunshine at 3.30pm, that was not a clever move. I’d imagine in a night-time indoor venue they’d tear the roof off, and the cussing would be part of the deal and no problem. But the shouts for more at Cornbury gave a clue as to what the majority of the punters felt about their set though. Four stars from me, one deducted for the potty mouth! : ****
I missed Police Dog Hogan, who were introduced by veteran radio DJ Johnnie Walker. I also did not get to see Ward Thomas on the main stage, but I did catch the sisters on the tiny Jack FM stage for their surprise slot, and they sounded in top form. Caught up with them backstage and did a few piccies. I saw them at the very first Country2Country festival at the 02 Arena, a few years ago on a small fringe stage, before anyone had heard of them. Playing the free stage in the foyer of the Dome, outside the main arena.
The 23-year-old twins from Hampshire have since had a number one album “Cartwheels” and sold out headline UK tours, currently riding the crest of a wave of success. Sounding excellent at Cornbury, they know how to pen a decent song and are very nice young ladies too: ****
Former Keane front man Tom Chaplin is now a big solo star, and he and his band were on the main stage directly before headliner Bryan Adams.
Tom put in a strong performance and pulled a big crowd, many of whom knew every word to most of his songs. He played all the big Keane hits and his own stuff: ****
And now the moment you have all been waiting for…Ladies and gentlemen; Mr Bryan Adams…
The big draw on day two was undoubtedly the man who hates being called ‘The Groover From Vancouver’. There was not a spare inch of grass around the main stage for his set, and almost every last person on the site was there to see and hear Mr Bryan Adams do his stuff to close day two.
Many people stayed put at the front, along the safety barrier and in the first few dozen rows for the whole day, so as to be in a prime spot to see their rock hero. Despite the heat and humidity.
When he had that number one song, “Everything I Do”, from the movie Robin Hood, in the UK charts for what seemed like forever, I grew to detest it, I have to be honest. But I have to admit that his set was a spectacular success and he was in great voice.
Looking really cool in crisp white shirt, smart and new looking, pressed blue jeans, smart double breasted black jacket, shiny black shoes and hair slicked back. He looked a lot like Adam Faith did back in the day. But guess what? I actually found myself singing to the damn Robin Hood song. Schhhh, don’t tell anyone.
He played all the hits and a lot more. “Summer of 69” prompting one of the loudest roars of the night. I thought his 1996 hit “The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You,” sounded brilliant. Tracks from his latest album “Get Up” went down well and many knew the words to the lesser known songs from that album and others.
His band were top end, and the stage looked great with a huge LED screen at the back, showing video footage of him. The sound quality was top notch for his set. It was a real coup to get someone of his stature to perform at this relatively small UK festival, so hats off to promoter Hugh Phillimore and his team for pulling it off.
Bryan’s audience age range went from the very young to the far more mature, and they lapped up his hits, song after song after song in a very powerful and impressive set.
A funny thing happened during Bryan’s set, when he told the crowd: “Hi…I’m Bryan” to a shout from one joker in the crowd who yelled back: “No I’m Brian & so is my wife”, a priceless line from the timeless Monty Python team’s comedy movie “Life of Brian”. Mr Adams gave no response to the gold medal winning heckle!
The final day had just as eclectic a line-up as the previous two days. I thought the programming was very creative for an “intimate” UK festival. Like the old advertising slogan: “There’s something for everyone…” There sure was. We got retro artists, the stars of tomorrow and lots and lots of different genres. With a common thread: class and quality. There were one or two acts that didn’t float my boat, but that is just down to personal taste, but many did. Even some artists I’d not expect to like. But hand on heart, I can honesty say, I didn’t come across one band or artist who let the side down in quality. Everything was pretty damn good, which is not usually the case for festivals, in the UK or overseas.
There’s one or two big ones with huge budgets whose line-up for this year is distinctly underwhelming, and Cornbury 2017 was a good antidote. Not an easy job booking a few hundred bands and artists a year or more in advance, and when people are whining about what is on offer at festivals, dishing out their ‘dream line-up’ lists; they never bear in mind two vital things:
1. The act must be touring or available at the time. Often they are not, and their schedules can get filled several years in advance. 2. Budgets. These days, with record sales declining every year, and less and less big tours going out because of costs, the bands and artist’s fees have rocketed up for gigs and festivals. So a relatively small or medium-sized festival is pushed out of the running when a big star wants an arm, a leg and two kidneys to appear. If the sponsorship is not there, forget it. Back in the day, record labels would under-write tours and festival appearances, to get their act in front of lots of punters to sell truck loads of their product. Most labels do not cough up today like they used to, so the fee for the appearance goes sky high.
So, the Sunday kicked off with a gentle wake up, for those camping and those nursing a sore head, with The Missing People’s Choir, fresh from a recent appearance on TV’s Britain’s Got Talent. Other early acts on the last day were Nikhill D’Souza, Sarah Munro and on the main stage the Danberrys, a duo from Tennessee. I did not catch any of the four acts first thing, but I did hear some of 21-year-old Sarah Munro’s set, and she sounded wonderful – accompanied by her sister on keyboards. A really lovely voice and getting Radio 2 airplay. From what I heard, I’d give her voice and the few songs I caught, a five star rating. One to watch.
Another artist I was not able to see perform on the second stage, was former Communards member Sarah Jane Morris. Now solo and her vibe is a little jazzy, a lot bluesy, lovely gospel flavours too, and a gargantuan dollop of talent and star quality – with a capital ‘T’ and a capital ‘S’. Had a chat backstage with her a bit later on and she posed for some pix, before I waked with Sarah Jane and her manager to their vehicle, as she had to dash off to Gatwick to get a flight to Italy for a tour over there, where she is quite a big deal.
I was sent her latest album “Compared To What” which she recently released, just her and virtuoso guitarist Antonio Forcione, and it really is quite stunning. Her voice is as good as it has ever been and I am amazed she is not filling arenas with that much talent. Will be meeting up with SJM very soon for an interview and maybe a few more pix. Look forward to that when she finishes a run at the Edinburgh festival and more European shows. I did hear a couple of songs from her set at Cornbury, and I had great feedback from other media folk and punters about how good she was, so let’s award Ms Morris the full monty five stars for her performance: *****
I did get to see and hear some of the Tex Pistols set and they pulled a good crowd: *** Nine Below Zero have had line-up changes over the years, but front man, singer and guitarist Dennis Greaves and harmonica man Mark Feltham are still doing the biz. This time backed by an extended line-up including horn section, keyboards and backing singer. I did feel that Mark Feltham’s harmonica wasn’t as upfront and hard hitting outside of the usual four piece line-up – bass, drums, guitar/vocals, harmonica/vocals – and was a tad overpowered by the bigger band.
This band were on the bill with Wilko Johnson’s Solid Senders back in the day, circa 1978/79, at Leicester Uni, when I was shooting pix for a national music paper. Still one of the very best gigs I have seen in 39 years of doing what I do. I have seen them a good few times over the years since then. This was a much slicker, less raw and less sweaty roof ripping set, but it works well for a bigger stage at a festival instead of a club venue: ****
I’m too sexy for my (Cornbury T-) shirt...
I was not going to bother with the walk in the hot sun and humidity to the second stage to catch Right Said Fred’s set at 6.30pm, but glad I did. Great fun and as mad as a box of frogs. Front man Richard Fairbrass dressed in a white skirt, with his brother Fred on guitar by his side as always. The hits all came and the big crowd sang along, and they were huge value; smiles all round for their entire set on and off stage. A full house of five stars for their triumphant performance. My guilty pleasure, and I want them to play at my funeral (but not yet!): *****
Headliners on the Songbird stage are regular Sunday night Cornbury favourites The Staxs, and always bring along a surprise guest. This year, the turn of Mica Paris who was in great voice. This big band, with a brash horn section and four backing singers, fired out a volley of soul and funk tunes to delight the huge crowd they pulled.
Singer Noel McKoy was soaked in sweat after just a few songs, and gives it his all. Great party band and this was a great farewell party. A debut album is soon to come, and I’d bet there will be a fair few guest stars on it. They backed Jack Bruce on his last ever live performance before he died. But this band hold their own without the big name guests. They get: *****
On the main Pleasant Valley stage, after The Danberrys, a band I had not heard of before but who really blew me away. Keywest. Apparently big in their home country of Ireland and having had a triple platinum selling album.
They were brilliant. They have strong material and a unique sound. Kind of celtic-soaked U2 meets folk. I am told they spend a lot of time busking around the UK and beyond, promoting their music and their gigs that way. Certainly a band who earned their fee at Cornbury, and a band I would love to see and hear again: *****
I was invited to the artist’s dressing rooms area to do some portrait shots with Midge Ure. What a lovely guy. Not met him or seen him before now. Today he did an acoustic set, accompanied by a fiddler and a mandolin player, Midge playing acoustic guitar. Voice still 100% in tact and he has a lot of energy on stage. A superb set and nice to hear his great songs such as “Vienna” in that stripped down setting: *****
One of the main highlights for me of the three days: Imelda May. An early 5.30pm slot, her young daughter sat at the side of the stage watching Mummy. Boy did she earn respect for her blistering performance. Her voice was on fire. Raunchy, soulful, powerful, just awesome. A masterclass.
Her cover of the Undertones killer track “Teenage Kicks” was magnificent.She was looking great too with the new hair style and the all black outfit of tight top and skirt, a safety pin each side, black belt and black shiny high heeled boots.
She told us snappers “Oi, you lot…. keep the cameras waist high….” (see photo below), saying she did not realise how short the skirt was. I doubt many obliged her request!
The ticket price for day three would have been justified for just two of the acts on the 14-strong Sunday lineup on the two main stages; Imelda May and the incomparable Chrissie Hynde with her iconic band The Pretenders. Chrissie up after Imelda, who gets the max five stars for her blistering set: *****
Chrissie Hynde is known not to have photographers in the pit at her gigs. But today, she was happy to allow us in, but we had to choose stage right or stage left and stay there for three songs. She played to the cameras and seemed to be in a good mood. Sounding fantastic, and when she did “Don’t Get Me Wrong” early on in the set, I must admit I lost concentration on the photos a tad, and just soaked up what a brilliant song that is, and how she sounded just like the record did back in 1986 when it was a hit.
I first shot pix of her with the original line-up of the Pretenders circa 1978/79 and she was shall we say, “tired and emptional” after the gig, and mistook me for the lead singer of the support band Secret Affair, grabbed my hair and cheek to tell me not to be so &*%$**& good on the rest of the tour! I tried to explain I was the photographer, and not who she thought I was, but she was in no fit state to comprehend. Great gig though.
The next time our paths crossed was in 2003, when she was part of a star studded finale gig as part of the now defunct Summer Sundae Festival in Leicester, ‘Concert for a Landmine Free World’, featuring Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Joan Baez and Chrissie Hynde sharing the stage. She was in good form that night. But tonight in July 2017 it was all about Chrissie and her famous band, and she was simply breathtaking. Original drummer Martin Chambers with her today, and they will be celebrating the band’s 40th year anniversary next year: *****
Closing the final day of the last ever Cornbury Festival after 14 years, was a man who needs little introduction. Mr Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, with guests Chris Difford and regular partner in crime, Ruby Turner. Backing singers Beth Rowely and Louise Marshall each took centre stage for a guest spot as lead singer. The set was their usual ballsy, swinging fare, and the quality as high as it usually is for his performance with the band. A band crammed with talent. Jools on fire on the piano with his amazing boogie woogie and New Orleans skills. His voice sounded quite cool on the songs he sang on, too.
Tears and farewells…
Before he began, the MC came on to introduce the festival boss Hugh Phillimore, to say a few words of farewell. Hugh got emotional and teared up, as did most of the crowd there for the very last time, many who have supported the event every year from year one. Hugh thanked an array of people and seemed genuinely moved by the warm reception he got from the audience.
Jools Holland hugging him affectionately, telling us that you play Cornbury twice in a career; “Once on the way up, and once on the way down”, adding: “It’s good to be back”. Not a chance is Mr H and his band on the way down. Far from it. After his storming set, the night ended with a spectacular firework display above the main stage, and a giant banner which said simply: “Cornbury – That’s All Folks”.
And that was it. Cornbury is no more. Everyone hopes, including me, that Hugh will take a year or two off for a well-earned break, and come back fighting fit if the sums add up, to resurrect this glorious gem of a festival in the beautiful English countryside. Now my joint favourite UK festival, along with Bearded Theory Spring Gathering in Derbyshire. I so, so hope cracking Cornbury comes back one day, as I am sure do at least 10,000 other people………
What a way to go out though. Bravo. Cornbury Festival 2017 gets six stars – from a maximum of five!!!! You do the maths…
Words & Photos: Simon Redley