Cornbury Park lies deep within the gently beautiful bucolic landscape of west Oxfordshire. On the first weekend in July each year it opens its doors and throws a rather splendid, laid-back, family-friendly music festival: Cornbury. We went for just the Sunday.
We’d seen The Blockheads live before but I couldn’t wait to see them again! We stood right at the front, my little eight-year-old step-son Cal leaning up against the crash barriers to see this extraordinarily funky and playful band make foot-stomping sing-a-long music. My brother Paul, who came to Cornbury this year with us, and like me was a big Ian Dury and Blockheads fan in their heyday had never seen them before and he was deeply impressed.
‘Oi oi!’ shouted vocalist Derek the Draw, to which everyone reponded ‘Oi oi!’ The crowd lapped up song after song (all penned by the late great Ian Dury), starting with Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, working their way through Sweet Gene Vincent, Reasons to be Cheerful, Clever Trevor, Wake Up and Make Love, and finishing with Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick. The band worked their funky, jazzy, reggaey and rocky socks off, bouncing around, sweating profusely, smiling and having a wonderful time. ‘Very good indeed’ is to put it mildly.
My step-son Cal said he loved them but wished he’d known the words. We all agreed that it was a probably a very good thing he couldn’t understand them, what with them often being very rude.
I was mildly curious about the next band, Reef, whose name I had heard but I couldn’t think of a single song I knew by them. They played pretty good balls-out melodic rock with lots of very catchy riffs, including Place your hands which was a big hit for them and I recognised when I heard it.
But to me, the lead singer’s voice got a bit wearing after a while, and half way through their set I was willing him to shut up so I could hear the musicians better. Most of their songs had the same rhythm and quality, which is great if you like that, but I crave more variety than that in a band, and Reef never sprung anything unsuspected on me. However, I still ‘put my hands on’ when instructed to do so.
Distinctive be-dreadlocked singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner was next to take to the stage.
We weren’t especially interested in Newton, so we sat half way up the field where we could still hear and see. For the standard one-man-and-his-guitar format, he sounded pretty good, but he didn’t blow me away. It takes someone of genius and originality to adopt that format and do that, someone like Neil Young, Roy Harper, Nick Harper, Bob Dylan… I did enjoy Newton’s cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody though, a real crowd-pleaser to end on and certainly got me, and everyone else, singing along.
The Feeling is a band that rocks my world. Again and again. I just LOVE their harmonies, their energy, their variety, their carefully crafted, ingenious tunes and that huge, huge joyful sound.
We saw them play a couple of years ago from high up in the gods at Hammersmith Apollo but this time I was determined to get close up.
The crowd demographic was very different to The Blockheads. This time we were surrounded by young girls screaming for poptastic, heart-throb frontman Dan Gillespie Sells to take his clothes off despite the fact that Dan himself prefers blokes. (I don’t blame him – so do I.) He sings, straps a guitar on and struts around the stage like a proper pop star should, putting on a fabulous show for his adoring fans.
My brother Paul and nephew George stood with us; they had never knowingly heard anything by The Feeling, but they were soon singing along, grinning wildly, jumping up and down and joining in.
They were delighted to discover that they knew so many of The Feeling’s songs including Join with Us, Sewn, Fill my Little World, Never be Lonely. My step-son Cal managed to jostle his way right to the front again – I don’t think he’d ever seen anything like it before, or felt what it was to be in the midst of such a massive, loud and up-for-it crowd.
The Feeling’s songs draw on their love of 1970s and 80s power pop. Despite their impressive array of self-crafted tunes, they played four covers, including Ah-ha’s Take On Me, Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star and Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman.
Squeeze’s Glenn Tillbrook, clearly a big fan of The Feeling (we could see him in the wings, singing along), came on to do the guitar solo in Wichita Lineman and played Up the Junction with them.
Multi-talented folk singer-songwriter Seth Lakeman drew a huge crowd to one of the smaller stages, and it was impossible for us to get very close.
Nevertheless we could see and hear Seth and his band rocking it up on stage, hammering out narrative-lyricked folk songs on guitars and electric fiddle. With his boy-next-door good looks, expressive vocals and rock ‘n’ roll energy it seems to me he has brought folk music into the 21st century. He sounded wonderful.
Top of the bill was legendary American singer-songwriter (and peace activist and environmental campaigner) Jackson Browne and his band.
As the sun set he took to the stage with his band and produced a beautiful slick, professional, smooth and mellow sound which sounded everso slightly dull to my ears. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jackson Browne, but it was almost too slick. My nephew Alex noted that the guitarist looked rather bored. Perhaps he was. Jackson, though, ever the professional, sang sweetly working his way through selected tunes from his enormous back-catalogue.
To avoid the nightmare of getting out of the car park, we left before JB had finished. And as we walked back to the car, his wonderful song Doctor, my eyes drifted through the night air beneath the mature trees of the park. The perfect end to another wonderful Cornbury.
Photos: Moth Clark