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‘It’s pretty special’: Fairport talk UK’s longest-running fest

Evolving out of an annual reunion concert featuring the myriad former members of the godfathers of British folk rock, Fairport Convention, airport’s Cropredy Convention has grown to become one of the UK’s best-loved mid-sized festivals, attracting some 20,000 people annually for three days of music in the village of Cropredy in Oxfordshire.

While the highlight of the event remains Fairport’s Convention’s final-night headline set, the previous 40 Cropredy Festivals have played host to a surprisingly diverse roster of talent – including decidedly un-folky acts Buzzcocks, Alice Cooper and Supergrass – and Cropredy 2020’s line-up features the likes of legendary producer Trevor Horn and Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited alongside folk-rock royalty such as Richard Thompson, Home Service and Matthews’ Southern Comfort.

Having taken place annually since 1980, it also holds the distinction of being the UK’s longest continuously running music festival – while Glastonbury and Reading Festivals have been around longer, neither have taken place every year (Glastonbury has its regular ‘fallow’ years, while no Reading Festival was held between 1984 and 1985).

As Fairport Convention embark on their 2020 ‘Wintour’ of the UKIQ caught up with Fairport’s bassist, Dave Pegg, and Cropredy festival director Gareth Williams to talk fans, folk, pricing, competition, cruises and much more…


IQ: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention is officially the longest-running music festival in the UK. What’s your secret?
Dave Pegg: I think our longevity as a festival is due to our choice of acts. We believe that if we like the performers we are booking, then our festivalgoers will too. We always try to have an eclectic mix of folk, rock, reggae, prog and young bands to appeal to most of our audience. We attract three generations, so Cropredy has a real family vibe.

That, and our fair ticket prices [£145–£155 for a three-day 2020 adult ticket], have built a very loyal following for the event.

There are more festivals in the UK than ever before. Have you been feeling the pressure from rival events?
: Yes, there are a lot. To be honest, I don’t understand how many of them survive, with the huge costs of staging them.

I have always been aware of them springing up and, in some cases, rapidly faltering. But thanks to the uniqueness of our event and the loyalty of our fan base, I am happy to say we haven’t really been affected by the competition, despite several biggish events in our neck of the woods.

In terms of booking the other acts, how has that process changed over the years? We hear a lot about artist fees making certain festivals uneconomic to put on…
Gareth Williams
: The cost of headliners has gone through the roof in recent years, with the ‘majors’ being signed up to exclusivity deals by the larger festival conglomerates. We realise now, like many other medium-sized festivals, it is futile to try and compete. We have to watch the pennies, and with the increase in costs comes greater risk.

Our line-up this year has gone down very well with our regular attendees, and that is the market we should be concentrating on for now. Luckily, we have a good reputation and have always striven to make visiting bands feel welcome.

“Thanks to the uniqueness of our event and the loyalty of our fan base, we haven’t really been affected by competition”

You’ve been in and out of Fairport over the years. What keeps you coming back, and what makes the group so special?
DP: Fairport is very special to me. It is a lifetime’s work and the band are very much family. Fairport has had over two dozen band members in total, but this current line-up has been together for 22 years.

We still love treading the boards and making new music. Our latest album, Shuffle and Go, is as good as anything we have recorded in the past.

What have you got up your sleeves for Fairport’s performance this year? It’s the 50th anniversary of your seminal 1970 album, Full House
DP: This year, 2020, is very special for me, as it is also my 50th anniversary in the band.

For Cropredy this year, we have [former band members] Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks coming over from the USA to join us on stage. On the festival’s Saturday evening (15 August), the Full House line-up of Richard, Dave, Simon Nicol and me will be joined by Chris Leslie on fiddle to play the whole album.

Looking ahead to this summer, how are things shaping up for the festival so far? Does it look as if it’s going to be a good year in terms of numbers?
: It’s too early to say, but so far the signs are very encouraging.

However there’ll be no resting on our laurels. We had our full line-up ready in time for tickets going on sale at the beginning of December, and that has certainly helped.

“The cost of headliners has gone through the roof in recent years. … It is futile to try and compete”

How about the tour? Are you excited to get on the road again?
DP: In a word, yes. We keep going ’cos we still love it – and having lots of creditors helps, too!

What does the average Fairport’s Cropredy Convention-goer look like?
DP: You would imagine that the chaps who attend would mostly look like me. Some do, of course, but we also have a much younger contingent because we present great young bands who attract their own following.

Also, the fact that there are three generations of Cropredy regulars makes it hard to describe a typical one.

What do you think of the state of the folk scene currently? Is it in a good place?
The folk scene in the UK has some amazing young musicians. They are so much better as players and performers than I was in my teens.

For example, the opening act we have on our current tour, Smith and Brewer, are great guitarists and songwriters – and there are loads of other fab bands, like the Thumping Tommys, who we are presenting this year at Cropredy.

“Other events might see our single stage as a downside, but for us it helps makes the festival special”

You also do your river cruises in Germany. Who’s idea was that, and what appealed to you about the ‘floating festival’ format?
DP: We are doing two river cruises in June 2020 and 2021, on the Rhine and Danube, respectively. This is a new venture for us and we heard about them from the band Show of Hands, who had such a good time doing theirs. It’s a great chance for us to do something different.

We will entertain for four nights, two of which will be Fairport concerts. Another will be Karaoke Beatles, where we will be the Fab Five, complete with Sgt Pepper outfits, and the audience will be the vocalists. The fourth night we will play swing jazz, with [Fairport band members] Chris Leslie doing magic and Ric Sanders doing stand up.

I would love us to do one of the prog-rock boat cruises that our chums Procol Harum and Martin Barre do. So, if any readers can help get us on one of them, there’s a pint in it for you…

You’ve been staging Cropredy independently for over four decades now. Have you ever had any offers to sell up – and have you ever been tempted
: My ex-wife, Christine, and I ran Cropredy from 1980 until 2005, when we split up. There was interest from several parties who wanted to buy the festival, but we thought it better to form a new company [Fairport Convention Ltd] and keep it in Fairport hands.

That way we’ve been able to preserve its longstanding reputation and keep the Cropredy residents on the festival’s side.

Finally, what does the future hold for Fairport’s Cropredy Convention?
: The festival is now 41 years old, and we are lucky to have a very loyal contingent who make the journey every year. As long as people still want the festival we’ll continue to provide it. Cropredy is a unique event, what with its single stage; other events might see that as a downside, but for us it helps makes the festival special.

We may not have a hundred bands on over the weekend but we can guarantee each one will be playing to at least 10,000 people no matter how far down the bill they are… and that’s pretty special.


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Liverpool’s Folk on the Dock gears up for bumper third year

Liverpool’s free folk, roots and acoustic music festival, Folk on the Dock, is hoping to surpass the 90,000 attendees it managed to attract in 2017 when it returns for its third edition this August bank holiday (24–27th).

Folk on the Dock is held in Merseyside’s Royal Albert Dock, as well as incorporating the Liverpool Shanty Festival, where live performances take place on boats around the water’s edge and in the Liverpool Maritime Museum.

This year, the event will expand beyond the Dock, stretching along the waterfront as well as into the Museum of Liverpool.

More than 200 artists will play across ten stages in all, with a special, sold-out ticketed event from Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band launching proceedings on Friday. Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford tops the weekend bill, playing the festival’s contemporary Dock Stage, which will be hosted by Liverpudlian broadcaster Janice Long.

“At a time when fewer outlets are willing to take risks on new music, urban festivals play a vital, grassroots role in giving emerging artists a platform”

“At a time when fewer outlets are willing to take risks on new music, urban festivals play a vital, grassroots role in giving emerging artists a platform – and music fans a place to witness tomorrow’s headliners early on in their career,” says Martin Blore of Fit the Bill, which produces the event in association with Royal Albert Dock Liverpool.

“Folk on the Dock came from a desire to celebrate the role that Liverpool’s waterways have played in exporting and importing music from around the world, as well as providing a diverse folk, roots and acoustic music programme that puts new talent next to music legends, and its rapid growth and popularity allows us to continue with that mission.”

Among the emerging acts tipped for big things gracing the Dock Stage this year are Blue Rose Code, The Luck, Megan O’Neil, Ian Moult and Gizmo Varillas.

They’ll share the stage with two recent award winners in the form of singer-songwriter Robert Vincent, who won the emerging artist award at the first UK Americana Awards in 2016, and Daoirí Farrell, who won two BBC Folk Awards in 2017.


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Cambridge Folk Festival gears up for blockbuster 2018

This summer’s Cambridge Folk Festival – its first year twinned with US cousin Newport Folk Festival – has the strongest line-up in the festival’s 54-year history, according its operations director.

Neil Jones tells IQ the recruiting of big-name headliners such Patti Smith, First Aid Kit and John Prine is a key part of widening the appeal of Cambridge Folk Festival (CFF), which launched in 1965, and ensuring the venerable event is still around in another six decades.

“After the 2016 festival we realised need to restructure,” Jones explains. “We’ve sold out consistently for 23–24 years, but we were reliant on the same audience – and while we’re not trying to build a new audience to replace them, it became clear we needed to widen that audience.”

Part of that, he says, is through the line-up – now outsourced to Killer B’s Bev Burton (also booking the new Black Deer festival) – which this year is the “best yet. We’re really pleased with it – it’s a really, really strong year, no doubt.”

Also on 2018’s eclectic bill – are American folk singer Rhiannon Giddens (also guest curator), English singer-songwriter Kate Rusby, Tuareg world music group Tamikrest, Scottish Celtic fusion band Peatbog Faeries, Malian desert blues act Songhoy Blues and country music legend Roseanne Cash (daughter of Johnny) – a line-up reflecting what Jones calls the festival’s “deliberately broad-church view of what folk is”.

“It’s not lost on us that some people think Cambridge Folk Festival isn’t for them – but we think it is”

“The core [audience] know us and love us, and in the past I think we’ve been guilty of preaching to the converted,” Jones continues. “But we knew we needed to widen our appeal. Part of the PR brief for this year, for example, was to get featured on [youth-focused digital radio station] 6 Music – and 6 Music-type listeners are now booking in their droves.

“It’s not lost on us that some people think Cambridge Folk Festival isn’t for them – but we think it is, and they’d find it really cool. It’s about debunking some of the myths, and saying to people, ‘You might not think the festival is for you, but it is.’”

CFF’s push for a new audience is a two-pronged strategy – in addition to diversifying its programming, the festival is renewing its focus on the visitor experience, Jones says: “People say, ‘What makes a good festival?’, and for me, it’s the people. It’s not just about the acts on stage; it’s the people at the heart of it who are pivotal.

“One of our USPs is that we’re the only festival who encourages people to bring instruments with them, and it’s great when you walk around the site and see people just jamming everywhere…”

CFF last July announced its ‘twinning’ with a similarly illustrious folk music event, Newport Folk Festival in the US, for 2018 – a partnership that will involve the two festivals sharing ideas and jointly nurturing new folk talent, and which Jones describes as a “match made in heaven”.

“We’re really excited about the Newport Folk Festival partnership,” says Jones. “They’re really the US equivalent of CFF – we were set up by an ex-fireman working for the city council [Ken Woollard] who’d seen a documentary on Newport – but we’d never said hello to them, so we reached out with a quick email from this side of the pond.

“Our USP is that we’re the only festival who encourages people to bring instruments with them”

“They said, ‘It’s so great to be in contact, we’d been meaning to do the same!’

“We share lots of same objectives – we’re both competing against the Live Nations and AEGs paying top dollar, with their massive exclusion zones, and we’re both extremely focused on talent development. Partnering with Newport is a way of doing that: pointing us towards that new talent, while also being fiercely independent, in the grand folk tradition of kicking back against the man!”

While most festivals which have sold out every year for the past two decades would be looking to expand, Jones says that, despite CFF’s mission to grow its audience, the festival will remain at its existing 10,000-cap. site at Cherry Hinton Hall, south of Cambridge, for the foreseeable future. “We’ve been too big for a number of years, actually,” he concludes. “It’s a very small, tight site, and of course demand massively outweighs the supply of tickets.

“It’s like Glastonbury: If they increased capacity they could sell more tickets, and it’s the same for us.

“But so much of the charm of the festival is in its location – and if we moved to a large greenfield site on the edge of the city, we’d lose that charm.”

Cambridge Folk Festival 2018 takes place from 2 to 5 August.


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Cambridge Live’s Eddie Barcan steps down

Eddie Barcan, the long-time festival director of the UK’s Cambridge Folk Festival, has announced his resignation from event promoter Cambridge Live, effective 7 October.

In an email, Barcan – who also programmes the Avalon stage at Glastonbury Festival – says he “put [his] heart and soul into Cambridge Folk Festival” and that leaving “has been a very difficult decision. However, due to strategic developments within Cambridge Live, the time is right for me to move on to new opportunities.”

He continues: “I would like to thank you and all the fantastic people and amazing artists with whom I have been fortunate to work over the last 27 years. Together we have ensured that Cambridge has been the leading folk festival in the country. I never envisaged I would work on this very special event for so long and leave with many happy memories.

“”I am proud of all I have achieved at the festival, including programming 23 consecutive sell-outs”

“I am proud of all I have achieved at the festival, including programming 23 consecutive sell-outs; managing the festival for close to two decades; ensuring its financial viability; awards and acclaim for the standard of organisation, atmosphere and quality of programming; ensuring national TV and radio coverage; [and] seeing the festival’s profile rocket.”

Barcan will continue his work with Glastonbury and says he’s “keen to get involved in new events and opportunities”.

The sold-out 52nd Cambridge Folk Festival, headlined by KT Tunstall and Christy Moore, took place in July and was attended by more than 14,000 festivalgoers. In addition to organising the festival, Cambridge Live operates the Cambridge Corn Exchange venue (1,400-cap.) and runs its own ticket agency, Cambridge Live Tickets.


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