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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?
DP
: 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?
GW
: 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?
DP:
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
DP
: 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?
GW
: 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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Folk music promoter Izzy Young passes aged 90

Israel Goodman “Izzy” Young, the organiser of Bob Dylan’s first New York concert and long-time supporter of folk music, has died at the age of 90.

Young’s daughter, Philomene Grandin, reported that Young died late Monday at his Stockholm home, citing “natural causes”.

A central figure in the American folk music scene, Young owned the Folklore Center, a shop for folk music-related books, records, instruments and sheet music in Greenwich Village, New York.

“The Folklore Center was the citadel of Americana folk music”

In November 1961, Young organised Bob Dylan’s first major public concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York. Dylan was a regular visitor of Young’s Folklore Center, dubbing it “the citadel of Americana folk music”.

Young closed the Folklore Center in 1973 and moved to Stockholm, opening the similar Folklore Centrum store.

Young leaves behind a son, daughter, three grandchildren and over 60 years of support for folk musicians.

 


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Trailblazer: Becky Stewart, Cambridge Folk Festival

Welcome to the latest edition of Trailblazers – IQ’s regular series of Q&As with the inspirational figures forging their own paths in the global concert business.

From people working in challenging conditions or markets to those simply bringing a fresh perspective to the music world, Trailblazers aims to spotlight unique individuals from all walks of life who are making a mark in one of the world’s most competitive industries. Read the previous Trailblazers interview, with WME’s Sam Kirby Yoh, here.

In the hot seat this time is Becky Stewart, operations director for the UK’s long-running Cambridge Folk Festival, which celebrated its 54th anniversary last month with a bumper bill topped by big-name headliners Patti Smith and First Aid Kit.

Here, she speaks on her journey from adolescent morris dancer to running Britain’s best-known folk music event; the challenges of competing with moneyed corporate festivals; and why she’s proud to lead a mostly female team in a male-dominated world…

 


How did you get your start in the industry?
Well, I blame my parents, really. They took me to my first folk festival, which was Warwick, when I was about six years old, and then we spent every summer from there after dancing – yes, morris dancing. At around 17 I worked out I could get a ticket for free if I volunteered, but it would take a few more years till the worlds collided and I got to start doing the fun stuff.

I worked artist liaison at Shepley and Beautiful Days, then I stage-managed at Towersey for about five years. In ‘real life’ I ran a pub, then started working in the events world. There isn’t one single point I can say that was my start – I just kind of ended up here. The first year I came to Cambridge I knew I wanted to work here, though. Never thought I’d end up running it.

Tell us about your current role.
I am operations manager, which in the simplest terms means I make it all fit together. I make sure everyone from staff to artists have all the information they need to do their job; I manage the booking and contracting of all artists, staff, caterers, traders; and I programme and book the fringe performances, street theatre, morris teams, workshops and sessions. Other things we look after include merch, site art, transport, accommodation and anything else you can think of.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
So long as most people have a nice time, I’m happy. That includes audience, staff and performers.

And the most challenging?
I take things very personally. If we get a complaint, especially about something that that person probably has no idea about, it annoys me. I try not to let things wind me up but they do.

Also budget restrictions –they upset me massively!

“At our core is the want to be a musicians’ festival, giving a platform to the best in the business”

What achievements are you most proud of?
This! I am apparently responsible and grown-up enough to be in charge of Cambridge Folk Festival. It still blows my mind. It’s great.

How has the business changed since you started out?
In some ways, not at all. In others, massively. In my case, folk music has a very interesting way of flowing in and out of mainstream music. Cambridge very much sits in a bubble between mainstream music and the smaller folk festivals, and I think that transfers to how we run as well.

We have lead the way in innovations in terms of how to run a site environmentally. We have a 50/50 gender split on our bill, as well as on our crew; we have a female sound tech, the majority of our crew heads are women and the core team are predominantly female. There are still things that we, and the industry, need to get better at.

At our core is the want to be a musicians’ festival, giving a platform to the best in the business – we’re not about bells and whistles.

“We need to be better at looking after ourselves and each other”

What, if anything, could the music industry do better?
We are an independent festival and we, along with many others, are getting priced out of the market by the bigger agency-run festivals.

Gender balance is a big thing. We’re super-proud to say we’ve got it pretty good at the moment, but we’re always looking to be better.

Look after everyone at bit better: we talk about mental health in the music industry, but it’s about life in general, really. We live in a world that is too fast for us to keep up with, and I think we all feel that at some point. We need to be better at looking after ourselves and each other.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to make it in music?
Work, take opportunities, volunteer at everything, take in everything around you. Learn skills – knowledge of what sound and lighting techs do, even if you don’t want to do it, for example.

And if you want to go to uni, do something with a skill attached. I’d much rather employ someone with a proven work record than a degree.

 


If you’d like to take part in a future Trailblazers interview, or nominate someone else for inclusion, email IQ’s news editor, Jon Chapple, on jon@iq-mag.net.

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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Bands across the water: Iconic folk festivals join forces

Two of the world’s most famous folk music festivals, Cambridge Folk Festival in the UK and Newport Folk Festival in the US, have announced plans to ‘twin’, forming a “transatlantic partnership” that will allow the events to explore “unique and extraordinary artistic opportunities” together.

While twinning is a practice more often associated with cities (and, occasionally, dreary English towns and Disney theme parks), Cambridge Folk Festival director Steve Bagnall says the partnership will allow for coordinated programming “that will excite audiences on both sides of the Atlantic”.

Newport Folk Festival, founded in 1959, hosted the first major appearances of folk greats Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Arlo Guthrie, and is immortalised as the site of Bob Dylan’s (in)famous ‘going electric’ moment in 1965.

Cambridge Folk Festival, meanwhile, was established in 1965 by Ken Woollard after seeing Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a concert film set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Artists who have played the event include Paul Simon, Shirley Collins and Van Morrison, with Jake Bugg headlining this year.

Full details of what the twinning will involve will be released after this year’s festivals.

“We are excited to be working with and learning from a festival that has the artistic heritage and ambition of Newport”

“We are excited that from next year Newport Folk Festival will be twinning with Cambridge Folk Festival,” comments Jay Sweet, Newport’s executive producer. “This move will allow us to share ideas, experiences and some artists from two festivals that have grown up together and in their own way played a role in shaping the folk music landscape on both sides of the Atlantic. This partnership will allow us to bring a little bit of Newport to Cambridge, and vice versa.”

Steve Bagnall, managing director of Cambridge Folk Festival, adds: “Cambridge Folk Festival has always tested the boundaries of folk with its programme, and we are excited to be working with and learning from a festival that has the artistic heritage and ambition of Newport.

“Twinning with Newport will allow both festivals to explore unique and extraordinary artistic opportunities that will excite audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.”

 


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