13 August 2007

Red and Gold: an open letter to Ben (bcc blog)

Dear Ben

There was nearly a rerun of the Battle of Cropredy Bridge on Friday
evening, and I would have been one of the opposing armies - probably the
Parliamentarian side, as I was standing up against an arrogant disregard
of the rights of ordinary people. I'd better check with Dr Adamson
whether my grasp of civil war history is any better than I fear it is.
The battlefield - the site of the actual battle, as well as the more
recent near-miss - was, of course, the venue on Friday for another
historical event. Perhaps in the overall scheme of things, given that
there were many other battles in the civil war (and Cropredy Bridge was
a pretty small affair compared to some of them) and also given that not
only is the fortieth anniversary of a musical combination born in 1967
an uncommon event but to have five-sixths of arguably its greatest
line-up perform, straight through, its greatest, award-heaped album,
Friday could just take precedence over the battle.

Since our first visit to the Cropredy Festival, which was only in 2003,
there has been a noticeable decline in standards among the audience.
Four years ago you felt yourself in the company of knowledgeable
enthusiasts, there to enjoy the music. Now you feel much more as if
you're among people who regard music as an essential backdrop to
anything they are doing: the IPod generation, perhaps, who need a
musical accompaniment but don't actually want to listen.

So when the three city types behind us continued their loud and tedious
conversation as Chris While, standing in as she often does with Fairport
and singing Sandy's part, launched into Come All Ye, I asked them to be
quiet and observed that I had paid to hear the music, not them. One
told me that if I wanted to listen I should move nearer the front:
another simply told me to f*** off. See? A massive lowering of
standards. Not at all the Cropredy ethos.

The battle averted by a strategic withdrawal - as it happened, a space
opened up and we were able to move a few yard away from the royalists.
(Perhaps I'd do better if I could relate this to the Wars of the Roses:
this was behaviour of a type that those of us in other Houses,
particularly Durham House, at school always attributed to Yorkites.)
The rest of the set was pure magic: it seemed to my poor ear to be
pretty-well note perfect: and I hadn't realised until I saw for myself
just how much excellent lead guitar RT played on it. In particular, his
duetting with Swarb in the instrumental medley (oh, what are the
titles?) was a revelation.

Once Crazy Man Michael had faded away, and a short interval had elapsed,
RT was back again with his band to deliver - well, it seemed to me that
they managed to make all his idiosyncratic, witty, poignant,
wryly-observed songs sound much the same. It works better when he's on
accoustic guitar with only Danny Thompson for accompaniment. We made a
swift getaway before he'd finished, though we managed to hear the encore
from the car park - he was off the stage well before midnight.

Saturday was, in many ways, a bigger disappointment. Ian Matthews was
excellent (though Woodstock without Southern Comfort was a bit thin: is
he, I wonder, the only sometime member of FC to have a number one to his
name?) and The Strawbs were far better than I expected, eschewing the
material that brought them commercial success (thank goodness) and
concentrating on things I remembered like Grave New World, Lay Down, and
the wonderful Benedictus. And the words were still there, in the
archive part of my memory, 35 years after I last heard them. (I don't
think I was the only person singing along.)

Then we had Bob Fox and Billy Mitchell doing a selection including
traditional north-eastern songs which took me back (again) to my youth,
and rounding off with Meet Me On The Corner, which I suppose is another
traditional north-eastern song by now. It could have done with a band
behind it, especially Rod Clements's bass (and after all it's his song,
anyway), but they reproduced the Lindisfarne harmonies (there's an
oxymoron for you!) nicely. Nicely Out of Tune, perhaps.

FC were due on at 2030, half-an-hour earlier than in previous years, but
with forty years to celebrate they needed a bit of extra time. However,
they took to the stage at 2000, giving us the prospect - slightly
daunting, I have to say - of a four-hour set.

It started promisingly, with a few new or recent songs, Red and Gold,
then theh start of an historical review of the four decades. I remember
a superb rendition of Sloth, with RT on lead and DM on drums - in fact,
Mattacks played a second drum kit alongside Gerry Conway for many of the
songs. Jerry Donahu was introduced, but seemed to stay in the shadows.
Swarb was on stage too, not sedentary as when last we saw him (and four
years ago, before the transplant, he was in a wheelchair though still
fiddling like a man half his age) but moving about, playing Fiddlestix
with Ric and Chris also on violins. Fortunately these antics were shown
on a large screen behind the stage: from where we were there was little
chance of seeing anything else, partly because of the distance from the
stage and partly because of the sea of flags and other things dangling
from poles. A couple of large, stage-obscuring men in front of me were
videoing the whole thing for posterity (an odd thing to do: first, a
professional crew were videoing the whole thing for posterity too, no
doubt much better, and second, their view was only of the flags and
other dangling objects).

What was happening on the stage was even less clear because Chris
Leslie's announcements were inadible. Simon Nicol was clear enough, but
that only gave us part of the story. To cap it all, the rear part of
the field seemed to have filled up with bingeing chavs who, added to the
mix of chattering picnickers already in situ, made it a pretty
unpleasant litening experience. We tried moving to the exit, but while
we could hear the music the chavs were undiluted by listeners there so
we headed for the gate. We listened to Portmeirion from there, lying on
a travel rug under the stars, but the next piece featured a guest whose
identity had not been revealed in our hearing, and we weren't taken by
it. So we headed home, and were there before the set had finished.
It seemed wrong not to hang around for Meet On The Ledge, and I see from
a set list on the Talk Awhile web site that my great grandfather's
namesake made another appearance, with a bizarre video in which the
story was acted out by Lego models, but I can remind mysef that it's all
going to be on the DVD in due course - indeed more than we could ever
have seen on the evening.

Sorry you weren't there - but perhaps having read this you'll be glad.

Regards

Peter

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