Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2008

The first time I passed through Cropredy on the Oxford Canal was on a school canal society trip in 1974. Whilst I don’t remember much about the week, I retain one memory of the Brasenose Arms which I was told featured on the album cover of a certain band called Fairport Convention.  Being into prog rock at the time it was not cool to admit to liking Fairport, although I do admit to making a few tapes (pre MP3 I’m afraid).

About this time two members of the band had moved to Cropredy and began to play the occasional local gig evolving into an annual festival which now attracts 20,000 visitors every August.  Somehow I never seem to be in the area but here I am on Zulu Warrior – apparently a Cropredy virgin but feeling like an old hand already, especially as Zulu would already have been one year old in 1974.  Who knows – she could have been here many times!

Met up with the Warriors – Sarah, Jim and Baz, who had been allowed to moor on the Long Term moorings and soon visited the Brasenose Arms where the new landlord of two weeks was certainly being initiated in style.

Up on “THE FIELD” the stage was very impressive with a great view of the stage from almost anywhere.  An imaginary line was drawn behind which deck chairs and picnics were permitted, and the atmosphere was very laid back with the added bonus that dogs were not only allowed into the main stage area, but free poo bags were being handed out with wristbands.  Seth was impressed.

Fairports Cropredy Convention 2008So three days of music and spending ensued.  Swept into the traditional instrument tent by a sudden rainshower I came out having fulfilled another long term ambition – owning an accordion, or to be more precise a button accordion (melodeon).  Something special about buying it in a field, I thought, and the hard case turned out to make a handy seat too.

Robert Plant plays with Fairport ConventionMy highlight of the weekend was when Robert Plant appeared as Fairport’s special guest, playing a haunting version of the wonderful Battle of Evermore (1971) which took me right back to my roots.

And so a good time was had by all (I think) despite the rain on Saturday afternoon.

It was especially nice to be able to head back to the nice warm dry boat instead of sliding into a muddy tent, and although there were a lot of boats it would still have been possible to moor, just a bit further away!  It was also wonderful to see how the village embraces the festival – there is no heavy handed security, gardens and driveways opened up as cafes and stalls and the sports field held one of the most impressive car boot sales on Saturday morning.  It was such a shame it rained hard, as the range of goods on sale was way above the usual car boot tat – no plastic play kitchens or used baby clothes to be seen – instead a range of musical instruments, vintage records and CDs, traditional tools, home made produce, local craftsman bakery and so forth.  I bought a pewter tankard to allow drinking of ale without plastic, and the lady running the stall bartered the price down by 50p without being asked.  You can have that one for two pounds; – its a bit bashed, which is what I liked about it.

So from a boating point of view – some FAQs, but of course the answers are only my opinion!:

Will we be able to moor?  YES, although try to arrive a few days early to avoid being up to a mile away.

Do boats HAVE to double moor?  NO, although in a few places you may prefer to moor alongside someone who invites you.  The canal is often too narrow anyway.

Can I rely on the village stores for groceries?  YES – they stay open until 10pm daily and have plenty of stock.  A local baker brings a van full of fresh bread every morning and farms, clubs and pubs galore open up to serve breakfast.

Should I moor above the lock or below?  ABOVE – the moorings below the lock are a mixture of long term and visitor moorings and form one of two main routes into the festival site.  If you do get a spot below the lock your boat will either become covered in mud or dust depending on the weather.  Once past the festival gate you will be able to find towpath moorings but if approaching from the north remember the nearest winding hole is quite a long way (almost at Banbury).  Boats arriving from the South can wind at Cropredy.

I am not visiting the festival.  Can I still moor at Cropredy?  DIFFICULT – you will end up a long way from the village if you arrive over the weekend.

I am not visiting the festival.  Will I get held up while trying to pass through?  NO.  The festival boats are there to stay and you will be able to pass through unhindered, although the lock can occasionally have a small queue at any time of the summer. At the end of the festival a few boats will leave immediately but there was no evidence of delays, this year at least.

Are the short term moorings strictly enforced?  Apparrently not.

Can I still get water and use the facilities?  Yes but if you move the boat then you will most likely lose your mooring space.  Many people carry water back to their boat on trollies, but at least make sure you fill right up when you arrive.

Can I empty the Elsan?  Yes there is a disposal point but see above.

Is there adequate rubbish disposal?  Yes.  The skips are emptied regularly.

Do we need to bring lots of food?  No.  The quality of the food at the festival was excellent and not too expensive.  Local farms, the canoe club, the sports club and the pubs open up to serve breakfast and several village houses are convereted into take away restaurants.  The festival site is lined with typical festival food stalls and one in particular served and amazingly good plateful of authentic indian food for about 6 pounds.  Worth going for on its own!

Are there any cash machines?  YES – the Bridge Stores has one, and does cash back too.  Then there was a mobile unit with 4 machines between the village and the festival site.

Can we park the car near the boat?  Parking in the village is banned, in theory, but some people do.  The free public car park is about a mile outside the village.  Dropping off and picking up in the village should still be possible at most times.

Are the pubs open for business as normal?  Plastic glasses I’m afraid and both the Red Lion and the Brasenose Arms have stages set in their back gardens.  Some very high quality bands played in the “fringe” starting as early as the Wednesday evening.

What are the loos like?  Excellent.  Plenty of them, very short queues if any, and generally quite acceptable, as far as festival loos are concerned.

Is there a bar on site?  Wadworths run a huge bar at the far side of the Field, together with a couple of smaller bars, one in a campsite, and the other just outside the main gates to the arena.  The main bar is fed from road tankers which don’t do the beer any favours but outside the beer is from the barrel.  Take a pewter tankard if you want to look inconspicuous!

Is it better to  return to a warm dry boat at the end of the night and sit out with a glass of wine and some friends in the moonlight, or to splodge your way back to a cold damp tent by torchlight and try to find the beers which someone stole while you were out?  🙂 What do you think!

Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable weekend – we will be back!

Ash gig at Coventry

Ash and The Gentlemen, Coventry 1st August 2008The other day, walking up to Hawkesbury Junction along the main road at Longford I spotted a huge poster for an Ash concert in the Ricoh Arena – only a mile or so from where I stood.  Making a mental note I realised it was actually for Friday, and this was Wednesday – so I made a very spur of the moment call to see if tickets were still available.

Three minutes later I had placed my order, mesmerised by the totally automated Ticketmaster service which can actually understand what you say to it.  ASH – COVENTRY – 1ST AUGUST.  “Do you mean “Ash, Coventry Ricoh Arena, Friday 1st August?”  YES!! “How many tickets….” etc and it was so I easy that I read out my card number while walking down the towpath and confirmed the transaction.

As usual I had forgotton that a couple of days travelling by boat can generate amazingly complex return travel plans, so of course the journey to the concert turned out to be from Claydon near Cropredy (almost an hour by road) rather than a 20 minute walk from the Greyhound at Hawkesbury.

Despite this I am so glad I made the effort as the concert was simply outstanding.  Supported by Sheffield band “The Gentlemen” who immediately made a gaff by asking the crowd whether they considered Coventry to be in the North or the South.  “MIDLANDS” … “Oh – OK – so this is the Midlands is it?” but their music was much better than their geography and this band is certainly on the brink of better things than warming up five hundred or so Ash fans.

I still couldn’t work out what this gig was all about.  Why did Ash fly in tonight then back to Norway for a gig the next day, and back to Cardiff the day after?  This seemed like a lot of hard work for so few fans in such a strange venue.  The Ricoh arena had hundreds of staff, some employed specifically to stop people looking through the curtains to the football stadium below.

Ash gig at CoventryAt 9pm Ash appeared and the tiny stage burst into life – how amazing sound and lighting can be these days with a very minimalist amount of equipment.  The band were as good as they could have been – very loud but crystal clear and best of all we were able to stand only 20 feet back from the stage without being trampled or soaked.

It was as if they were playing to a stadium – but it felt like a personal gig in your own front room.  Fantastic.

Outside the rain was tipping down at midnight as we drove round and round and round the Coventry ring road looking for the way home.  The concert a distant and damp memory as we finally located the boat in the pitch dark.  I bet nobody else there had to duck through damp undergrowth with a torch on their way home.