Cornbury Festival 2015
Saturday 11th July-Sunday 12th July 2015
The Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Site followers will know that our Glenn interviewed Hugh the main man behind the annual Cornbury Festival re the history of the event and his hopes for this one – see Interviews section. So having been invited we went up to Great Tew to catch as much of the action as we could across the spectrum of artists and to get as many images as we could reasonably manage. There were a number of performance stages AND a comedy tent among many other attractions – and many of the most interesting acts were on the Riverside stage, it being impossible to predict what style of music was coming next – and boy, do we at JLTT like that…
A tent run by a record shop and catering for artists’ signing sessions and odd acoustic performances became a fine meeting point as we took in different shows across the whole site. For the sake of civilisation, decent tea could be had from a Caffé Nero tent which also hosted some great sets by various groups. The name acts Cornbury selected this year as in others weren’t the obvious ones e.g. oafish indie bands churning out singalong anthems that they got played on the radio. No, the emphasis was on playing and singing rather than overpaid egomaniac DJs and lowest common denominators.
Best of all as at all the most memorable festivals, you got to see and hear acts you might not have ventured out to catch…and not just famous ones. Of the latter, it was evident that some real thought had gone into constructing the setlists. Some like Supertramp man Roger Hodgson even took requests!
Fourth Time Lucky
As we walked around the festival, I noticed that a band performing on the Riverside Stage called Fourth Time Lucky who were performing to a respectable size crowd as they performed their rendition of The Killers hit ‘Mr Brightside’. Admittedly, it is a bit of a ‘safe’ cover as it has received worldwide success and extensive radio airplay but they did the song justice. The lead singer’s vocals did remind me Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day though.
Jess and The Bandits
As the sun beamed down I walked to the Songbird Stage for the first act of the day Jess and The Bandits. Now although we have reviewed their debut album ‘Here We Go Again’ and asked the band to take part in our ’20 Questions With… series, we hadn’t actually seen a live set yet.
The audience watched them whilst sitting on hay bales (nice touch Cornbury) and the five-piece kicked off with ‘Ready Set Go’. Louis Riccardi’s electric guitar solo showcased country rock at its punchiest. Lead singer Jessica Clemmons is from Texas so her lead vocals do give the band a bit of an edge as ‘How About You’ proved. The band’s new single ‘Nitty Gritty’ was well-received and blends well with Dave Troke’s keyboard and Ricci Ricardi’s drums. The song did make me think of Kelly Clarkson’s early work and I was curious if she is an influence on the band or not. Jess and The Bandits are really entertaining to watch though as they are enjoying themselves onstage. If the band aren’t enjoying themselves then that negativity is going to reach the crowd. They are definitely ‘one to watch’ as they say and with a headline Autumn UK tour in October you should catch them now before it is too late.
(BTW the band completed a 20 Questions for us AND Pete spoke to Jess at the Ramblin’ Man festival down south, so check these items out if you wish)
One act on the bill that was making their festival debut was Stargazer. They are a relatively new outfit which was formed by husband and wife Jack McManus and Martine McCutcheon. Now Martine is also an actress who has been in Eastenders and West End stage shows AND films such as Love Actually where she starred as the British Prime Minister’s love interest alongside Hugh Grant. Jack Mcmanus is probably best known for his song ‘Bang On This Piano’ from the mid-2000s. Now we have actually reviewed Stargazer’s live show at The Half Moon Putney and it is available to you to read now and with our Kieran’s images, so I wanted to avoid regurgitating the same article word-for-word. However, as they opened with ‘Suitcase’ people were migrating over to the stage after the first few notes and ‘Archive’ is an emotionally-driven song which has tinges of Fleetwood Mac especially during ‘Rumours’. It is refreshing to witness new musicians and bands and I think with an EP and some radio airplay behind them Stargazer should have a bright future ahead of them.
Looking at my watch, I realised that Striking Matches were going to take to the Pleasant Valley Stage (The festival’s Main Stage) shortly so I went over to secure a spot. It was absolutely packed with folding chairs and tents (I don’t think tents should be allowed near the performance areas though just the festival campsites). I laid down my mat at the best spot I could find and looked forward to hearing some more country. Striking Matches are a musical duo consisting of American guitarists Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis and they have become very popular because they have had songs used on the hit ABC television series ‘Nashville’ which is currently airing in the UK on E4. I really enjoy ‘Nashville’ and had high hopes for the performance.
As they arrived onstage I heard a really loud sound behind me and it was two men dressed up as OAPs on mobility scooters with ghetto blasters. Now I love comedy as much as the next person but when I am trying to listen to the music on the main stage I don’t really appreciate nineties hip-hop being played over it and drowning out the sound. After Old Mother Hubbard and associate had zoomed off, I was able to hear ‘Trouble Is as Trouble Does’ from their debut album which is produced by the legend T Bone Burnett.
I will say, although the genres are different the guitar interplay isn’t dissimilar to that of Rodrigo Y Gabriela as it is very precise as the guitars weave in and out. ‘Only Loves Me When It’s Raining’ was relatively unexciting for me though and to me it sounded like the vocals had been turned right down. Highlight of the set for me was Justin Davis’s lead vocals on the classic Robert Johnson song ‘Crossroads’. Well done sir! Overall, I felt that the set was well-executed but not very memorable. I think I would probably understand them better if I went to one of their own headline shows. They are embarking on a UK tour in the Autumn though so if you enjoy ‘Nashville’ or country /roots music in general then purchase your tickets now.
As I didn’t want to lose my spot I opted to stay where I was for country music twins Ward Thomas. Now we picked upon this act from their very first London press showcase and also I had previously seen these twin sisters at Country 2 Country 2014 at The 02 Arena in London and at Bush Hall during a co-headline tour with The Shires. They opened with ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man’ and it set the tone of the entire performance; country music with no gimmicks just stunning vocal harmonies and high-quality musicianship.
They mixed tracks from their debut album ‘From Where We Stand’ such as ‘The Good and The Right’ and BBC Radio 2 favourite ‘Way Back When’ with versions of pop chart hits like George Ezra’s ‘Budapest’ to the audience’s delight. The band sounded rockier since I last saw them but it worked well especially on new songs like ‘Carry You Home’ which I predict will be a future radio hit. They thanked the sound engineer and band and finished with ‘A Town Called Ugley’ which is about when they actually went to a real place in America called Ugley. In conclusion, it was a high-quality set for a festival crowd. I am looking forward to a new album release.
The crowds around The Pleasant Valley Stage grew in size as we approached 5.30pm because everyone wanted to see those cheeky lads Blue. Only we couldn’t see them onstage so we waited. And waited. Then the festival director and friend of Just Listen To This, Hugh Phillimore appeared onstage to applause as he informed us that two members were here and two others were stuck in traffic and we would have to wait a bit longer. Everyone was quite patient at first, myself included, but as the minutes passed it became apparent that we were going to have to wait until we were blue in the face (see what I did there?). Then we heard some noise on the stage and at 6.45pm Blue arrived as a four-piece to a very excited crowd. However, at no point did they apologise for the late arrival which in my book is incredibly unprofessional. They started with ‘All Rise’ and straight away I realised that they were singing to an audio backing track rather than a live band.
(I had seen them at The Roundhouse with a first-class live band and been most impressed..though not with the buxom female yell-along chorale that makes up most of Blue’s audience – Pete ).
In addition, I felt that the vocals were quite under par however Simon Webb was vocally strong on ‘Fly By’. It was perfect for a family audience as they have catchy songs with memorable lyrics and the UK has quite a soft spot for Blue anyway. I was disappointed though as I had heard from friends that they had a really funky live band on their tour with Ksyran and really worked the crowd. I wasn’t that excited by Blue’s limited audience banter which was Anthony Costa saying ‘I used to live in Oxfordshire. I really like it here.’ Although at least he said something I suppose. Even after they closed with ‘One Love’ we still didn’t receive an apology for the lateness. I thought back to when Blue worked with Sir Elton John: Sorry does seem to be the hardest word doesn’t it Blue?
When Lulu took the stage with an awesomely talented group, it was obvious that her set would take the Saturday honours. A breezy run through ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, her hit record (on which David Bowie played sax) brought the house down. Songs from her new album ‘Making Life Rhyme’ were of uniform high quality, showing off her wonderful and powerful voice. ‘Poison Kiss’ really ached and ‘Hypnotised’ was spellbinding. The muscular group had a Bowie-inspired edge and seemed to spur Lulu to vocal heights.
Lulu was for us easily the highlight of Saturday. In a white shirt and sporting a jaunty hat, she simply sang her heart out on a really interesting selection of numbers. I don’t know whether she had warmed up vocally before coming on stage, but her voice was fantastic from start to finish. Her new album, on which her brother Billy has worked with her, is likely her best ever.
It helped that the band accompanying Lulu had a pithy, Bowiesque touch – springheeled and then muscular when merited. Pro that she is, Ms Lawrie found time to tell a story or two to explain the origins of certain songs. Lulu and band – we salute you.
Martha Reeves and The Vandellas
You can’t tell Martha Reeves much about stagecraft and would you want to? Her hit-filled toe-tapping set accompanied by a very impressive soul outfit (she made sure they all had a namecheck by handing the mic around! Brilliant!) finished with a stirring ‘Dancing In The Street’. A big personality, a rich voice and cool stage demeanour made this a victory for the Motown legend.
‘My Baby Loves Me’, she sings. The crowd sure loved her.
After a day packed with music across all genres, we decided to travel to our hotel and get some sleep so that we were refreshed for day two.
On the Sunday I decided to take it easy and check out some of the under-the-radar performers. Some grey clouds were moving in throughout the day and you could tell that some rain was forecast when the merchandise tent started to sell ponchos for a pound. I watched Debbie Bond perform an acoustic set inside tent and her bluesy number ‘All Tied Up’ worked in the setting nicely.
Meantime I was taking in some comedy in the specialist tent – Hodgson told a whimsical about fallen cycling heroes, peppered with bitchy comments about fellow students and acquaintances. It all held together fairly well but didn’t have me on the floor though the nearly full house seemed to lap it up. Edinburgh awaits, I guess – though to broaden his appeal, Kieron needs to allow for the fact that not all of us wasted time at universities.
I then stopped off at The Caffé Nero Stage to catch a bit of Sam Beeton who was entertaining the early afternoon crowds with a four-piece band. The song ‘Where’s The Night?’ was a Crowded House type song as the really tight-knit band kept the song going. His single ‘Belong’ was an upbeat tune that had a really cool keyboard solo. Vocally, he was similar to Jamie Cullum in terms of tone and I could definitely see him opening up on a bill for someone quite high-profile.
Now I had seen Slim Chance for the first time about a month ago when they opened Leadbelly Fest at The Royal Albert Hall in London. I really enjoyed the set and felt they were the perfect act to open the event. So you can imagine I was very happy that they were on the Songbird Stage at Cornbury Festival. The key point of Slim Chance is the loving nurturing of the late Ronnie Lane’s esteemed songbook..very English, very poignant, very warm. Local hero down South Mr Steve Simpson plays guitar and violin with great attack and tone, Charlie Hart handles violin and keyboards. The other Keys man is none other than the mighty Geraint Watkins. ( I once compered a show where Watkins played keys for Pretenders /McCartney guitar ace Robbie McIntosh AND with TheWho’s Pino Paladino on bass….They did ‘Use Me’ …wow – Pete)
It was worth being there just to hear ‘Debris’, let alone ‘Oooh La La’…
Trevor Horn Band with special guest Seal
I was not at all sure what to expect from Trevor Horn and his band – I am not a fan of Frankie Goes To Hollywood BUT the amusing and bespectacled bassist and singer knows everyone of worth on the music scene…cue Geoff Downes AND Lol Crème – yes, of 10CC! – on guitar and vocal. Three keyboard players may seem excessive but they all seemed to be busy on their parts. Two first-class female backing singers were brought upfront for a splendid take on Horn-produced TATU hit ‘All The Things’ and the audience lapped it up. With his Buggles hits neatly performed, Trevor hit us with a drily introduced guest spot from that shy retiring drummer from The Police, Stewart Copeland. He vigorously pumped his way through a fine ‘Message In A Bottle’, with one of the guitar players taking the vocal and easily outshining Sting. More was to come – a bounce through ‘Rubber Bullets’, 10CC’s pisstake of The Beach Boys. Again the crowd roared their approval. To ice the cake and just in from LA, none other than Seal appeared and tore into ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, breathtaking delivery and powerful voice. He has great stage presence and when he did ‘Kiss From A Rose’ it really did sound like summer afternoon manna. To top it off the group backed him on ‘I’m Not In Love’! Like a perfect round of golf, this reached the eighteenth with nothing but approval from those present. Hard to follow!
Dave Hanson Band
Once of The Dunwells, Dave Hanson now has his own four-piece group, mixing in cool funk, stone blues, country rock and other elementals – all based around two distinctly different guitar styles. Storyville comes to mind and Hanson owns up to them being an inspiration. The songs are mainly his own and very good they are too – some catchy, some melodic, all put over with a sly punch and peppered with soul-inflected solos. The group is a stellar vehicle for the latest numbers and for something fresh in the blues-rock field, you really ought to experience this band for yourself. The female bassist and male drummer have just the right amount of power and grace to make each number distinctive.
Over in the laidback Caffé Nero tent, songwriter Holly Lerski was showcasing her new release ‘The Wooden Horse’. Playing full and three-quarter acoustic guitars, her band included a guitarist (a couple of inclusions could have used a 12-string) plus a subtle drummer and stand-up bass. As organic as it gets, entirely suitable for her material. Gentle music can still have bite –as proved by the excellent London duo Black Scar – and the winsome ‘Inkblot’ and pensive but catchy ‘building You The Ark’ hit home. ‘Oh Atoms, Oh Molecules’ combined originality with great melody and ‘Pudding Pie’ would make a pretty good Christmas single. Relaxed but entertaining and I’m sure that’s what she’s aiming for.
Staxs with Joss Stone
As soon as STAXs started playing, I was convinced that the guitar man was the punchy and fluid Tony Remy… turns out it was! With backing singers, a fruity horn section, grinding bass, crisp drums/percussion all glued together with Hammond and Fender Rhodes, this soul/RnB outfit need a great singer.
Noel McCoy is that man and he roars through the ZZ Top opener and sails over ‘Take Me To The River’. Fired and fiery, he makes the best of this uber-pro band’s work. It’s like being hit or hosed with colours. To ice the cake, they bring on their guest… none other than Joss Stone. The growing crowd shout their approval and get in the groove. Stone gives us ‘Another Piece of My Heart’ and a rocking ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ in her three-song set. A genuine highlight in a day packed with gems.
Before watching Roger Hodgson I walked over to The Riverside Stage as I heard a really funky sound and a large crowd. A large band with two singers, electric guitar, drums, bass and a four-piece horn section were making the crowd dance with their versions of hit songs and soul classics. When they went into Rudimental’s ‘Not Giving In’ you could not keep still. Enthusiasm and skill !
Former Supertramp frontman Hodgson is easy-going, friendly, crowd-friendly and very very musical. Either on the guitar or keys, he delivers hit after hit. Even the ones I don’t much like such as ‘Dreamer’ were hard to resist. His group are ace players and wrapped every number up really well. His hippie approach and manner did suit the setting and he had his fans enraptured throughout. Highlights for me were ‘School’ , also ‘Lady’. A great addition to the fare.
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Selling out venues wherever she goes and in the wake of a fine tur with guitar legend Robin Trower, Taylor wins crowds over with her smoky voice and fluid guitar. When she hits home with Frankie Miller’s ‘Jealousy’ the audience just bathes in the soulfulness of it all. We have on our site plenty of JST items and a new piece due, so dive around and find those bits, please if you are a fan or just curious. Joe Bonamassa thinks Joanne is The Business.
There are a couple of small things Cornbury could do better – for example there ought to be a press tent with wifi where reports could be filed and images transmitted. But as a family-friendly event for the sort of people who go to gigs, buy records and apparel this pretty much rises above all criticism and gives value for money.
Pete Sargeant and Glenn Sargeant
(Thank you to festival director Hugh Phillimore for taking part in the interview and for his hospitality, Dee and Sara at Borkowski PR, Kathryn Custance for all of her support and the Cornbury images and Sam Scott at Sound Advice (UK) for making this possible and allowing us to come and review the festival, Kieran White for all of his hard work on the website, all of the staff at Cornbury Festival who helped the crowds and looked after everyone during the weekend and all of the staff and baristas at The Caffé Nero Stage.)
For more information and for tickets for Cornbury Festival 2016 visit: http://www.cornburyfestival.com/
Finally, a photo gallery of the festival will be added to this review soon! Stay posted!