Cornbury Music Festival 2018

Friday 13th July 2018 – Sunday 15th July 2018

The Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

Supplied By PR

A phoenix-style return to love for 2018 – and beyond – found us Cornbury fans trekking back to the middle of nowhere (aka the Tews) for more music and entertainment . And some winceworthy ‘comedy’..It’s quite Ok driving around this area in the day and we found the signposting somewhat better this year. At night, driving around is hideous, for a stranger to the area. Whatever the expenditure on facilities in this neck of the woods, it sure ain’t going on lighting!

Friday 13th July

Arriving on site we heard the dulcet tones of Iranian singer-songwriter Irit performing an early Friday afternoon set on the Songbird Stage. Taking the audience through several songs from her debut album ‘Hello’ including the hip-shaking ‘Just Because’ and ‘These Shoes.’ She has embraced the UK audience over the past six months’ with a short headline tour at the beginning of 2018 which was swiftly followed with a special guest slot on Lisa Stansfield’s Spring UK Tour that saw Irit playing prestigious venues such as the Palladium Theatre in London, United Kingdom. Irit’s upbeat songs were the perfect way to start a hot day at Cornbury.

As 4.30pm approached a sea of people wandered over from the Pleasant Valley Stage (Main Stage) to catch rising country artist Lukas Nelson And The Promise of The Real. Cornbury was the last show of their short but sweet run of July 2018 UK gigs which included a sold-out headline set at The Garage, London, United Kingdom and an appearance at a festival in Bristol.

Unfortunately, the set was hit with a slight technical fault which meant that the band came onstage at 16.50. Wearing a brown hat, Nelson hit us straight away with ‘Entirely Different Stars’ and he slowly allowed the song to build with The Promise Of The Real coming in at the perfect moment.

As he played this helicopter flying effect poured out of the electric guitar to give it this futuristic feel. ‘Ain’t’ Gonna Die Alone’ is a track taken from Lukas’s self-titled debut album and the band let loose with Jesse Grey Siebenberg (keyboards) playing a blistering harmonica solo thus giving the track some depth.

Each member of POTR embarked on a solo but they are all professional enough to not stray too far away from the overall structure of the song and keep everything chugging along nicely.

Interestingly, the guitar on ‘Fool Me Once’ reminded me at times of T Rex’s 1971 hit ‘Get It On’ whilst the emotional ‘Forget About Georgia’ was a live highlight with the audience swaying to the music.

Closing with the new and as yet unrecorded ‘Build A Garden’ the crowd absorbed the track’s important message. Lukas Nelson and POTR were a clever booking by Cornbury to bring some highly skilled country rock to the masses and I’m sure that they would be a welcome return for the Cornbury in future years on the Pleasant Valley Stage.

Zucchero the Italian superstar ha a pretty slick gear set-up team and a host of top-notch musicians in his touring band, including king of the keyboards Brian Auger! Every style of music and atmosphere is possible with this lineup, the main man remains an amiable ringmaster and tuneful vocalist, playing guitar every now and again. He nodded to his late friend and collaborator Luciano Pavarotti, played his international hits and varied the moods with deft choices on material. Doug Pettibone shone on dobro, banjo, mandolin, steel and electric guitar, whilst the guitar pairing of Kat and Mario complemented each other with grace and aplomb. Zucchero’s humility and love of his band make him a fabulous choice for festivals, indeed the crew shot off to Holland after their set, to headline a festival there. A hard act to follow.

Saturday 14th July

Day two of the Cornbury Music Festival and unlike other festivals who have struggled with the gender-balance issue related to lineups, Cornbury has factored that in when booking the artists for 2018 and made the entire Saturday a female affair.

That’s quite a contrast to other festivals, where female artists don’t get much of a look-in. At Cornbury, being entertaining seems more important than youth or trendiness. Hence the likes of Deacon Blue get a keen reception. It helps to have regular signings at The Merchandise Tent.

The Songbird Stage came to life at 11.30 in the morning with Country Pop trio The Adelaides from the Midlands. The track ‘Leave’ allows their harmony skills to flourish as the male three piece band backing the Adelaides consisting of electric guitar, bass and drums took care of business. Paris, Abi and Alicia then performed an attention-grabbing blend of Beyoncé and Dolly Parton that perhaps on paper shouldn’t have worked but the packed crowd were clapping along enthusiastically. The Adelaides have voices that are very easy on the ear and just like their comtempories Ward Thomas when they were released their debut album, they have a bright future ahead of them.

I think Glenn likes The Adelaides. We got to speak to two of them later.

Southern Avenue are a band whose album I had reviewed and we were anxious to catch them. On the main stage they were forceful, funky, springheeled and went over well. That lass can sing. Her sister pounds the drums. A great festival choice and deserving of a return.

PP Arnold has such a history and such a great roaring voice that it is an honour to catch her show. In which she levitates River Deep, Mountain High a song she performed as an Ikette. Pat also has connections with The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees (To Love Somebody was a treat) and Cat Stevens and more and has a deep well of material to draw from. Angel Of The Morning sounded beautiful, First Cut Is The Deepest still aches, Understanding was rocked up. Lively, charming and tuneful, PP ruled that stage, to a huge crowd.

Pixie Lott took to the Pleasant Valley Stage and kicked off proceedings with her breakthrough 2009 single ‘Mama Do’ , radio hit ‘All About Tonight’ and a mashup of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band ‘Blinded By The Light’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ amongst others. A well-executed set filled with radio hits and quirky covers – exactly what the crowd wanted.

Ten Millennia sound better each time you encounter them. A new album due soon. Cool vocals and piano, improving songs, They will make it big, I venture.

Meantime the Café Nero tent was again deservedly busy throughout the weekend with impressive acts like Ilona with Tony Moore and Pablo and team creating a welcoming atmosphere and good quality sound. You couldn’t get into the place when Albert Lee and Peter Asher teamed up for a set. Songs and stories galore and they kindly chatted to Glenn and me afterwards.

At 9.30pm the main stage lit up as thousands of people congregated for Saturday night headliner Alanis Morrisette who was at Cornbury for a UK Festival exclusive performance. The intro music was

Morrisette’s own ‘Mercy’ and the band all dressed in black took their positions. Harmonica then rings out with Alanis walking out to loud cheers as she kicks off with ‘All I Really Want’ from her 1995 record ‘Jagged Little Pill.’

Sporting a shorter haircut, Morrisette alternated between different instruments including a black sparkling electric guitar and the festival crowd was with her every step of the way.

Her band are incredibly funky on ’21 Things I Want In A Lover’ with purposeful drums. Unfortunately the sound was slightly patchy during her set but they powered through rattling through a setlist which included ‘Right Through You’, ‘Hand In My Pocket’ and the immensely popular ‘Ironic.’

With a back catalogue that is popular worldwide and such a stellar live band, Alanis Morrisette is a sensible festival booking for Cornbury on its all-female artist day. However, as much as I appreciated the musicianship onstage I’m unable to emotionally connect with the songs whereas this might have been possible with Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt for example.

Ms Morisette should not be allowed near a harmonica.

Sunday 15th July

We had reached Sunday at Cornbury Music Festival and once again the Sun Gods came out in full force as families across the sight hunted for shade across the festival site. The Mighty John Street Ska Orchestra opened the Pleasant Valley Stage at noon with their brand of infectious live ska music that got the crowd moving on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

A curious ‘free drinking water’ deal entailed buying a 6 quid pot. Hmm

Just in passing, the acts on The Riverside Stage seemed to be of a higher standard than in previous years. More purposeful, perhaps. Certainly worthwhile. The sound was good and the acts communicated well, be it goth, ska, indie or whatever

Andy Fairweather Low and his band rocked it for a large audience

Catherine McGrath is releasing her debut album ‘Talk of This Town’ towards the end of July and is supporting the record with appearances at a series of music festivals including Cornbury. ‘Hell Would Have To Freeze Over’ had this clear country lead vocal that could be heard all around the festival. ‘Lost In The Middle’ is a clever song about how when you put your headphones on you just got lost in the middle of a country song and is a track that connects with people.

McGrath has been compared to early Taylor Swift so I wasn’t overly surprised that she opted for ‘Blank Space’ in her set next. Personally, I would’ve perhaps gone for a Lady Antebellum number as I think her voice would suit ‘Bartender’ for example.

The Songbird Stage went into action for Mari Wilson and The Wilsations but the end of McGrath’s set crossed over slightly with the beginning of Wilson’s set. Mari treated fans to a collection of popular tunes including ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’ and ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’.

A brief foray to the Comedy Tent found us open-mouthed at a chap who helped write The Vicar Of Dibley – comedy ? – performed a whole routine on such cheery topics as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, suicide clinics, memory loss and other debilitating conditions. It was as awful as it sounds. We crept away, Glenn convinced it was a set-up job by me….

Next on The Pleasant Valley Stage was American singer-songwriter Lissie who at the age of just 35 has previously toured as the opening act for Lenny Kravitz, had her music featured on television shows and adverts, she has worked with Robbie Williams and A-Ha , recorded a live album at the gorgeous Union Chapel in London and released her fourth studio album ‘Castles’ in March this year.

The song tempos and instrumentation sounded like Fleetwood Mac with ‘Sleepwalking’ taken from her ‘Back To Forever’ record being the highlight for me.

Conversations with the amiable Chris Simmonds, striking Blair Jollands, alluring Mari Wilson, intriguing Glen Matlock and gorgeous P P Arnold proved enlightening . They all care about what they are doing and their old and potential fans benefit.

If Cornbury is known for one thing it is consistency. Quality artists, a pleasant atmosphere and a stunning location every year. The Sunday teatime Staks set with a special guest is no exception having been a permanent fixture at the festival since 2004. Guests in previous years have included Jack Bruce, Beverley Knight, Joss Stone and Mica Paris but 2018 saw that privilege given to American Eli Paperboy Reed.

What is important about Staks is that they do complete justice to the material and that is proven as they open with ‘Vehicle’ by The Ides of March and Noel McKoy (Lead Vocals) has such a smooth voice as the horn section consisting of Kevin Robinson (Trumpet), Andy Ross (Saxophone), Lucy Morris (Saxophone) and Tim Maguire (Saxophone) play out with such vigour.

Bobby Blue Bland’s ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City’ is a hugely popular number having been covered by Whitesnake and it was a huge commercial hit for them. The electric guitar from Tony Remy was not flashy but soulful and helped make the songs pop.

Then slinging a grand black electric guitar over his shoulder Eli Paperboy Reed walked on in a black suit and slicked back hair looking like a 1950s stockbroker. Reed’s voice seemed quite high on Eddie Floyd’s ‘I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)’ whilst the passionate baritone saxophone solo was really quiet from where I was standing.

Overall, I can’t fault them as musicians as they are some of the tightest live and session musicians in the country but unlike previous years it seemed like they didn’t t really do anything different with the songs other than just play the original sequences. For 2019 I would like to suggest the American artist Mayer Hawthorne for the Staks special guest.

Marc Cohn proved to be a great conversationalist as well as singer-songwriter- musician-comedian, happily explaining the background to one of his songs that I perform myself. I admire the fact that his songs can convey his own thoughts and dilemmas with heart and style, something I would not attempt. Cohn has experienced much – some things life-threatening – so to have him here was wonderful. His later set on the Songbird Stage with his percussionist colleague was tough, considered, funny and absorbing and he got a fine reception from all. Silver Thunderbird was a big favourite and sounded full of life and nostalgia.

SO…a weekend free of the fairytales of Ed Sheeran, the static bleating of Liam Gallagher, the rapid rap complaining of Eminem and his ilk. Middle Of The Road much of the bill may be, however nobody has to pay up first to the Wicked Gnome Of The West and THEN find out who is playing! On a personal note I missed the Waitrose facility and the Bon Maman stand, it wasn’t easy to find sustenance at moderate outlay.

On future bookings I would suggest the return of Jon Allen, perhaps Steppenwolf, Hall & Oates, Steve Miller, Leo Sayer, Bonnie Tyler …or America?

Glenn Sargeant & Pete Sargeant (Parts in Italics)


(A big thank you to Sacha, Rosalia and of course Hugh)

Our full conversation with the terrific Zucchero can be found here:

Our Southern Avenue album piece is here:

You can read all of our Cornbury articles here:

Details of ticket and lineup information for Cornbury Music Festival 2019 will be announced in due course. 

For more information visit the festival’s official website here: