We’ve been too busy having fun to write in the blog, but here’s a quick summary of the best of the rest of the festival. The surprise hit were the Pierce Brothers, twins from Australia. One plays guitar, and the other plays didgeridoo, harmonica, and a minimal drum kit, which includes using his brother’s long-suffering guitar as a drum. They started out busking on the streets of Melbourne, and this was the last gig of three months in Europe, traveling and living in a van, and playing clubs and festivals (as well as some busking). The fifteen thousand audience at Cropredy was the biggest gig they had ever played, and it took the crowd a little while to go from, “What the heck is this?” to, “Hey, these guys are hot!” By the time they were doing their encore, one of them was almost in tears, they were so overjoyed by the audience response, and they sold out of EPs in the signing tent afterwards, so at least they don’t have to haul any of those back to Oz.
Part of the Cropredy tradition is that Richard Digance (pron DIE-jance) is always the opening act at noon on Saturday and that he always closes by getting the whole audience to morris dance, or at least wave white hankies in different directions. We had been briefed on this in advance and had brought the necessary linens along. Thanks to BBC Oxford we can see what it looks like when fifteen thousand people are all waving hankies at the same time.
Everyone should sing Streets of London along with Ralph McTell at least once in their life. He’s seventy one, and has been singing that song for nearly fifty years now, but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down, so you still have a chance. He also sang a narrowboat song (called Barges because it scans better) which has been a favorite of mine since I first heard it on the radio forty years ago or more. I was delighted to discover that it was written about the stretch of the Oxford canal that we are on right now. Then there was Peppers and Tomatoes, a gut wrenching song that left me too disturbed to applaud right away.
Steeleye Span’s Bedlam Boys, a cheery ballad about the inmates of London’s historic lunatic asylum now has a mad guy ranting in the middle of it. All Around My Hat is another great sing along. The song is about someone who wears green willow on her hat to remember her absent lover. The tradition of wearing a token for a missing loved one continued to the American Civil War, when yellow ribbons rather than green willow were used, and that tradition gave rise to the song Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.
Brìghde Chaimbeul (pronounced something like Bridge-uh Campbell) was the winner of a BBC competition for young fold musicians. She is from the Isle of Skye and plays the bellows bagpipes, accompanied by a harpist and a guitar player. She played mostly traditional tunes from Scotland and Scandinavia, and the trio had a really delightful sound. She is seventeen years old, and seemed a bit nervous at first, but near the end of the set she relaxed and even managed to smile. I wonder if using the gaelic spelling for Campbell makes it easier to get hotel reservations? The scots have a long memory. In 1692 in Glencoe, the Campbells massacred the McDonalds after accepting hospitality from them. A plain old fashioned massacre would have been just hunky dory, but a massacre after accepting hospitality was an outrage, and it’s been hard to get a hotel reservation in the Highlands if your name is Campbell ever since. Well, that was true when I was a kid. Someone enterprising academic might like to do a comparison shopping on Air BnB in the Highlands, and see if it is still the case.
The Demon Barbers XL had almost as many dancers as musicians. The mostly traditional music was accompanied by traditional English dance: clogging, morris dancing, hip hop… OK, OK, hip hop is not a traditional English dance form yet, but it is more interesting than morris dancing. To quote an old radio show
What’s that over there?
That’s Morris dancing.
Ah, yes, we’re very worried about Morris.