I’ve left writing my review of this incredible event longer than I normally would as I wanted to collect my thoughts about exactly what I witnessed, what I was part of, what made this fabulous finale, well, fabulous.
Cornbury Musical Festival started way back in 2004 and has been bewitching its faithful fans ever since. I’m sad to say this was my first and, unless It rises like a Phoenix in years to come , my last, and that will be a source of constant regret. However, I took my whole family along and it will always be remembered as my eight year olds first festival; what a great memory for him and us. Cornbury is the brainchild of organiser Hugh Phillimore who has constructed an event of such universal appeal that it’s hard to think of its equal. Great music from performers new and established, great entertainment for young and old and great food and drink.
This year’s headliners were Kaiser Chiefs, Bryan Adams, and Jools Holland & his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, but they were joined by a plethora of talent from many different genres. Set over three main stages, the festival begins on Friday and my first job was to catch up with the up and coming Pete Gardiner who had been asked to perform at local radio station Jack FM’s pop-up stage. Jack are big supporters of home grown talent and so it’s no surprise they wanted Pete. He not only brought his usual wonderful lyrics to Cornbury but also debuted a new song ‘Kiss My Lover’ that he has written about the recent terrorist attacks in London, Manchester and Paris. A stirring upbeat song about appreciation of the little things in a world of random violence.
First up for me on the main stage was Jack Savoretti, a singer that I have desperately tried to see countless times before but have never been quick enough to beat his faithful fans to tickets. Jack has graced the Cornbury stage before in 2013 and was so impressed with the area that he bought a house there. This is an artist that has sold out a world tour and his breakthrough album ‘Written In Scars’ is a must have in any music collection. Jack performed his songs with the raw emotion and Joe Cocker like delivery that has amassed a huge fan base and really set the bar for the rest of the weekend. I’m not sure I’ll see many live performances this year to match this one in pure artistry and emotion. Stunning!
Next up for me was Kaiser Chiefs, a band I’ve long wanted to see live just to witness first hand the energy of their performance. I was not disappointed as Ricky Wilson barely stood still for the whole set as he ran through a back catalogue which all felt like old friends. He lit up Friday night with his performance and everyone left feeling exhausted just from watching him.
The whole weekend was blessed with incredible weather and proved that even the Gods were onside to make this finale as fabulous as could be. Saturday started with a visit to the breakfast tent to take advantage of the incredible food laid on by sponsor Dorset Cereals and once fully fuelled a wander back into the festival area. There really was something for everyone here, ranging from dressing up areas to an incredible kids area, from a teenager tent to a funfair, from food stalls to a pop-up Waitrose. It would be impossible to have been bored here even if you had ignored the music and just had a weekend enjoying the atmosphere and spectacle of the whole thing. It really was the perfect English picnic party with a great soundtrack thrown in.
Music wise, I started the day with a new discovery and then a blast from the past, firstly watching band Victoria give an excellent performance on the main stage which had everyone singing and clapping along and then catching a surprise performance from Owen Paul, famous for 80’s classic ‘My Favourite Waste of Time’, sing live for Jack FM. This diversity sums up the way Cornbury can appeal to and satisfy everyone.
Then it was off to see one of the acts I’d been looking forward to seeing again. Ward Thomas are the first ever UK Country act to hit the UK album charts at number 1 with their CD ‘Cartwheels’, and this was their second Cornbury. I last saw them at the Country 2 Country festival at the 02 earlier in the year. They didn’t disappoint then or now as they revelled in the open air and sunshine of Cornbury to prove that we really need an open air Country music festival in the UK. The 22 year old twins look like they are here to stay and received an excellent reception from young and old.
Next it was another favourite of mine as Tom Chaplin took to the stage to sing hits from his debut solo album ‘The Wave’ and also from his Keane days. It was a huge high point of the day and only fitting that as his stunning voice soared to the heavens, so did a myriad of hot air balloons to fill the sky with colour. It was so good to see Tom continuing his journey of recovery amongst old friends at Cornbury.
Scouting for Girls were keen to play the big finale and it seemed that every young person filled the area around the Songbird stage to see this incredibly talented band play hit after hit as well as an outstanding Bon Jovi cover. It was probably the most boisterous I saw the crowd over the entire weekend!
Then it was time for legend Bryan Adams as he took to the main stage and produced a performance of such flawless quality that he turned back the years. The last time I saw Bryan perform it was back in the early 90’s at Wembley Stadium and it was almost impossible to believe that so many years had passed, such was his prowess. A wonderful highlight was the moment he brought on Twinnie to help him sing ‘It’s Only Love’; according to Bryan he heard her sing at the Cafe Nero Image Sound-Stage and invited her to duet. One wonders if it’s sunk in for Twinnie even now! Hit after hit from Bryan and his very tight band proved once again his standing as a bona fide rock legend. What a way to finish Saturday for the fabulous finale.
Sunday brought mixed emotions as another beautifully hot day dawned across the massed tents of the festival goers. Excitement for another day tinged with sadness that this really was the last Cornbury Sunday. The day brought a wonderful moment of fortune. My singer songwriter son Max has been a long time admirer of a band called The King’s Parade and we were lucky enough to catch them by pure coincidence playing an extended set for Jack FM. It was a great treat to hear this excellent band and an added bonus for Max who got to meet the band and chat. They really are a name to watch for the future.
Then it was a moment of pure indulgence for me. I have loved Ultravox since I was a boy and have seen them several times in the past. The chance to see lead singer Midge Ure perform with the superb India Electric Company singing solo material and beautiful acoustic versions of Ultravox hits, together with ‘ Fade To Grey’, a song he wrote for his friend Steve Strange and Visage, was a once in a lifetime one. Cornbury was treated not only to the immaculate ‘Vienna’, but to a version of ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’ that made the hairs on the back of collective necks stand up. Stunning, with Midge’s incredible vocals still in fine shape!
Imelda May has a huge connection to Cornbury, it’s in her veins. She’s played here seven times, been managed by organiser Hugh and was visibly moved by this being her last. She has just released the incredible ‘Life. Love. Flesh. Blood’ and gave a performance of such passion that it will be impossible to forget. Her voice is capable of virtually any genre as she moved between heart rending intimacy, social commentary and gutsy rock. She left the faithful crowd begging for more and proved why she really is one of the best.
The evening finished with two mainstays of British music. Firstly, Chrissie Hynde and her Pretenders stripped back the years and won over many new young fans as they made a mockery of passing years singing not only classics from their back catalogue but also tracks from 2016’s ‘Alone’. Then came the big finale with Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. He played the first Cornbury and is a hero of organiser Hugh. His easy wit and superlative piano playing lit up the night. He was joined by the wonderful Ruby Turner, Chris Difford from Squeeze, and Louise Marshall. He surrounds himself with musicians of such a high standard that I’d have to double the length of this review to cover them all but it was a particular pleasure to see one of my favourites light up the stage with her lovely vocals. I’ve followed and supported Beth Rowley since seeing her play the Innocent Festival last year and it seemed apt that she should be present as this wonderful festival drew to a close.
The night ended with a breathtaking firework display watched in wonder as everyone reflected on the weekend at Cornbury. I’m sure there may have been a tear or two shed as it sunk in that this would be the last time. I said at the beginning that I’d delayed my writing to let this fact resonate. I wanted to pay this institution the respect of not rushing. I hope and pray that if Hugh reads this he may decide that he has a few more in him; if the reaction of artists and fans alike to what this man has achieved is anything to go by, whatever he decides, he has changed the face of the thoroughly British music festival and I, like all the Cornbury fans, pay homage.