With its highly civilised, family-friendly vibe, with a tent selling home-made cake, and general level of cleanliness, Glastonbury or Reading it isn’t. (There was even a pop-up Waitrose, for goodness’ sake.) But Cornbury, the summer music festival affectionately dubbed Poshstock, that’s now in its 13th year, offers a different type of eclectic experience that its fans adore.
Orlando Seale, who performed with The Swell on the Saturday afternoon, hit the nail on the head when he told the crowd: “It’s like a big fete that just happens to have A-list headliners.”
This year nearly 20,000 music lovers rocked up to Great Tew Park near Oxfordshire’s Chipping Norton between 8th – 10th July for a weekend packed with fun and sounds, and were additionally rewarded with two days of almost uninterrupted sunshine and blue skies. And, of course, this celebration of live music in different forms takes place against the gorgeous backdrop of the delightful Oxfordshire countryside, with the festival site offering lovely views across rolling fields.
The attractions: music and more
There are three main music stages, and one of the great things about Cornbury is that the acts do not overlap. So, you can easily catch every band you want to see, while the line-up is varied enough to cater for most tastes.
And it wasn’t entirely about the bands – with plenty of kids’ activities (including a funfair) and comedy as part of the weekend. Comic, Dane Baptiste from South London, had the throng in stitches as he made Excel spreadsheets part of his routine, while other comedians included Tom Ward, reminiscing about the 1980s, and Nish Kumar, who takes on the persona of a country gentleman to explore issues around race.
Not only that but there was an incredible range of food choices, too, from the usual burgers to Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Indian options.
The real McCoy Music
Of course, it was the music that people came for above all, and which led one reviewer to describe the line-up as the festival’s best yet. It was a mixed bill of fare, including a string of famous names such as Corinne Bailey Rae, Bryan Ferry, the Lighthouse Family, James Morrison, 1960s icons The Zombies, Seal and Lemar.
Predictable? Too like previous years? Maybe, but the crowd loved it all the same.
The Friday evening included jazz sensation and all-round showman, Jamie Cullum, whose set featured a cover of Uptown Funk. But it was also worth catching the five-piece modern folk group from Liverpool, The Hummingbirds, giving their original take on Americana folk music of the 1960s and 1970s, with a healthy dose of Merseybeat thrown in for good measure. Emerging favourites, The Dunwells, the pop rock band from Leeds were greatly appreciated. During the early Friday afternoon, one could even catch Dolly Parton’s sister, Stella, who does covers of the Smoky Mountain Songbird’s hits, but is an established artist in her own right.
The second day included Gabrielle Aplin, known for the John Lewis ad song The Power of Love. This gorgeous performer won over whole legions of new fans at Cornbury.
All Saints, a girl band that actually can sing, also performed. Their new music, including War and One Strike, went down a storm with the Cornbury crowd. They nailed their dance routines as well.
Saturday saw Corinne Bailey Rae’s wonderful set, living legend Bryan Ferry, his voice perhaps fading slightly these days, and American multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones, on the Songbird stage in the afternoon. Booker T Jones’ son offered support on guitar, and, of course, they played Green Onions!
Sunday was time for The Shires, probably Britain’s most successful country band, who gave a standout performance on the Pleasant Valley Stage. On the main stage, James Morrison seemed the ideal fit for a festival like Cornbury, combining an upbeat persona with his darker than usual newer music.
Kelvin Jones, who won Newcomer of the Year in the Urban Music Awards, brought his guitar riffs and emotional lyrics to Cornbury before Seal closed the Main Stage. Killer and Crazy were clear highlights of this charismatic star’s set, but he also gave the adoring audience a cover of Mad World by Tears for Fears.
Throughout the weekend there were plenty of lesser known acts as well as the big names. This included The Pierce Brothers, a folk duo from Melbourne,, described (rightly) by Cornbury organiser Hugh Phillimore, as ‘something rather special’. When they opened the main stage on the Sunday, they had flown across the world to do so. Their incredible range of instruments included an accordion, digeridoo, guitars, drums and shakers as well as their own voices. Oh, and they’re not bad at dancing, either!
They joined other new acts in the line-up, including the Orlando Seale and The Swell, who took to the Riverside stage to offer a unique blend of electronica and folk, not to mention some pretty ironic lyrics. But perhaps the greatest delight was the sheer pleasure Seale clearly took in performing and in being part of the festival.
And it wasn’t just on stage that you could spot well-known people – among the throng were the likes of actor and UK TV presenter Angus Deayton, fellow broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson (Top Gear) and comedian Dom Joly (Trigger Happy TV).
All in all, 2016 was another great year for the increasingly popular Cornbury Festival, giving audiences the chance to hear some of their favourite music while introducing them to some often-surprising new musical delights and acts at the same time.