Consistently ranked among the best guitarists in the world, Richard Thompson is a man of intricately finger-picked music and lengthy flights of fancy... but few words.

However, when it comes to describing the festival his old band Fairport Convention have run in the village of Cropredy for the past 40 years, there is no hiding his enthusiasm.

“It’s always good to be at Cropredy,” says the Ivor Novello award-winning singer-songwriter. “It’s such a well-run festival, in a good location with a lot of like-minded people. The crowds are mellow. Some good weather would make it truly magical!”

He adds: “It’s a celebration of my old band, and an acknowledgement of a style of music that doesn’t always hit the mainstream, but is clearly popular.”

The festival – officially named Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, but known simply as Cropredy to its fans (or just Fairport to locals) – is, for many a highlight of the summer.

The festival has grown organically, from a Fairport gig on a village lawn in 1976 – which they did after opening for Led Zeppelin at Knebworth the same day – to the festival as we know it, in 1979, and on to today’s large gathering which regularly attracts 20,000 people.

Richard, who was in the original, and seminal, line-up of Fairport Convention, has been a regular visitor to its festival.

The event begins today and features an opening acoustic set by Fairport, as well as sets by gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello and The Waterboys.

The festival culminates on Saturday with the traditional extended set by Fairport Convention and friends, preceded by folk star Martin Simpson and Martin Barre playing the music of Jethro Tull.

Richard has been a part of Fairport Convention since the very beginning, jamming along as a teenager with Ashley Hutchings, drummer Shaun Frater and Simon Nicol at Simon’s north London home, Fairport, from which they took their name. Incidentally, Ray Davies grew up on the same Muswell Hill street.

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By electrifying English roots music, the collective invented folk-rock and put indigenous English music on the map, among a sea of American-influenced pop.

Fusing English folk music with rock, they went on to define a a new musical style, scoring incredible success. The band’s fourth album, 1969’s Liege & Lief – featuring Tam Lin, Matty Groves and Richard’s Farewell, Farewell and Crazy Man Michael – is regarded as one of the most influential folk records of all time. It remained in the charts for 15 weeks.

Their contribution to rock is immeasurable, and through numerous line-ups their reputation has only grown.

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The band’s current incarnation of Simon, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie and Gerry Conway are proud of the band’s back record, with the favourites still being the classics on which Richard performed.

“Fairport formed me,” says Richard, who left the band in 1971. “It also formed my musical style and tastes.

“My direction hasn’t detoured too much since I left the band.

Richard went on to find further fame with the likes of I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (with then-wife Linda), 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Tear Stained Letter and Beeswing.

So how does he look back on the Fairport years?

“It was intense,” he says. “Such a lot happened in a short space of time. I don’t really know how we did it, but we were young, and it never seemed like we were overworked. It was just loads of fun.”

And the highlights? “Too many to mention,” he says.

Of course there were also low points, but again, he is dismissive. “Too few to mention,” he adds.

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But he is in no doubt about the band’s legacy. “It impacted a corner of the music scene,” he says.

“Musicians in many countries saw what we did with modernising our own tradition and followed suit with their own culture – bands in Spain, Sweden, Holland and the US.

“It had a huge impact on the way traditional music was viewed in the UK. There was no going back. But we never thought ahead. It was a joy to play as long as we could, but we had no expectation of a career.”

And what about his own contribution: as one of the finest guitarists in the world, can he share any secrets to good playing?

“I am anything but that,” he says modestly.

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“I’m a guitar student, and try to learn every time I pick up the instrument. The secrets to good playing are to learn the fundamentals and practise them constantly, and try to be an original.

“The thing that gives me most satisfaction musically, is to feel that a song has communicated some emotion to the audience.”

Now 70, Richard is celebrating the milestone by heading to the Royal Albert Hall on September 30 – the first time in 23 years.

How does it feel to be celebrating his 70th?

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“Weird and surreal,” he says. “Like it must be happening to someone else.”

Of what is he most proud? “My children,” he says succinctly, referring to musicians Teddy and Kami Thompson.

And if he could go back and change one thing?

“I would have started voice lessons at age 16,” he answers.

So, finally what can we expect from him at Cropredy tomorrow? “I’ll play acoustic for 45 minutes, then get the Fairport lads up for another 45, and we’ll run through some classics.

“I have to get to Dublin for a show the next day, though, so my time will be limited!”

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention runs from today until Saturday night at Cropredy, near Banbury. Tickets from fairportconvention.com

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FAIRPORT'S CROPREDY CONVENTION: LINE-UP

Thursday

The Waterboys

Gogol Bordello

Tors

Lil Jim

Fairport Convention Acoustic

Friday

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls

Richard Thompson (with Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol & Dave Pegg)

Seth Lakeman

Caravan

Wildwood Kin

Wilson & Wakeman

Will Pound and Eddy Jay

The 4 Of Us

Saturday 10 August 2019

Fairport Convention and Friends

Martin Simpson

Martin Barre Band plays 50 Years of Jethro Tull

Zal Cleminson’s /sin’dogs/

Tide Lines

Daphne’s Flight

Richard Digance

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CROPREDY: A FESTIVAL, BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT

Cropredy Festival is more than just a festival – it is a gathering of the clans. At one time a vehicle for Fairport Convention and its assorted current and former members, the three-day gathering, which starts today, is far more diverse – with the likes of Gogol Bordello sharing the bill with a former member of Jethro Tull, prog-rockers Caravan and country act Wildwood Kin.

Despite claims to the contrary, the festival is still, on the whole, folk and veteran-rock-based. Dance music, indie and alternative-rock, pop, metal, jazz and world music are still notably absent. Singer-songwriters rooted in the folk-ish tradition - even rocky ones like Frank Turner - are the closest you'll get to mainstream festival fare.

A creature of habit, Cropredy has resisted the temptation to increase the number of stages from, er, one.

Even stolid, middle-class ultra-safe Cornbury has four (five if you include the comedy stage), while Wilderness's stages are well into double figures.

Cropredy organisers insist this is to protect the trade at those pubs hosting fringe sessions in the neighbouring village, which is jolly decent of them. However, the truth is probably more to do with not wishing to disrupt a lazy weekend for its legions of sedentary deckchair-dwelling, cool-box, tankard and umbrella-toting regulars – many of whom migrate to the very same spot on that hallowed hillside, within sight of the factory chimneys of Banbury, every single year.

But while that means there is no choice over what to see, some interminable change-overs and a risk of deep vein thrombosis, it does mean there are no clashes. And the standard is extraordinarily high, with no padding. It's all killer and no filler.

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The fact everyone has to watch the same things fosters a kind of shared experience among punters. It’s a bit like the early days of television – one channel, a handful of shows with no choice, a close down at bedtime, and then off to bed. It's one big 'watercooler moment', as the marketing people might say.

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Do not expect after-hours dance tents, late night bars or even a silent disco at Cropredy. Pople don't come to rave - they come to listen...and drink. And that's fine. Indeed, chat to your fellow-Cropredy-goers, generally a friendly bunch, and you may be treated to something far more delightful: a gentle sing-along on the campsite accompanied by a cup of that delicious, and terribly more-ish, Wadworth 6X they stock on the bar. And yes, it is one bar – for you, I and artist alike. There are no poncey VIP areas, no Pimms or Prosecco tents or cocktails, and a refreshing absence of red roped-off areas full of poseurs and officious bouncers.

Stand at the bar (and you never have to wait long to be served) and you could be stood next to a member of Fairport, a national radio DJ or rock icon (I’ve bantered with Dave Pegg, Mark Radcliffe and Roy Wood of The Move, Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard, while queueing for a pint).

So forget about all those commercial festivals you’ve been to and join something truly unique – and help make sure it continues.

Tim Hughes

GET A TICKET:

Can I buy a Day ticket for just Thursday or Friday?

No. They only sell 3 day (Thurs/Frid/Sat) tickets, 2 day (Frid/Sat) tickets and Saturday only tickets.

Where can I purchase tickets?

fairportconvention.com/tickets or call The Ticket Factory Box Office on 0844 581 1396

How much are this year's tickets?

3 day Weekend - 8, 9 & 10 August 2019

After July 31st £ 150.00

2 Day Concert Ticket - 9 & 10 August 2019

After July 31st £ 135.00

1 Day Concert Ticket - 10 August 2019

After July 31st £ 85.00

Camping:

  • 4 day Field 8 - 7, 8, 9 & 10 August 2019 £55 (SOLD OUT)
  • 4 day Field 7b - 7, 8, 9 & 10 August 2019 £55 (SOLD OUT)
  • 3 day - 8, 9 & 10 August 2019 £ 45.00
  • 2 day - 9 & 10 August 2019 £ 40.00
  • Saturday only Camping is free provided all campers have a Saturday festival ticket.
  • All campers must also have concert tickets for that day of the festival.
  • Bikers & backpackers camp for free.
  • Children under 12 Years of age - Free admission