Fairport's Cropredy Convention
The Oxford Times Aug 21, 2009
By Reg Little
Yusuf, the man millions loved as Cat Stevens, declared from the stage that it had been 37 years since he appeared at a festival. It was easy to see why Cropredy was the one that tempted him to step in front of a 20,000 plus crowd again. On Saturday he was surrounded by old friends in Fairport Convention, including his former drummer Gerry Conway who provided a moving introduction, while this most relaxed of audiences meant the man who walked away from superstardom to dedicate himself to Islam could ease himself back into the big time.
Understandably nervous, he opened with two songs from his second comeback album Roadsinger, the sheer delicacy of All Kinds of Roses accentuating the sense of Yusuf’s vulnerability. But there was courage, too. No crowd pleasing Father and Son or Wild World; instead fine interpretations of Ruins and Lilywhite, lapped up by early-seventies Cat connoisseurs. Richard Thompson, who also famously embraced Islam, played guitar on Peace Train to give the festival an unforgettable memory. Thompson, who was on brilliant form for a solo Friday set, also turned in some seriously good guitar heroics as he performed with Fairport, then with the briefly reformed super pub band the GPs, formed with Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks and Ralph McTell.
The early evening set by McTell (pictured) and the unique reggae sound of Dreadzone, all bubbling electronics and dance beats, made for one of the best Saturdays for some time. Fairport themselves contributed a nicely balanced set, drawing on material produced over four decades, while allowing Chris Leslie, now the band’s main songwriter, to excel as both vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.
Yet for many the 2009 festival will be remembered for the long-awaited Cropredy appearance of Steve Winwood, fresh from his acclaimed reunion with his old Blind Faith pal Eric Clapton. The ex-Traffic man opened with I’m a Man and instantly showed why he has long been regarded as the ultimate musician’s musician. Members of his top band were given all given opportunity to indulge in lengthy solos, with the man himself seemingly as brilliant on guitar as keyboards. Thankfully the sound system was worthy of such high-class musicianship as Winwood opened wide a stunning back catalogue with electrifying performances of Higher Love, Dear Mr Fantasy, Gimme Some Lovin’ and Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.