SIMON Nicol can be forgiven for feeling a little pleased with himself.

There are not, after all, many musicians who have spent the past 50 years in the same band – and fewer still who can still pack in the crowds like Fairport Convention, the band he helped form in 1967.

The band have been through a lot in the meantime, with a formidable role call of artists joining and leaving along the way. Today, though, he and almost every surviving member – past and present – convene in for a three-day anniversary bash in their spiritual home: Cropredy.

"I am energised and looking forward to it," he says. "We are quite a busy touring band for a bunch of old lags, and we are showing no sign of slowing down."

The annual Cropredy festival – or Fairport's Cropredy Convention to give it its proper name – is always a gathering of the folk-rock clans, but this year's birthday gathering is ultra-special – with a string of appearances by the Fairporters, culminating in the traditional extended Saturday night closing set, climaxing in a sing-along to their anthem Meet on the Ledge.

"It's amazing people want to come and see us," says Simon, who appears in the current line-up along with bassist Dave Pegg, violinist Ric Sanders, singer, fiddle and mandolin player Chris Leslie and drummer Gerry Conway.

The band started life rehearsing in Simon's parent's house, Fairport – from which they took their name – in Muswell Hill, north London. Incidentally Ray and Dave Davies grew up on the same street.

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, is regarded as one of the most influential folk records of all time. The first major British folk-rock album, it remained in the charts for 15 weeks.

The band are still churning out the albums too – 28 at last count – pretty much all critically acclaimed and snapped up by fans.

Starting life in 1979 as a farewell concert, Cropredy Festival, like the band, became a slow burning success. Organised by Simon, bandmate Dave ‘Peggy’ Pegg and director Gareth Williams, it attracts 20,000 people. And like the band, it is a creature of habit, sticking to its tried and tested formula of one stage at the end of one big sloping field, with one long bar, and the same food stalls lining the sides of the hill. It has, however, branched out musically to encompass acts you perhaps wouldn’t expect to see at what is, at heart, still a folk-rock festival.

So tonight sees The Divine Comedy and the Trevor Horn Band, tomorrow Petula Clark, Piece Brothers and CC Smugglers,, and, on Saturday, Marillion.

More than most years though, this is a Fairport affair – and an incestuous one at that – with two chances to see singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso Richard Thompson: the Los Angeles-based star playing in his own right on Friday evening and as well as joining Fairport.

Saturday will start with three performances from ‘early years’ Fairporters Ashley Hutchings, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews. Ashley, who founded Fairport Convention with Simon, will present Morris On – an interpretation of traditional music and dance. Judy, Fairport’s original female vocalist, will appear with Band of Perfect Strangers. Iain, Fairport’s first male lead singer, will be joined by Andy Roberts and Mark Griffiths as Plainsong – playing a blend of English folk-rock and American alt-country.

Other former members popping up include ex-drummer Dave Mattacks, who will play during Richard's Friday set and Fairport's finale, Maartin Allcock, Tom Farnell, Bob Brady and Roger Burridge.

Is Simon surprised that they've reached the half-century milestone?

"We just chunter along on an amiable and leisurely fashion," he says. "Birthdays and Christmases whizz past and we are doing young men's jobs in old men's bodies. But we've always been extremely moderate by the standards of some proper rock & roll bands. They'd look down their noses at us. But they've either made their fortunes and retired or shuffled off this mortal coil by burning both ends of their candles too vigorously."

This year's festival sold out well in advance – not a bad achievement in a rocky year for music gatherings (Cornbury Festival, not far down the road in Great Tew, his year called time after 14 years).

"It's tremendously rewarding when people commune with you," says Simon.

"A lot of people have been with the band for a long time and feel they own this line-up or that line-up.

"The danger now is we turn into our own tribute band. It has a great history but we don't trade on it, and are always working on the next album.

"Having said that, the festival is upon us and it's going to be a great moment – and it wouldn't be the same without Matty Groves and Meet on the Ledge at the end!"

*Fairport's Cropredy Convention starts today and runs through to Saturday night.

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