A CELEBRATION of live music set up by the folk-rock band Fairport Convention, Cropredy Festival has a special place in the hearts of thousands of music lovers. But for one man in particular, it is by far the most important weekend of the year.

As a founding member of Fairport, Simon Nicol is rightly hailed as a musical legend. Yet despite decades of success and adulation, he admits to being nervous as the gates open to 20,000 people for the start of the three-day knees-up.

“I feel a strange mix of excitement, fear and tiredness,” he says, during a break from preparations for the event, which runs from today to Saturday (August 10-12).

“You worry about all the things that could go wrong and letting people down,” he says humbly. “And you’ve got to stay healthy as you can’t afford to get even a cold. You’ve got to be available to the people who want you,”

Officially known as Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, the festival, on a hillside just beyond Banbury, is known to its legions of devotees as just ‘Cropredy’ – or, curiously, to ‘Banburyshire’ folk as ‘Fairport’.

Set up by the band as a chance to play for fans, Fairport Convention still open and close the event – starting with an acoustic set tonight and concluding with an extended three-hour set on the Saturday evening – culminating in a rousing rendition of their anthem ‘Meet on the Ledge’

Oxford Mail: Fairport Convention at Cropredy Festival 2022. Picture by Kirstie Handley

Fairport Convention at Cropredy Festival. Picture by Kirstie Handley

Yet the festival has long since outgrown its folk-rock roots. Instead it is an eclectic celebration of all rock, folk, pop,prog, blues, country and more – the only condition being that the members of the band have to like it.

So headliners this year also include songwriter, composer, producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers & Chic tonight, and 70s art-pop band 10CC on Friday.

Other names include Toyah & Robert Fripp, Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and a UK farewell performance by Strawbs – famous for their hit ‘Part of the Union’.

Simon is joined in the festival’s running by fellow Fairport icon Dave ‘Peggy’ Pegg and – most importantly festival director Gareth Williams.

Oxford Mail:

“You can’t run anything this size by committee,” says Simon.

“All the serious work has to be by one person, and that is Gareth. Dave and I have an overview but are hands-off.

“The festival is not like ‘Brigadoon’ that pops up out of the mist. There are so many people to keep communicating with. So hats off to Gareth!”

Simon says he he can’t wait to get stuck in as the festival gets underway, and is eager to catch up with those who make the pilgrimage to the hillside year after year.

“I know an awful lot of those people by sight if not by name,” he says.

“It just reignites the sense of community between us all. Fairport Convention are not rooted in theatrical mystique or otherness. We are not that special.

“We are incredibly fortunate to be in the position of being a viable band 56 years after we started, and not be a tribute act to ourselves.

Oxford Mail: Cropredy Festival.Tim Hughes

Simon Nicol with Fairport Convention. Picture by Tim Hughes

“The festival is the engine of the year and recharges everyone’s batteries. It means lonely Fairport fans don’t feel so lonely when they are in a field with 20,000 others like them.

“It’s more than a music festival with a terrific bill, it brings people together.”

And it has a long heritage.

“It started in the late 70s,” he says. “But in 1981 we left Cropredy and did it at Broughton Castle – which was an ill-judged move. So when we cam back we took occupancy of the field and vowed we would never move again.

“After all, it is the perfect shape, size and setting.”

And they also agreed not to add any additional venues – with all attention focussed on the one big stage.

“Having been to many other festivals, I agree it is more of an asset having one stage than a drawback.

“There’s no milling about going on and no need to pick up things and move to another stage. It’s more relaxing and people get a chance to decompress between acts _ and it gives everyone a fresh opening.”

He adds: “We made the right choices... but it wasn’t a masterplan. It has all grown organically.”

And a large part of its success is its respect for tradition. Regulars feel at home.

“We are always looking for ways to make the festival better and safer,” says Simon. “But every change has to be subtle. If people notice a change, they are up in arms!

“People feel invested and proprietorial.”

His sidekick Gareth is exceptionally busy honing the last minute details, but said: “The festival is by far the biggest event in Fairport’s calendar.

Oxford Mail: Stockton folkies: Young 'uns. Picture by Mike Ainscoe

Stockton-on-Tees foklkies Young 'Uns also play

“It’s all getting very exciting. The ground crews have worked hard to erect what is effectively a small town, and have done a great job as always.”

Tickets are still available from the Fairport Convention website: fairportconvention.com