Country Comes to Cornbury and why Cornbury is the Go To Festival
Words by Hannah Compton Photos by HelsBels Photography
Country Music isn’t something you hear people talk about much in the UK, nor is it a genre many people listen to – and it’s certainly a genre that tends to be lacking on the UK Music Festival scene, that is of course not including Country 2 Country which is held specifically for Country Music.
The Cornbury organisers, however, seemed to have gone above and beyond this year to not just invite one Country act to their stages but five! Hosting some of the best of British Country such as The Shires, Ward Thomas and Raintown, we were also treated to Jess and The Bandits – and American duo – and honorary Brits Striking Matches, making the Saturday at Cornbury very hard to resist.
This year, Cornbury Festival took place on July 10th, 11th and 12th 2015 at The Great Tew Estate in Oxfordshire. Originally held at Cornbury Park, this was the Festival’s second year at the new site.
Being my first ever visit to Cornbury Festival, I was Impressed from the moment I arrived. Having been to various other festivals over the years, Cornbury was very different and unique – and just overall pleasant. Now that my days of hardcore festival going have long passed, it was especially nice to be able to have something a little different – far from chaotic, relaxing but fun and still enjoy great music within a fantastic atmosphere.
Parking was easy, no traffic leading up to the site or on site – but then we did arrive about 11.00 am Saturday. With day tickets available you would still expect it to be hectic but it was very well organised. We didn’t have to walk far to the entrance and walked past a few campsites, one being what they call The Quieter Camping site which seemed to consist mainly of families with small children – certainly something we were going to bear in mind when we have children.
As we went through the entrance it was almost like being at a Fete or a Carnival. There were people on stilts covered in gold and impressing the children with their ability to become a statue, Morris Dancers and people dressed as bears, amongst many other fun costumes. Stalls had balloons, crafts, clothes and many other exciting knick knacks. People were juggling, blowing bubbles, selling raffle tickets and performing other festival treats. There was something going on everywhere.
Cornbury is certainly a festival to take the family to. There were various activities for children as well as a kids’ area and a Fun Fair for the slightly older kids who probably don’t want to hang with mum and dad all day. If you are concerned about having to drag small, tired children around, well they have thought of this too and rent out pull-along trolleys with shaded tops. This proved to be very handy indeed, especially when smaller children needed an afternoon nap. If only they had them in adult size, I think I would take it with me everywhere and get my husband to pull me along.
Seeing as I was there mainly for the Country Acts, I headed straight over to The Songbird stage to catch Jess and The Bandits pretty much as soon as we arrived. No strangers to the UK Country scene, it was nice to see them on the line up and this would be the first time I would have seen them perform. Upon arrival and five minutes before showtime, I was slightly concerned by the lack of audience, I guess that can be put down to the burden of playing first but as soon as Texas-born front woman Jessica Clemmons started to sing, more and more people started to emerge and my concerns were laid to rest.
Jess and The Bandits put on a really good show and certainly got festival goers in the spirit. Their songs were memorable and uplifting and Jess certainly has a powerful voice with an authentic Country sound. I am not sure where Jess currently resides, but the rest of the band are British and they spend a lot of the time touring in the UK which we are very pleased about. Their set probably lasted about 30 minutes, playing a great selection of songs including Here We Go Again, You Can’t Stop Me, My Name Is Trouble and a cover of The Lumineers’ Hey Ho.
Raintown were next on the line up but on the Pleasant Valley stage . Their set slightly overlapped with Jess and The Bandits by about ten minutes, but sadly we missed about fifteen minutes in total with my not being able to move fast due to being pregnant – but were happy to catch some of it at least.
Raintown are a much loved and supported country act from Scotland who I had also never had the pleasure of seeing live. We could hear the strong vocals from Claire Bain even as we were leaving the Songbird stage and the crowd seemed to be rather large as we approached the Pleasant Valley stage area.
Paul and Claire Bain of Raintown certainly know how to put on a good show and even after they finished, I had people talking to me in the food queue saying, “ Did you check out the band that were just on? They were great weren’t they?” This was so lovely to hear. From the small part I caught, they had some great catchy, well written songs, proving why it is they have such a huge following in the UK. They both have lovely strong vocals and fit well within the Country Scene having a genuine sound that isn’t trying to be American Country, but just their natural selves.
Their set list was:
Writing On The Wall
Right Here With Me
Wake Me Up
Shut The Front Door
Feel Much Better Now
Just One Kiss
After Raintown we set our camp chairs up near the back of the Pleasant Valley stage and many people had the same idea. This wasn’t something I was used to but was lovely. Made such a difference from standing all day at festivals to being able to relax and enjoy it as a pregnant lady – I certainly wouldn’t have been able to survive all day if I had to stand. My husband in particular was very happy with this as he could sit down and have a beer in comfort and soak in the good music without his view being blocked.
Next on the Pleasant Valley stage was one of my favourites: Striking Matches. Known best for having songs featured on ABC Nashville, I was so excited that the good people of Cornbury Festival were going to hear their music for possibly the first time. Slowly making my way to the very front (in fact it was more like a pleasant stroll), I found myself a good spot. The audience were gracious with their space and there was no pushing of any kind.
Starting with Trouble Is As Trouble Does, the area around me started to get more crowded when people heard the ever so impressive guitar skills from Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis. Anyone who was having a snooze in their chair was certainly awake now.
I don’t think it’s possible for Striking Matches to ever put on a bad show – for me, this was actually one of their best performances. This is possibly due to the fact that I was witnessing the creation of new fans and watching an unknowing crowd really get in to it. At a festival, a band never really knows who will show up for them but Striking Matches drew in such a large crowd it was almost emotional.
Interacting well with the audience, Striking Matches played a great set of songs including (not necessarily in order)
Trouble Is As Trouble Does
Hanging On A Lie
Crossroads (Eric Clapton Cover)
When The Right One Comes Along
Never Gonna Love Again
Miss Me More
He Only Loves Me When It’s Raining
Make A Liar Out Of Me
Ending the set with Make A Liar Out Of Me is always a good call as the song has so much skill and excitement that it always leaves you wanting more. The one thing I did wish however, was that the stage had big screens like a lot of festivals and big stages do, so that the people at the back could see just how skilled Sarah is on her guitar, especially during Make a Liar Out Of Me. This didn’t take anything away from the performance, I just think it’s something everyone needs to see up close.
Ward Thomas followed the Striking Matches set. Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas had just been shooting their music video for their new single Guest List at Cornbury moments before going on stage. They had made an announcement on social media for fans to be part of it but sadly I could not attend.
Just recently turned 21, these twin sisters from Hampshire had the biggest crowd yet, so much so that my lovely secured spot was starting to be taken over by rowdy, scary middle aged men who kept whistling with the resulting spray landing directly on my face…hmmm, nice. However, I was of course thrilled by the turn out for the girls. Ward Thomas are one of my favourite Country Acts and my husband’s very favourite. As he kept saying, they were the only reason he came along. Ward Thomas have such great stage presence and are an absolute delight to watch live. Their personalities really come across between songs as they speak to the crowd and you really warm to them. Vocally they are flawless. As I have often said in previous reviews, they may be twins but their vocals are very different giving them perfect harmonies and a very unique sound.
I also have to give a shout out to the band who the girls are always proud to introduce. My favourite is Smiley Dan Gordon on guitar who always has an infectious smile during the whole performance which just makes you want to smile along with him. What a happy chappy.
Now I may not remember this accurately but the set list for Ward Thomas was as follows:
The Good And The Right
Take That Train
Budapest (George Ezra Cover)
Take Me To Church ( Hozier Cover)
Push For The Stride
Way Back When
A Town Called Ugley
A mad but safe rush to the Songbird stage to catch The Shires next.
Being the UK’s most successful Country Act, this has been an exciting year for The Shires. Having recently become the first UK Country act to have an album in the UK Top Ten chart, The Shires have also gone on to perform their debut at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and have played many festivals such as Isle of Wight, Glastonbury and now Cornbury. Currently on tour with Sir Tom Jones, it was wonderful to see them on the Cornbury line up which Sir Tom was headlining.
Arriving a little late, we just managed to catch the end of Nashville Grey Skies. This could have been the song they started with but at worst, I would have only missed one song prior to this. At this point of the day it was not easy to get to the front near the stage, so I went with the safe option and hung at the back. There were a lot of people there for them and many people in Country Boy and Country Girl T-shirts which are The Shires’ own merchandise.
Ben and Crissie always seem so happy on stage and always express their gratitude to the audience and how this year has been so great for them. I never tire of seeing them live as they always put on a good show and it always leave you in a good mood. The Shires suit the festival crowd well as they have something for everyone and have so many songs that you can sing along and dance to -, not to mention songs with crowd participation such as the song Tonight.
Other songs on the set list included:
I Just Wanna Love You
All Over Again
Jekyll And Hyde
Black And White
Made In England
and covers of
Striking Matches’ I Ain’t Leavin Without Your Love and
Dolly and Kenny’s Islands In The Stream
During the set, Crissie gave a lovely speech about the meaning behind the song Made In England – only to be interrupted three quarters of the way through by Ben saying, “ Yeah, it’s not actually that song next.” Crissie, to her horror, looked at the set list and realised her mistake – ha. It was entertaining though and shows how down to earth these guys really are – and of course when they actually got to that song, she only needed to say a few words.
I heard so many good comments from new listeners in the crowd. In particular a very good reaction to the song Made In England which has lyrics you could relate to and equally comical such as There’s nothing like a Friday night Fish and Chips and Rainy Days and Milk in My Tea.
A great performance as usual – in my opinion they just keep getting better and better and always demonstrate why I am such a huge supporter of their music. I have actually lost count of the number of times I have seen them live.
The Shires headed straight off to the Merchandise Tent after their set. I did go in to say hello about which I felt a little guilty after seeing the size of the queue, as I had met them many times before, but it was Important for me to say ‘Hi,’ and thank them for something special they did for me the night before.
Whilst The Shires were the last of the Country performers that day, it certainly wasn’t the end for Country Fans. A little later in the evening on a stage called the Other Stage, Whispering Bob Harris himself was giving a talk about his newly released biography, Still Whispering After All These Years. A regular attendee and contributor to Cornbury Festival, it was great to have an opportunity to hear from the man himself. Bob was also at Cornbury filming the famous Under The Apple Tree sessions.
With a full house, Bob Harris took to the stage with an interviewer holding his book. The whole talk was very interesting. The interviewer talked him through stages of the biography asking him questions on particular events such as when he left school to being a part of The Old Grey Whistle Test and going on to becoming one of the greatest Radio DJs radio has to offer. I shan’t go into too much detail as I truly think you should buy his book as he really is an interesting man who has led a fascinating life. I, for one, cannot wait to read it. There were so many things I did not know about him and that I could relate to. He spoke of a place he lived in in Northampton called Weston Favell and, having lived there for period of time myself, I found this amusing as we both have very different memories of how the place is perceived in very different decades.
Bob Harris comes across as such a nice generous man and interacted with the audience as he spoke, asking them if they remembered certain bands or clubs, which many did. Bob having such a key role in Country Music’s success in the UK and being a massive supporter of UK Country Artists, I enjoyed hearing him be so passionate about it and saying how Important music is.
After the talk he went on to sign his book for people. I already had it at home but purchased another to get signed. He was so polite and friendly and I thanked him for following my Shiresfans account on Twitter . He knew exactly who I was, which lead him to a write a very lovely note in the book. ‘To Hannah, keep following The Shires, Bob Harris’.
Coming to the end of the day, I was exhausted, excited and incredibly happy after a fantastic day spent at such a great festival.
Cornbury really is a ‘Go To’ Festival and I, for one, hope to return on a regular basis. I hope that Cornbury continue to support Country Music and invite Country artists back every year. I would have loved to have been there for the whole weekend but unfortunately, due to my current situation, I was just too exhausted. The festival had a great line up overall with great artists from other genres such as Paper Aeroplanes, Leddra Chapman, Billy Ocean, Larkin Poe, Lulu and Sir Tom Jones amongst other great artists.
There was so much to like at Cornbury, including the food which was great quality and certainly better than most food at festivals. Even the standard of toilets was better – usually my biggest fear at a festival, I also had a wristband for the When Nature Calls toilets which were cleaned after every use and flushed and as pleasant as a toilet can be. This is even more beneficial if you are a camper as they have sinks to wash your hair and hair dryers and straighteners, what’s not to love?
So if you are thinking about heading to a festival next Summer, please check out Cornbury and remember it’s great for kids too, so could be a family weekend away. It is in a beautiful part of the world and I can honestly write nothing negative about it. I truly thought my festival days were over but Cornbury, you have given me a new zest for festival life.
You can check out any of the artists I featured below, check out their tours and music and follow them on Twitter.
You can follow me on: