Cornbury Festival, Cornbury Park, Charlbury

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The Independent Culture

The upper-middle-class sense of entitlement that lets families take seemingly entire living rooms to Cornbury, staking out their space with furniture in a field, gives you a clue why this Oxfordshire festival has been dubbed "Poshstock". A seemingly underpowered, recession-hit bill and Saturday's rain further dent its credentials. And yet, the comfortingly civilised atmosphere is seized on by veterans, led by the Pretenders, who take pleasure in working a happy crowd.

Saturday is the weaker, and wetter, day. But the sudden, beautiful depth of the Impressions' civil rights-era "People Get Ready" during the Magic Numbers' set warm things up. Teddy Thompson's slow, low songs of bitterly failed love aren't really what's required, though his looks and voice would have made dad Richard a mainstream star. Hipness isn't an issue here, and ex-Texas singer Sharleen Spiteri's somewhat plastic but honestly intended soul-pop is greeted with great pleasure. But as the rain falls steadily, the Damned are Saturday's revelation. Singer Dave Vanian's recently disinterred 1940s Hollywood playboy look suits his gothic croon. The warmth of a performance with wit and thrash nullifies the rain. Captain Sensible even finds time for a heartfelt tribute to Peter Green, the once-lost Fleetwood Mac guitarist whose ageing voice at least approximated blues feeling earlier. Headliners Scouting for Girls remain pseudo-indie-pop, but catch the mood when they adapt "Glastonbury" to revel in Cornbury's rain.

Sunday's sun lets me notice the hippyish edge to the largely well-heeled crowd, and the well-populated hay-bales where local bands play. The small festival's crucial sense of specific community exists here. Imelda May's rockabilly sound is a big hit. She has to be all but dragged from the stage, and soon turns up elsewhere singing "That's All Right Mama" with Eddi Reader. The Lightning Seeds' Ian Broudie has a likeably hangdog and luckless air that his hits' bright pop productions hide. But with respect to official headliners Sugababes, whose Gary Numan-sampling "Freak Like Me" starts an electro-rock set that brings relieved children running, the Pretenders are Sunday's smash. Though Chrissie Hynde's command to "Break Up the Concrete" in genteel Charlbury goes unheeded, her loose, cocky physicality and sensual voice bring the hits to life. Like Cornbury, it's an uncomplicated, consistent pleasure.

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