Fair folk in tune with their hosts

A festival that began as a way to raise funds for a new village hall now attracts 17,000 fans
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The Independent Online
Not all summer rock festivals are the bane of villagers' lives. In fact, for one sleepy village near Banbury in north Oxfordshire, their annual outdoor music bash is the highlight of the year. The Cropredy festival, dreamed up 20 years ago this week, has spawned a large cottage industry without which the village would be the poorer.

The event, organised by and starring the legendary folk rock band Fairport Convention, began life in the parched summer of 1976 as a sing-along to raise money for a new village hall.

Now it attracts 17,000 revellers from all over Europe, a congenial mix of ageing hippies, bikers and families that descends on the tiny village (population 724) each August, camping out in the fields where the Battle of Cropredy Bridge was fought in 1644 during the Civil War.

While the summer music festivals at Glastonbury, Reading and Stratford- upon-Avon have been known to get themselves bad names by upsetting police and locals in recent years, the "Fairports" and their followers have been charming the villagers of Cropredy.

The local Ladies Circle are up at dawn each day during the event cooking fried breakfasts on vast barbecues in nearby farmyards for hungover hippies. The local Scouts perform morning litter sweeps, carefully picking up crushed beer cans and cigarette ends from between clumps of sleeping Hell's Angels. The village's two pubs and one corner shop have their two most fruitful days of the year. And the vicar puts on a special Festival Service for Christian bikers on the Sunday morning. "The church is always full," he insists.

In the event's 20-year history there has been little violence, There was only a handful of arrests last year and the drug squad does not even bother to turn up any more. The last major incident was when an elderly resident had three rose bushes torn from her garden in the middle of the night. The band and the village clubbed together and bought her replacements and planted them for her.

Ticket touts are unheard of at Cropredy, despite the fact that many festival- goers turn up as late as the Friday afternoon and buy their weekend passes on the gate.

Fairport Convention theorise about why the festival is so good-natured. Is it the music? Oasis and the Sex Pistols are unlikely to appear on the bill, but last year the festival had its fair share of screaming guitars and head-banging from some of the support acts. The clientele perhaps? Cropredy does attract an older age group (mainly in their 30s and 40s), but there is never a shortage of lads in rugby shirts, swaying on cider.

"It's the whole atmosphere," says Dave Pegg, Fairport's bass player, "the vibe if you like. People know Cropredy is a peaceful place, a peaceful festival. Violence or bad behaviour here is just not on, so nobody does it. It's always been like that. It's wonderful really, and unique.

"At what other festival can you leave your tent open and not have anything nicked?"

Cropredy starts on Friday, 9 August. Tickets will be available on the gate.