The Beach Boys, Hothouse Flowers, Paul Carrack, Alfie Boe, Chris Difford and The Stax Band with Sam Moore, performing at The Cornbury Music Festival Oxfordshire on Sunday 7th July 2019


Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Challenged with bettering the line up from last year, the Cornbury organisers have not only done it but did it with bells on. With fantastic weather, there were three stages crammed with talent, a fairground, an afternoon tea tent, Morris dancers and another appearance of the Hairy Bikers Tee Pee, which at £65 per head for a three course meal was surprisingly sold out at each sitting.

Sunday saw searing heat as the crowd settled down for a day of great music and they were not disappointed. First up were The Stax Band, who because of their popularity had been moved this year from the Songbird stage to the Pleasant Valley stage, which was an excellent move given that there were seventeen musicians to accommodate.

With the vibrancy of their music raising everyone to their feet they delighted with Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, which saw the brass section hog the limelight before Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City got everyone dancing.

There was an excellent version of The Zombies She’s Not There and The Supremes You Keep Me Hangin’ On was slowed right down, before the stage was handed over to Vanessa Haynes with her fabulous voice for an up-tempo Gimme Some Lovin’.

And when Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer, Sam Moore came onto the stage, the crowd showed their appreciation. From the soul duo Sam & Dave, it was not surprising that at 83 years of age he sat centre stage for his 1966 hit Hold On I’m Comin’ and the anthemic Soul Man which saw the brass section again steal the set.

Finishing with his version of John Lennon’s Imagine this bucketful of soul left the stage leaving the crowd shouting for more.

With a short break to allow for visits to the beer tent, the gin bar or to one of the many various food stands, up next on the Pleasant Valley stage was English tenor, Alfie Boe. Usually attired in tuxedo and bow tie, he had dressed down for his Cornbury appearance wearing what he described as his “funky pants”.

In a very animated set, he opened with Sing Sing Sing , followed by Minnie The Moocher which saw him playing the drums and bongos exceptionally well. Engaging with the crowd at every opportunity he had them clapping and singing along to Mambo Italiano, which he started in English before he jokingly changed to Italian which had the singing crowd bemused.

In a set that included a mixed bag of songs, there was the country song, Keep Me In Your Heart and with Boe encouraging the crowd to sing along to the chorus, saying that he knew that they were all there to see other artists “but you’re not getting out of this”, the crowd duly complied.

Donning his guitar for Wagon Wheel, he also told how his band had written the music for his next song, and that his wife had written the words, before he delighted the crowd to a beautiful Misty Mountain. Having entertained with some swing, some country and a little bit of opera, his set was brought to a close with a couple of covers of Who songs which included The Real Me and a tremendous version of Love Reign O’er Me which had his voice soaring around the trees of the Great Tew Estate and the crowd on their feet to show him their genuine appreciation.

During the break it gave the crowd the opportunity to visit Cafe Nero where Chris Difford of Squeeze fame was performing and quite a few people trekked up the hill in the hot sunshine to see him do just that. Of course, all the Squeeze hits were given an outing such as Take Me I’m Yours, Goodbye Girl and Up The Junction. With this large crowd singing every word back to him, it was a lovely nostalgic set.

With Tempted, Labelled With Love and Cool For Cats finishing off the mass sing along, perhaps next time he can be given a well deserved spot on the Songbird stage.

With queues at the beer tent there was the opportunity to try something different. So heading off to The London Essence tent to sample their Beeble whisky and Sapling vodka, it was great to see Hothouse Flowers front man Liam O’ Maonlai, together with guitarist Fiachna O’Braonain, deciding to do the same. And in true Cornbury tradition where the artists mix freely with the crowd, neither had any objection to the numerous selfies being taken with them.

Back to the Pleasant Valley stage, and with a crowd fed, watered and well rested in the afternoon sun, it was time for Paul Carrack to make an appearance. And given the swelling numbers of the crowd his set was eagerly anticipated. Coming on to the stage in his summer attire of light jacket and cream hat, he began his set with Make Your Mind Up which saw him switch effortlessly between guitar and piano.

For another version of Tempted, the crowd were up on their feet dancing and singing along, as they were for Cold Light Of Day. He slowed things right down for a lovely version of Groovin’ which was an aptly chosen song with the words ‘Groovin’ on a sunny afternoon’.

The reggae tinged These Days was followed by The Living Years, When You Walk In The Room and You Make Me Feel Good before he finished with the 1974 hit How Long? before an upbeat and thoroughly enjoyable set was finished with mass sing along song, Over My Shoulder, which got the best reaction of the day.

Last year it was Mavis Staples who stole the day with her set on the Songbird stage and this year that baton was passed to Irish band Hothouse Flowers. They are undoubtedly a brilliant live band which ensured that a great many of the crowd left the comfort of their seats to walk to the Songbird stage to get a glimpse of O’Maonlai controlling the crowd as if they were on strings.

With Fiachna O’Braonain, a guitarist of great talent, giving the band much of its soul, Peter O’Toole alternating between electric bass and mandolin, and drummer Dave Clarke keeping the sound moving, it was the enigmatic and intriguing front man that kept everyone’s attention.

With an energy that saw him accidentally disconnect his mic lead, they delivered a sterling version of She Moves Through The Fair and Carrickfergus had everyone dancing. Behind the piano he put a hat on and claimed that it was “a costume change” before the set was finished with Prince’s Purple Rain.

With the sun starting to fade and the twinkling of the fairy lights illuminating the walk back to the Pleasant Valley stage, it was time for The Beach Boys to bring to a close three days of wonderful music.

The grassed area in front of the stage filled up nicely as co-founder Mike Love and long term member Bruce Johnston, backed by a tight sounding band, came onto the stage and let their great songs sing out for themselves.

Their famous harmonies were immediately evident on opener Do It Again and with an extensive set list this was not just a clinical run through of all of their hits, it was a celebration of an iconic band’s work.

There were all the classics, such as Surfin’ USA, I Get Around, God Only Knows, Help Me Rhonda and Alfie Boe’s daughter’s favourite song, In My Room which Mike Love dedicated to her. Do You Wanna’ Dance? had everyone on their feet dancing in acknowledgement of the question, and California Girls induced a mass sing along.

There were shivers of pleasure as the crowd were treated to so many amazing songs penned by 60’s legend Brian Wilson which stirred up golden memories as the likes of Wouldn’t It Be Nice and Then I Kissed Her were like a warm pair of slippers, so familiar to everyone and as Good Vibrations ended the main set, the crowd had loved every minute of it.

Back on for an encore that included Fun, Fun, Fun, The Beach Boys had been the perfect act to bring the festival to a close. There had been up to 11,000 people a day joining this festival and they had been thoroughly entertained from the off.

The Cornbury Music Festival never fails to deliver. On the festival circuit it has to be one of the most family friendly events where there is something for everyone. Tickets will be on sale soon for next year’s event and with this festival growing in stature every year, get them early so that you don’t miss out.