Jools Holland And His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, The Christians, Ronan Keating, The Staks Band and Geno Washington performing at The Cornbury Music Festival on Sunday 10th July 2022.

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Sunday was bound to be an emotional day for both the crowd and the organisers of the Cornbury Music Festival with it being the final day of the last ever Cornbury, so it was a day tinged with sadness but with many musical memories made.

With the first Festival having taken place in 2004, it was all meant to end in 2017. However, promoter and director Hugh Phillimore was persuaded to reverse the decision. It was last held in 2019 before being postponed twice because of the pandemic and it is believed that this had a huge impact upon the Festival’s financial security.

With a forecast that the day would be one of the hottest of the year, the water stands were doing brisk business as were the bars, but there was a huge crowd to witness Geno Washington possibly perform live for the very last time, having indicated that at the age of 78, he will be hanging up his mic.

Washington excelled on the Songbird Stage along with his three piece band, showing that he still has all the banter, gentle humour and professionalism that he has maintained throughout his musical career. He stated that because this was the last Cornbury he was going to sing to the beautiful people in the crowd, but added that the ugly ones could listen in too, and the crowd immediately loved him.

Showcasing his smokey blues voice and his big grin, his performance never stopped giving. The legendary soul man belted out Road Runner, a great version of Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash that had the crowd doing just that despite the heat, and his version of I Feel Good which was a real highlight. And when he let rip with a stunning Mojo Ain’t Working, he personified the Blues.

To the sound of the crowd shouting “Geno, Geno”, he left the stage and like the Cornbury Festival, he will be leaving a massive hole to fill.

The Staks Band has been a staple of the Cornbury Festival line-up for many years and so it was fitting that they played the Pleasant Valley Stage on the final day of the Festival. With so many band members on stage, it was impossible to count them all especially since they refused to stand still.

They were a perfect fit for a hot sunny afternoon as the top notch set of musicians including drummer Mike Sturgis, ran the gambit of their soul and R & B classics which had the crowd on side from the off. But the whole thing about The Staks band is that they know how to greatly enhance their set by inviting guests to join them on stage. And this year was no exception.

The lovely Madeline Bell came forward to deliver a fantastic version of You Keep Me Hangin’ On, much to the delight of the crowd, before she introduced Steve Winwood, a real musical legend. Delivering a modest outing of a few songs that enthralled, he also managed to squeeze in the likes of a splendid Higher Love and a clearly emotional Whiter Shade Of Pale in a moving tribute to the late Gary Brooker. Winwood still has his incredible vocals, enhanced by the outstanding musicianship of The Staks Band and when the distinctive organ notes ushered in Gimme’ Some Lovin’, the crowd knew that they were in the presence of a genius.

Staying exactly where they were, the crowd were happy that in the scorching heat they did not have to walk up the hill to the Songbird Stage for the next act. Instead they were allowed to take a breather and wait for what the younger members of the crowd had been anticipating, the front man of boy band Boyzone, Ronan Keating.

With the Dublin singer promising to deliver all the hits, he opened with new song Heyday, but after that he certainly delivered. Having been booked for the 2020 Cornbury Festival he took the time out to commiserate with the crowd and agree that the pandemic had certainly been an uncertain time for everyone.

There was a mass sing along for the likes of Loving Each Day, Breathe and Isn’t It A Wonder before he slowed things right down for a cover of Tracey Chapman’s Baby Can I Hold You, the Bee Gee’s Words and Anne Murray’s You Needed Me, that had the crowd swaying, arms aloft as they sung every word.

With his charismatic between song banter, he really engaged with the crowd. And when he delivered a fantastic cover of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, the crowd forgot that they were in a field, under the blazing sun as they belted out the words.

There was not a single complaint when he announced that he was going to extend his set and as he melted into Boyzone’s No Matter What, magnificently coloured hot air balloons ascended above the stage, filling the sky with a cacophony of colour, undoubtedly saying goodbye to what has been an incredible run of Festivals.

Love Me For a Reason and When You Say Nothing At All are highlights on a Keating set list and Sunday night was no exception. Love Me For A Reason filled the Festival arena before Billy Ocean’s When The Going Gets Tough and Life Is A Rollercoaster brought a set that this crowd had been waiting too long for, to a too soon end.

Up the hill to the Songbird Stage to hear the band whose set was half an hour later than planned because of Keating’s extended set. It was The Christians who had been selected to close the Songbird Stage for the final time, and what an incredible choice that turned out to be.

With their vocals and harmonies as smooth as ever, songs like Ideal World, Forgotten Town and When The Fingers Point had all stood the test of time. A funky break-out into Papa Was A Rolling Stone was exceptional and when front man and original founder member, Gary Christian dedicated The Beatles classic, Here Comes The Sun to George Harrison, the hot and sweaty crowd showed their appreciation.

With a set that was all too short, The Christians had bowled over this Cornbury crowd and had made that walk up the hill well worth the effort. Closing the set with Hooverville and The Isley Brothers cover, Harvest For The World, the Songbird Stage was finally and reluctantly retired.

Following a speech from Hugh Phillimore who thanked the fans for their support, it was the boogie woogie supremo that is Jools Holland who was given the task of bringing the Cornbury party to an end. Delivering a master class in how to tickle the ivories, he launched into a couple of numbers that served as a rigorous warm up for his eighteen piece band who exuded talent from every pore.

One of his backing singers, Louise Marshall was given a solo spot and her soulful take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary really entertained the crowd. Up next was Eddie Reader who delighted with her 1988 Fairground Attraction number one hit, Perfect, which is exactly what it was.

Jools Holland was a former member of punk pop band, Squeeze, and so it was a pleasant surprise that current member, Chris Difford was invited on to the stage where he got the crowd singing with their hits Take Me I’m Yours and Cool For Cats, which was stupendously given the orchestral treatment.

But it was when Holland’s long time friend Ruby Turner stepped onto the stage that the crowd knew that they were in for a fabulous climax to a set that will go into the Cornbury history books. With a voice that is so powerful that it could be heard in another county, the evening was brought to an end with her version of Peace In The Valley.

With a firework display and the playing of The Walker Brothers melancholic No Regrets, the flags at Cornbury were lowered and the fairy lights were switched off for the very last time, leaving the crowd to walk back to their tents with the memories of what has always been a great music festival.

It will be sorely missed.