P.P. Arnold, Pixie Lott, Amy Macdonald and Mavis Staples performing at The Cornbury Music Festival Oxfordshire on Saturday 14th July 2018

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

If you close your eyes and stick a drawing pin into a map of anywhere in England, there would be an excellent chance that the area picked would be staging a festival of sorts this summer, but none will have the feel good factor and family atmosphere that The Cornbury Music Festival provides.

After having called it a day last year, the disappointment was far reaching, so much so that when the fans begged for more, Festival Director Hugh Phillimore capitulated as he announced that 2018 would see The Great Tew Estate filled with music once again.

And what a great decision that was, with the fantastic weather, its four stages crammed with talent, a fairground, an afternoon tea tent and for the first time the Hairy Biker’s had their own display Tee Pee which was quickly sold out at every sitting. It is little wonder that families flock to this festival and are made to feel that they are the epiphany of festival goers.

Whilst this is a three day festival, Saturday was an entirely female affair, with P.P. Arnold beginning the evening slots on the Songbird Stage. With her last album release in 1968, her latest album is actually 47 years old. Recorded in 1969 and 1970, but shelved as a result of what she describes as ‘politics’, The Turning Tide of which half was written and produced by Barry Gibb and the rest by Eric Clapton was finally tracked down and released last year.

So it was a track from that album that featured early in her set, as a cover of Barry Gibb’s Born showcased her soulful voice which belies this 71 year old as she immediately had this audience in the palm of her hand. She has worked with many of the greats in the 60s such as the Small Faces, often as a session singer but she has such a roaring voice that River Deep Mountain High, a song she performed as an Ikette, she made her own.

The sheer force of her voice, seemingly effortless and with incredible vibrato and huge range was there from the get go. The First Cut Is The Deepest, penned by Cat Stevens and was Arnold’s biggest hit was naturally a stand out song. But there were other treats; Chip Taylor’s Angel Of The Morning sounded beautiful, the Small Faces Understanding was rocked up and as she finished with The Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Arnold had shown that she can still sing a song as she delivered a fantastic set.

On the Pleasant Valley Stage was a performer with the midas touch. Pixie Lott is a singer from Essex who propelled herself to a platinum record selling pop career whilst still a teenager. Now only 27, she has also carved out an acting career, but this performance was all about the music.

She kicked off proceedings with her heartbreak 2009 single Mama Do (Uh Oh, Oh Oh) and followed up with her radio hit All About Tonight. In the searing hit she wowed the crowd with the Kings Of Leon’s Use Somebody, Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely before finishing with an a capella version of Manfred Mann’s Earth Bands Blinded By The Light.

Lott had delivered a well executed set filled with radio hits and quirky covers; exactly what the crowd wanted.

With no respite from the searing heat, it was time for Amy Macdonald to take her turn. This softly spoken Scottish dynamo with a magnificent commanding voice charmed an enraptured Cornbury audience with the title track from last year’s album Under Stars. With a lively set she stood behind a huge acoustic guitar that seemed to engulf this petite star, as she showcased songs such as Spark from her 2010 album, A Curious Thing, Mr Rock N Roll from 2007’s This Is The Life, and Slow It Down from 2012’s Life In A Beautiful Light was a real crowd pleaser. Poison Prince was a fast moving break up song, whilst Automatic was delivered in a robust rock way.

Down By The Water revealed her spiritual slant and set closer This Is The Life, a romantic and upbeat song got the biggest crowd reaction, as Macdonald’s stunning performance was appreciated by this huge crowd.

It was a brisk walk back to the Songbird Stage for what was the highlight of the day. Mavis Staples may be heading for her 80th birthday but on this performance she showed no sign of stopping doing what she was clearly born to do; sing.

Whilst the physically unimposing Staples took up only a small amount of space on the stage, her colossal voice fully blanketed the entire area. With a voice untarnished by more than 60 years as a professional singer, and with a smart selection of songs from a substantial music catalogue, Staples and her loose and groovy band showed why she is still one of the greatest American gospel soul singers of all time.

With a pedigree that saw her start her career with the family act, The Staples Singers (headed by the late ‘Pops’ Staples) and then by carrying on the Staples legacy as a surviving member, she opened these proceedings with If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me), a song as compellingly relevant now as it was back in the 70s.

With a blast of powerful soul and exuberant charisma she ran through a set list that included Take Us Back, Build A Bridge and You Are Not Alone. There was a fabulous version of Talking Head’s Slippery People before the ever present self empowerment anthem Respect Yourself was given an airing.

With P.P. Arnold watching in the wings and clearly having difficulty keeping still, Staples naturally finished her set with I’ll Take You There, the classic that was as celebratory as it was funky and which had the crowd dancing and singing as energetically as they had at the start of the set.

With a huge crowd appreciating this pint sized artist, she had given the rest of this all female line up a run for their money and may just have stolen the weekend.

With the sun setting and the fairy lights from the fairground illuminating the way back to the tents, once again Cornbury had pulled it off. It’s a fabulous festival with a lovely varied line up and has left a difficult challenge to equal or better the weekend next year.