sun 14/08/2022

theartsdesk at Cornbury: Pixie Lott, Amy MacDonald and Alanis Morissette | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Cornbury: Pixie Lott, Amy MacDonald and Alanis Morissette

theartsdesk at Cornbury: Pixie Lott, Amy MacDonald and Alanis Morissette

Family-friendly festival fun and female empowerment as women of the world headline

An absolute gem of a festivalBen Phillips

Cornbury Festival holds a very special place in my heart. When the babies were young, we realised that if we were going to be up all night without sleep we might as well be sat in a field listening to music rather than staring out of the window at a dreary North London street.

Luckily for us, we accidentally picked one of the most family-friendly festivals out there.

Over the years Cornbury has gone from strength to strength, headlining musicians from Bryan Adams, Kaiser Chiefs and Seal to Tom Jones, Razorlight, Jools Holland, and Van Morrison. Thank abso-goodness then, that rather than packing it all in after 14 years as he was going to do last year, organiser Hugh Phillimore was persuaded by regular revellers to give it another go.

It’s an absolute gem of a festival It’s the perfect size to avoid the FOMO (fear of missing out) you might experience at Latitude, plus there are no great hikes from one stage to the next. It’s also a place where happy campers say things like “I’m just going to whip up a jus-type gravy for the breakfast sausages” (overheard on the way to the portaloos) or “Darling, isn’t that the guy who used to play guitar for Amy Winehouse? We simply must go and talk to him”. Nothing more than you’d expect for a festival often featured in Tatler magazine.

Street hawkers at CornburyThe Pleasant Valley is the central hub of action, which is an easy stroll from the campsite, and flanked with fancy eateries (crepes, paella, Goan fish curry and a hilariously expensive foodie teepee featuring the Hairy Bikers). There are hippie stalls called things like Lord & Lama, Kinky Melon’s Retro and Shakti+Mary as well as purveyors of mermaid face glitter, unicorn horns and slow rise squishies opposite the kids area, which is separated only by a stand selling poi and other circus activities.

On Friday night, UB40 chills the mood post-tent inflating, with 5 of the original members and Duncan Campbell, who replaced his brother Ali in 2008 after a falling out. Despite my daughter asking if they were just playing the same song over and over again, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I was fully into the gentle reggae sway after a red hot sunset and those iconic songs “I’ll Be Your Baby”, “Red, Red Wine”, “Kingston Town” and “Falling In Love With You” had everyone singing and grooving along.

Rave tent at CornburyWhilst heading back to the campsite in respectable parental fashion, towing The Little 3 in a festival wagon lit with solar bulbs, The Manchild and I were drawn by the beat of the rave tent where we threw many impressive shapes to our woefully unimpressed children, whilst yelling things like “What? This isn’t vintage?! This was only released a couple of years ago!” as Moby and Orbital circa 1991 blared out of the speakers. Nb There is actual footage somewhere from a young person who thought the horror-stricken faces of our children in reaction to our grooves so hilarious she actually videoed it for ROFLOLs.

A beautiful sun rising over Great Tew Park and a decent coffee from one of the fancy stands gently ushered us into the morning and a jaunt in the Kids area, where The Little 3 took part in batik printing, clay making, percussion installation whacking, painting and screen printing before joining a multi-cultural dance session (read: I mostly, did a lot of dancing and cajoling/persuading to little effect). They made friends with other kids and successfully exhausted their creative potential thus allowing us some time to listen to a spot of authentic American country music – or so I thought, until Megan McKenna began to chat in between tracks with her wildly juxtaposing Essex accent. Irish singer-songwriter Grainne Duffy carried on the country rock with her bluesy tunes and some killer guitar. Her voice is honey-sweet with a rough edge, her songs harmonic and ballady.

Shout out to the bohemian Riverside Stage – a veritable smorgasbord of unsigned acts just waiting to be discovered. London based duo Anavae just happened to be playing as we strolled past – and turned out to be one of my favourite acts of the festival. Some decent rock riffs and intense drumming pair with some really unique vocals.

The iconic PP Arnold took to the Songbird Stage to belt out "River Deep, Mountain High" in tribute to Tina Turner who turned her life around after hiring her as an Ikette, prompting her to leave her abusive husband. She jokes with the crowd, following innuendos with a wickedly filthy cackle, before a gorgeous rendition of “Angel of the Morning” and “To Love Somebody” before the lure of the funfair overtakes us and we spend far too many golden nuggets in those awful machines programmed to never let children win.

Pixie Lott on the Cornbury mainstageA quick Pimms refresh in the calm, white domes of the VIP tepee allowed us to check the football scores (after all we’re not complete savages) but seeing the score we moved swiftly on to appease an 8-year-old superfan of Pixie Lott. Warming up the crowd with “Mama Do”, the kids were soon merrily flossing along even if some of the musos of the fest might have been slightly baffled by her performance. Pixie unveiled a new song – a slow serenade about everything “working out well, just like it did for Coco Chanel”. It’s quite a departure from her bouncing bubblegum pop in terms of song writing, but her voice just isn’t quite powerful enough to pull it off. Back on sturdier ground, she launched into “Boys and Girls” before an acoustic singalong to “Isn’t She Lovely”, a bit of Bruno Mars, and a few other karaoke pop numbers before finishing off with "It's All About Tonight".

Amy Macdonald on the Cornbury mainstageNext up on the main stage was Amy MacDonald – an unsung musical hero with a huge roster of great songs under her belt. She’s been so successful at staying out of the limelight that many of the old dears kept professing to have “no idea who she is” but the softly spoken Scottish songstress kicked the festival into touch with “Stars And Stripes”, unleashing a thumping base drum, incredible guitar work and powerful vocals. Across the arena there’s a sense that the real music of the festival is beginning. She mixes some of her old faves like “Wish I Knew You” and “Run” with “Slow It Down” and “Love, Love” as well as a track from a new Disney film about a pug called Patrick. Mixing up her set with some endearing chat around Andy Murray winning Wimbledon last time she played Cornbury overshadowing her performance (a situation at odds with the current footie situ) she has everyone up and jigging along to some resplendent rock by the end, finishing off a truly mesmerising set with those good old nostalgic life anthems, “This Is The Life” and “Let’s Start A Band”.

Then for the moment we’d all been waiting for – Alanis Morissette headlining Saturday night. I can’t even begin to percolate the math for how long I’ve loved this lady and how much her music shaped my generation – the individuality, the commitment to quirk, the brave lyrics and soul wrenching rock and those long, tousled locks. Which, shock and horror, she bounds onto the stage without, sporting a cute pixie crop and diving straight into “All I Really Want.” No one really cares about the hair (other than The Little 3 who spend a fair while trying to work out whether Alanis is a boy or a girl) and I realise how much she smiles when she sings – something often previously obscured by those headbanging tresses. 

Alanis Morissette at Cornbury Festival

“21 Things” and “Forgiven” take me right back, and I sway along with the crowd, lost in rapturous sentimentality, getting down to “Jagged Little Pill” and wailing along to “Mary Jane”. There are a few Instagram moments for “Ironic” as the joy from the crowd spills over into lunacy, but for the most part, I realised how most folk are here at Cornbury to really experience and enjoy the music – not just post it on social media. Describing her colossal musical legacy as a "funny journey for a handful of years", she thanks us for joining her, and alters “So Pure” to sing “You from Cornbury, you are so relevant, you reduce me to cosmic tears.” All I can say is likewise babe – I almost shed a terry during “Under Rug Swept” from pure joy, before “Ironic” hurled me back into the field and a rousing finale with “Uninvited” and finally, “Thank You”.

Sunday morning sees some more sun as we drift happily and lazily into the festival for some yoga and wellbeing, kids drumming circles, and a conversation about how much we regret not seeing a single thing on the comedy stage. There’s always next year though, right Hugh? No more scares about not being here in 2019 please.

Once we’re suitably face-painted and glitter bombed it’s time for Mari Wilson & the New Wilsations singing some Sunday soul, with classics like “Always Something There To Remind Me” and theme tune to the kids show “White Horses” as well as a bunch of Burt Bacharachs including “Anyone Who Had a Heart”.

Stopping off at the Café Nero stage – another intimate little tent playing acoustic songs and hosting the likes of Asher & Lee and Coffee Pot Drive – we discover a new personal fave, Melissa Bel, who delivers some warm harmonies and charming songs about moving from Vegas to a small town in Devon in pursuit of love and the need to slow down in life.

We only heard a little of American pop vocalist Lissie, but if “Don't Give Up” is anything to go by, she’s one to look out for on the live music circuit. And that’s the beauty of Cornbury – it’s not just the best feel-good family festival that you go to wanting to see your favourite singers – you come out equipped with a whole new playlist too.

Most folk are here at Cornbury to really experience and enjoy the music – not just post it on social media


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters