August 2015. It was a three day adventure; I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. On Wednesday lunchtime I set off alone in my little silver Renault through relentless rain. I’d not long had my driver’s licence so this turned out to be my first solo motorway trip. I drove with my shoulders hunched over the steering wheel, squinting through the storm, steeling my nerves with a continuous supply of Murray Mints. It seemed to work – that and the occasional gasped swearword…
Sweet wrappers collected on the seat next to me, around my recently acquired Canon 5D mk II camera. And what a great opportunity to take it for its first run. I was booked to cover Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival for BBC Oxford.
I prayed the rain would stop soon. It would be my first time shooting from the photographers’ pit at an event.
Ok so it WAS exciting and all – the torrential rain even calmed down a bit – but things got off to a shaky start.
There was an embarrassing moment early on where I misunderstood instructions.
A band was already playing the main stage, so I gripped my camera, climbed some wet stairs and bounced joyously in my wellies onto the stage from behind… before security gripped my shoulders and firmly escorted me from the area.
The pit was fine but the stage was off limits. I could see the backstage team eyeing me up, trying to gauge whether I was:
a) Well sneaky
b) Well dumb
I was actually:
I think they could see this and let me off, warily. It could’ve so easily ended before it even began.
I soon got up to speed. The festival has taken place every August since 1978, so I was 37 years late to the party… but it didn’t matter. The performers were enthusiastic and warm and the staff welcoming – despite my initial transgression.
I bobbed about singing along and photographing in the pit – learning quickly to never go anywhere without a pair of trusty earplugs. (Turns out even folk music gets loud by the stage.) The crowd beamed at everyone from behind the barriers.
Backstage security and fellow photographers took it in turns to relay to me the history of the festival and the stories behind many of the performers. There were tales of alcoholism and incredible talent and arguments never resolved and DEATH. It was a brilliant window into the world of British folk music – a world I was previously pretty oblivious to.
Many people involved with the festival take a real pleasure in being a part of it, leaving their day jobs to volunteer, to escape to this family in a field. It felt incredibly free – just me and my camera, photographing people, chatting to people, adapting to the great outdoors, taking in each hour at a time. For the first couple of days it rained intermittently, but it really didn’t matter. I became inseparable from my trusty Dunlop wellies and my hair inflated to twice its normal size.
The crowd’s a fair bit older than at your average festival; I have never seen so many mobility scooters at a public event. Obvs in the wet weather I nabbed one to put my new driving skills to use.
(They accelerate faster than you’d think. Also the terrain was rugged in places so I screamed. A bit.)
But when the sun came out in the evenings – it was glorious. The mud dried fast. The crowd laid out on rugs, drunk on real ale, nostalgia and sunshine. It all felt incredibly… British.
This was the moment I got the shot featured above. A girl blowing bubbles in golden light, before the main stage. A chap came over to me hour later, saying he’d seen me photographing and asking ‘did you get it? Did you get it?’ I must’ve looked crazy, I remember being utterly mute but ridiculously hopping excited.
It was my favourite shot of the festival; one of those moments when you see the photo in your mind’s eye before you’ve captured it.
And ‘click’. It’s done, I have it, it’s mine.
I’ll leave you with that and other photos from Cropredy; an unforgettable few days.