Tim Hughes talks to Cornbury Festival Director Hugh Phillimore about his feast of music with an upper class vibe

With its stately home setting, celebrity guest list and plush VIP area, Cornbury is far from most people’s impression of a music festival.

There’s no mud, little in the way of bad behaviour and you’d have to look very hard indeed to find anything resembling a mosh pit. The drugs of choice are artisan beers and Pimms; the wellies, if required at all, are Cath Kidston or Hunter, and the music is family-friendly and designed not to frighten the horses. Little wonder it has been affectionately dubbed ‘Poshstock’.

“It’s not what you would call rock & roll!” laughs organiser Hugh Phillimore, who set the festival up 11 years ago.

“It’s not a big monster festival. It’s a village fete with some nice bands on — and that’s how we like it.”

Up to 15,000 people are expected at this year’s festival, at Great Tew Park, near Chipping Norton, over the weekend July 4-6. They will be treated to a typically diverse bill headlined by anthemic ’80s rock band Simple Minds, Latin party band The Gipsy Kings and boogie-woogie bandleader Jools Holland. Also appearing are X Factor stars Sam Bailey and Luke Friend, ’60s icon Georgie Fame, ’70s art-rock band 10cc, ’90s Girl Power icon ‘Sporty Spice’ Mel C, pop diva Sophie Ellis Bextor, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega and Dublin duo Hudson Taylor.

Also playing are pop acts The Feeling and Scouting for Girls, 19-year-old singing sensation Nina Nesbitt, Grammy-Award winning country new-girl Kacey Musgraves and songwriter Jon Allen.

International stars include Japanese composer Tomoyasu Hotei, who wrote the theme tune for the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill; Illinois country-rocker Lissie; New Jersey’s Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, featuring rhythm and blues singer Gary US Bonds; Atlanta-based hip-hop collective Arrested Development; Celtic fusion band Peatbog Faeries; and the Caribbean-flavoured Kid Creole & The Coconuts.

The festival features a traditional fairground, children’s zone, arts and crafts and a Festival of Words hosted by the team behind television’s QI. There is also a stellar line up of comedians, including Jeremy Hardy, Mark Watson, Miles Jupp and ‘pub landlord’ Al Murray.

“I’m pretty thrilled by the line-up,” said Hugh. “The more I look at it, the more there is I’d love to see.

“Arrested Development is a bit different from what we’ve done before. I’m as excited by the prospect of seeing Kacey Musgraves as I think she’s great. Sam Bailey is going to be a bit of a surprise too; she’s a belting singer with a great voice and doesn’t put a foot wrong.

“Georgie Fame is incredible. He’s a great performer, his voice is absolutely on it, and he’ll be singing all the hits. I saw him play last year and it was a great moment. I knew then we had to have him at Cornbury.

“Lissie is also going to be a big surprise, and I’m really pleased to have Southside Johnny who is a great American bar room artist who is mates with Bruce Springsteen from Asbury Park.

The Oxford Times:
Hugh Phillimore

“The weirdest act is going to be Tomoyasu Hotei, who is like the Japanese Jeff Beck — and a huge star at home. I’m also looking forward to the comedians. We’ve upped our game on the comedy front. Al Murray is great, while Jeremy Hardy is famously left-wing and could well be very rude about Cornbury!

“The comedy is so popular I’ve never managed to get inside the tent — though I love Jeremy Hardy so am hoping to see him.”

Traditionally, the festival’s celebrity clientele has at least matched the talent on stage. Last year’s guest list boasted David and Samantha Cameron (along with the PM’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson and friend, ex-News International boss, Rebekah Brooks), while TV stars Jeremy Clarkson and Noel Edmonds, Blur bassist Alex James and Casualty star Tina Hobley are regular visitors. Even members of the Royal Family have been spotted on site.

“I don’t think the Camerons are coming,” said Hugh. “But I’m interested to know whether Russell Brand might sail in as he is dating Jemima Khan, who lives nearby. The jury is out on whether Rebekah will be here though.”

Among the most popular corners of the festival is the Riverside Stage which is run by the team behind the eponymous free festival in Charlbury. This features largely local bands, including Oxford’s Americana acoustic band The Knights of Mentis, ‘Turkabilly’ act Brickwork Lizards, jump-blues and vintage jazz party-starters The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band, and pop-punks Black Hats.

“For many people the Riverside Stage is the best part of the festival,” says Hugh. “There’s an amazing range of stuff. If anything is rock & roll at Cornbury it’s that.”

Film lovers are also well-catered for, with the festival’s own Vintage Mobile Cinema screening a series of mini short-films, with classic archive footage from the British Film Institute, including wartime information films such as Listen to Britain, the classic Night Mail, and modern shorts and children’s films.

So with the festival’s 11th instalment just a week away — is Hugh proud of the festival he created? “I’m proud of the fact we’ve kept it going — against the odds,” he chuckles. “It started off as a lunatic one-man show but has settled down into a nice piece of Oxfordshire life.

“There are five festivals within a 20-mile radius, which is bonkers, but I love the fact we are so different.”

“It’s also a great community event,” he goes on. “We are supporting so many local causes and if we can have a good time as well, eat some good food, drink some nice beers and watch a few bands, while raising money, that’s brilliant.

“Cornbury is not the most adventurous rock & roll thing, but it’s ideal for people who have either never been to a festival, or think they are scared of bigger events.

“It’s fantastically uncool!”

* Tickets start at £170 (£200 with camping) from cornburyfestival.com. Single day, young people’s, children’s and VIP tickets are also available. Go to cornburyfestival.com