REG LITTLE talks to Nick Lowe, who will be joining Paul Simon and other stars at next week's Cornbury Festival

Cornbury audiences are used to being spoilt by the line-ups hand-picked by festival organiser Hugh Phillimore. But leaving any music-loving fortysomething with a straight choice between catching Paul Simon and Nick Lowe seems downright cruel.

Nick Lowe, as a member of bands such as Brinsley Schwarz, Rockpile and the famous Stiff Tour, is well used to sharing the limelight.

But even this most affable of men baulks just a little at the prospect of hitting the stage at about the same time as one of America's best-loved performers.

"I'm not for a moment comparing myself with Paul Simon," Lowe told me. "But I would suggest that his audience would not be entirely different from mine."

Too right. For if Paul Simon is one of the few songwriters who can be spoken of in the same breath as Dylan and Lennon and McCartney, Lowe deserves to be recognised as one of our most consistently good songwriters. Just as Simon is forever associated with his 1960s work with Art Garfunkel, which gave the world such classics as Bridge Over Troubled Water, Homeward Bound and Mrs Robinson, Lowe is hailed as one of the pioneers of the New Wave sounds of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Not only did he score hits with the likes of (I Love The Sound of) Breaking Glass but he was behind the most potent music of the era, writing and producing for the likes of Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, The Damned and Elvis Costello, who had a huge hit with Lowe's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.

Then, after all that, he embraced country, married Johnny Cash's daughter and has come to rival Robert Plant in the rock star growing old with dignity stakes.

Little wonder then that timings are being re-examined to allow the nimble-footed festival-goer to enjoy both performers, who both appear on stage all too rarely.

Cornbury, which is near Charlbury, looks like being Lowe's only show this summer. He briefly toured last year to promote his excellent At My Age album, which faces head on the issues of growing old with humour, anger and regret.

"I've changed my style somewhat over the last ten to 12 years. I started writing songs that were much direct and less smartass, songs that dealt with things that I was going through myself. You know having love and lack of it. And I have lost part of the audience that I used to have."

But he never wanted to be on stage in his late fifties trying to relive those wild days and even wilder nights on the Stiff tour with Wreckless Eric and Ian Drury.

In any case, he is far from nostalgic about music from the punk era .

"I thought it was awful. Maybe I was already a bit too old for it. I know some people think it was the time music emerged from the gloom into the sunny uplands. But I thought it was the end of everything. I reckoned I would be out of a job within a year. What I did like about it though was all the mischief it caused."

He says that his father-in-law, the late Johnny Cash, was a massive influence on him, helping to nurture his deep affection for country music.

"It is strange, the Americans know so little about their own music. This fascination is a European thing."

Another man whose songwriting talents have not always been recognised will be leading 10cc and friends on to the stage at Cornbury. The original line up split way back in 1976 when Godley and Creme left. But over the last couple of years bass player Graham Gouldman has been putting the band's name back on festival posters, going down a storm even with the folkies at Cropredy last year.

Forty four years ago Gouldman penned the classic Yarbirds hits such For Your Love, following it up with songs for the likes of The Hollies (Look Through Any Window and Bus Stop), and Herman's Hermits (No Milk Today).

"We do a string of 10cc hits and more. We make sure we give audiences what they want," said Gouldman.

With crowd-pleasers like The Bangles, Crowded House and Beverley Knight also performing, it promises to be a weekend of many highs and, on Saturday night, one not to be missed Lowe.

Cornbury Festival 2008 Line-up Saturday Main stage: Paul Simon. Beverley Knight. Toots and the Maytals. The Bangles. Imelda May. Maria Ilett.

Second stage: Nick Lowe. Eric Bibb. Carbon Silicon. Half Man Half Biscuit. The Beat. The Love Trousers.

Sunday Main Stage: Crowded House. KT Tunstall.10CC. Joe Bonamassa. Tom Baxter. Imelda May ?.

Second stage: Bellowhead. Salsa Celtica. Tift Merritt. Jaune Toujours. Luke Smith.

Available tickets sold at the site box office. The box office will accept cash and debit/credit cards. Advance ticket sales are possible right up until the day before the festival. Booking number 0871 472 0420 or book online at Best of live acts set for folk festival stage

The Oxford Folk Festival returns again to Cornbury on the second stage and this year it boasts three of their best ever live acts, writes Peter Cann.

Bellowhead should need need little introduction to Oxford audiences for the band emerged out of the city's folk scene some five years ago and has since gone on to win a clutch of awards, including BBC 2's Folk Awards Best Live Act.

Led by the talenst of John Spiers and Jon Boden, this 11-piece combine everything from jazz and reggae, to techno and music hall, to create a kaleidscope of sound.

Salsa Celtica is another 11-piece which wowed audiences when headlining last year's folk festival and their combination of folk and Cuban and Latin rhythms have an exuberance about them that is hard to resist.

With musicians from the Scottish jazz and folk scenes and South American musicians their albums and performances have received critical and popular acclaim. They performed at Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations in front of 40,000 revellers which was broadcast live on UK television and their album El Agua De La Vida reached number five on the World Music Chart of Europe.

One of the sensations of the first Oxford Folk Festival in 2004 was Belgian band Jaune Toujours. Making a welcome return, their wonderful mix of folk, brass, jazz and rock draw on influences as different as the waltz, tango and Balkan rhythms, as well as the Pogues, the Clash and Billy Bragg.

With all their songs and tunes written by the band, they are guaranteed to win over more fans at the festival.

Also appearing is Tift Merritt, an American songwriter in the Alternative Country style. Her 2004 album Tambourine was nominated for a Grammy award and has just released her third.

Finally, Canterbury's lo-fi troubadour, Luke Smith, is a guest whose style is not easily categorised, but his witty and angst-ridden songs have a certain appeal to English humour. As the title of one of his albums says, it's not wrong, it's different.

The festival boasts its own third stage, the Riverside, and appearing this year are one of Oxford's best bands, the Epstein, and from the US, one of the finest blues bands around, Lightnin' Willie & The Poorboys.

You can also catch Absentee, Rebel Jane, Smilex, Back to the Border, Dead Like Harry, Billypure, Kiss Dolimorr, Easy Tiger, Slainte , Tp & Woodman, Jess Godyer, Modou Douf, Life of Reilly, Judy Luxmoore and Bandioki.