This year’s Cornbury Festival line-up is a ‘Greatest Hits’ bill. Tim Hughes reports

Occupying a stunning site in the Cotswolds and attracting the cream of the Chipping Norton set, Cornbury is a far cry from most people’s image of a British music festival.

Forget mud, greasy burgers, deafening rock music and cider-swilling teenagers, this smart gathering in the grounds of a West Oxfordshire stately home is all about families, good food, artisan beers, Pimms bars and an unthreatening bill designed to appeal to all. There is even a roped-off VIP area, for heaven’s sake. With a carpet. And tablecloths...

It was almost inevitable, then, that it should be branded ‘Poshstock’.

A decade in, the festival — Oxfordshire’s first big weekender of the summer — has grown in size, breadth and diversity. Poshstock, it seems, has come of age.

Next weekend up to 14,000 people will descend on Great Tew Park to celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary. And with the audience featuring as many famous faces as the line-up, its distinction as the UK’s most rarefied festival is set to continue. Last year’s guest list boasted David and Samantha Cameron (along with the PM’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson along with chum and ex-News International boss, Rebekah Brookes). TV stars Jeremy Clarkson and Noel Edmonds, Blur bassist Alex James and even members of the Royal Family are also regular visitors.

“I didn’t like it when it was first referred to as ‘Poshstock’,” says festival director Hugh Phillimore. “But if that means it is safe, nice and well run, then I can live with that.”

The festival began in 2004 at Cornbury Park, near Charlbury, but switched to Great Tew two years ago. Cornbury Park is now home to the freewheeling, and entirely different, Wilderness festival, which takes place from August 9-11.

To mark Cornbury Music Festival’s first decade, Hugh has assembled a personal wish list of artists who have previously graced Cornbury’s stages, along with a smattering of new names. Highlights include ‘70s pop group Squeeze, soul singer Beverley Knight, chart-toppers Keane and singer-songwriter Van Morrison. Other big names include power-folk band Bellowhead, indie-rockers Echo & The Bunnymen, X Factor winner James Arthur, folk artist Seth Lakeman, rockabilly singer Imelda May, The Proclaimers, vocal harmony act The Overtones, and singer-songwriters Amy McDonald, Tanita Tikaram, King Charles and Nell Bryden. The festival will be opened by Oxford band Candy Says — the luscious dream-pop outfit fronted by Juju Sophie, formerly of Little Fish.

“I can’t believe it has been 10 years,” says Hugh, who has been responsible for programming the event from year one. “This festival didn’t come with a manual but we figured out how to do things from year to year. And if it wasn’t so exciting we wouldn’t still be doing it. It is nerve-wracking though, and I am still having sleepless nights.”

Did he intend the festival to continue for this length of time? “Yes,” he says. “Originally I signed up for 21 years. The idea was just to create a marvellous event that does good things and provides good entertainment — and I think we’ve got that.”

Hugh describes this year’s line-up as a “greatest hits” bill. Festival-goers were invited to take part in an online poll to choose which names they would like to see return. More than 2,000 cast their votes.

“I liked the idea of doing a bit of market research,” he says. “We gave people a list of people who had played before and combined what they wanted with new stuff and other things we have had before.

“People came up with most of the things we’d been going for, which showed we were moving in the right direction. It means the line-up has public approval.”

And his festival highlights? “It’s nice to get Van back,” he says. “He’s one of the originals and there aren’t many left. He takes his music incredibly seriously, and can be either life-changing or play the worse gig you’ve ever seen. He is on great form though.

“Imelda May is also singing really well and has a new album out, I love Squeeze, and I’ll be interested to see Keane. The Bunneymen will also be great, as will Tift Merritt and Amy McDonald.

“James Arthur has an amazing voice, while Lawson, who are strapping young chaps in tight shirts, are one for the girls.”

Making a surprise return visit is Canvey Island pub-rocker Wilko Johnson. The Dr Feelgood star — a founding father of punk rock — has terminal cancer of the pancreas and in January, was given six months to live. He recently completed a short farewell tour, but felt well enough to join the Cornbury line-up. He provided one of the highpoints of the festival when he played two years ago.

“It’s the most extraordinary thing,” says Hugh. “I did not anticipate it. But he told us he was well enough to play, thought it was a nice festival, and wanted to come back.”

Another highlight will be a Festival of Words presented by QI and the publishers Unbound, featuring sets by comedians Alan Davies and Katy Brand, musician Hugh Cornwell and writer Julie Burchill. There will also be a Comedy Emporium packed with up-and-coming performers.

“The QI thing is stepping up and becoming very interesting,” says Hugh. “It will be a mix of QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and as the whole idea of QI was created by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson in the nearby Falkland Arms, it’s great it’s coming back to Great Tew.”

The festival will once again host a Riverside Stage — a spin-off of the popular free festival in Charlbury — specialising in local music. This year’s bill features ska band The Inflatables, Cuban-style dance band Ran Kan Kan, indie-pop-punks Black Hats, trans-cultural genre-benders The Brickwork Lizards and swing and jump blues legends The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band. Oh, and new wave band The New Forbidden, which features a certain Loyd Grossman. Yes, that one.

“We’ve had the Riverside stage for six or seven years,” says Hugh. “I love it because it gives opportunities for great local acts to play Cornbury. Many people say it’s the most interesting part of the festival. It’s all about being able to discover something new.”

It’s a combination which has gone down well with festival-goers, with ticket sales already up. “We are a couple of thousand up already, which we are happy about as the word on the street is that a lot of festivals are down,” he says. “People seem to be going to fewer festivals and just buying tickets for one prestige event.”

With the festival looking stronger than ever, Hugh certainly isn’t complaining about the ‘posh’ label any more. He smiles: “Our target audience has never really been 18-26-year-olds, and if we are seen as a bit uncool, I’m fine with that.

“If you want a long weekend in the Cotswolds, with some rock and roll thrown in, this is the perfect place.”