Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge
Friday 26th July
It almost comes as a surprise reaching the festival site as it is right on the outskirts of Cambridge’s sprawling suburbs and the festival is in a lovely, green setting. It must be one of the few festivals run by a local council too. Since my days reading ‘Folk Roots’ magazine back in the late 1980’s, I have always wanted to get along to this festival which has built a reputation as one of the leading folk festivals.
The festival site is set in the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall and as befitting an eco festival many travel to the site by bicycles or public transport. It is a compact site, with two main stages and lots of smaller musical areas including the Hub aimed at the younger musicians. You have the usual beer and food sellers, along with stalls selling all manner of jewellery and festival essentials.
The main arena has the standing crowd undercover and behind them a sea of green picnic style chairs, with a broad mix of ages. I must admit I have never seen so many chairs at a festival. This festival would be the perfect one for a family or festival first timer.
First music of the day for me was Patsy Griffin, appearing on the second stage to a large and appreciative audience. I have heard of her but not heard anything by her before and she has a wonderful voice that suits the stories she tells. Although classed as a country singer, she has a broader appeal to anyone who enjoys a good song sung well.
Over to the main stage for a folk supergroup, LAPD, which consists of Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Liam O’Flynn – three members of the legendary Irish folk band Planxty – and highly respected fiddle player Paddy Glackin. The musicianship was simply stunning as you would expect given the pedigree of musicians on display. They played a mix of songs from Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and a few traditional numbers. You can tell they are held in high esteem as watching in the crowd were various members of Friday night’s headliners Bellowhead.
Amadou & Mariam played a set of enjoyable tunes with a Malian flavour on the main stage, which lent itself perfectly to the balmy summer’s evening. Over on stage 2 was another new musical find for me, Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo. She has a gentle voice and like everyone I saw over the two days I was there, possesses a lot of musical talent. One artist I will be investigating further.
Time for a little tea and despite the wide range of food available, fish and chips won the day as it included mushy peas, result! Wandering around the site everyone seems to be having a good time, no doubt helped in some part by the good weather.
The Levellers may be under the mainstream musical radar and that’s the way they like it, as they had a massive following here tonight and sell out their own three day festival in Devon every August.
Kicking off with ‘What A Beautiful Day’ was an inspired choice given the sunny evening and their whole set was uptempo, tapping into the crowd’s good time vibe. With bass player Jeremy Cunningham jumping up and down in his long dreadlocks he reminded me of Ginger of the Wildhearts fame. ‘Riverflow’ was another highlight, along with ‘One Way’ which even the audience who were not that familiar with the band knew and jigged along to.
Frontman Mark Chadwick works the crowd with ease and it’s hard to believe the band have been going for twenty five years now. I have wanted to see this band live and I am very pleased they met and exceeded my expectations, as many fellow music fans have told me down the years how good this band are live.
A rather special encore saw most of Bellowhead join them onstage for ‘The Recruiting Sergeant’, a special moment and a perfect end to their set. For me the band of the day as they judged the crowd’s mood perfectly and they were so damn energetic onstage!
Bellowhead took to the stage a little after 10:15pm and hit the ground running with the jaunty ‘Yarmouth Town’ swiftly followed by ’10,000 Miles Away’, another of those folk songs that features crime, love and punishment.
‘The Old Dun Cow’ is a another song that lends itself well to the live environment, drawing on all the band’s various musical instruments. The band hit their stride early on and with an 11:30pm curfew they kept the onstage banter to a minimum to cram as much music in as they could.
With an 11:30pm curfew at the place I was staying at, the historic Christchurch’s College, I had to leave early and negotiate my way back past various merry folk on a night out and the cyclists (I have never seen a city so full of cyclists, even more so than Oxford). As a quick aside, if like me you were not born to sleep under canvas, these student rooms are ideal in a lovely setting, with a decent room rate and a belt busting breakfast that keeps you going well into late afternoon before you feel hungry again.
Saturday 27th July
Heidi Talbot was first on my list after hearing her new album ‘Angels Without Wings’, which was enjoyable although live her voice sounded even better, with a good sound (hats off to the sound crews as hardly a sound gremlin was heard by me at the artists I listened too) and backed by a talented quartet of musicians.
The album’s title track and ‘Dear Johnny’ were highlights and I always think the sign of a good set is that the crowd is larger at the end, than at the start which it was for Heidi.
Le Vent du Nord added some French folk music to the afternoon and I did like the fact one song was deemed so dirty lyrically they refused to translate it!
Steeleye Span I last saw back in the late 80’s and Maddy Prior never seems to age! She, along with long standing members Peter Knight and Rick Kemp, form the backbone of the band. One of the pioneers of folk rock, Steeleye Span mix traditional songs giving them their own musical spin along with self-penned songs.
Special mention to drummer Liam Genockey, who laid down a massive rock beat, not too surprising though given in the past he has played with Gillan, along with Gerry Rafferty and Paul Brady amongst others.
It was a real treat to see him playing from my position at the side of the stage. An amazing set with classics like ‘Long Lankin’ and ‘Tam Lin’ played to perfection. Of course their final song of the night had to be ‘All Around My Hat’ with Maddy urging the crowd to lose their English reserve and join in with gusto. She needn’t have worried as the crowd responded and then some. One of the live highlights for me and long may they continue.
Heritage Blues Orchestra really got the early evening crowd dancing, at one stage we had a gospel revival going on with the audience waving their hands in the air in time with the music. The band’s uptempo set of rhythm and blues with a touch of soul and gospel hit the spot. A band made for festivals and having a good time.
Having a three hour journey home ahead of me I had to bow out early to the sounds of Tommy Emmanuel, a truly awe inspiring guitar player.
It was well worth the wait to finally visit the festival and I rate it as one of the best I have been to, along with Cropredy, for the facilities, ambiance and musical variety. The festival celebrates its 50th anniversary next year and with tickets on sale from early December I’d guarantee it will sell out quickly. Make sure you get along as it will be a special occasion I am sure.
Review by Jason Ritchie
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