Any festival with a continuous run of 51 years must be doing something right! Over that time the acts have constantly been of the highest quality and offered a diverse and eclectic mix of music from all corners of the world.
The misconception that all folkies have leather patches on their sleeves and listen with one finger stuck in their ear is well and truly kicked out. As the festival has moved forward there has been a broadening and acceptance of the younger more vibrant bands and mixing them alongside the cornerstone acts that have made the festival what it is today.
Indeed, this year the artists ranged from Joan Baez and Peggy Seeger who was at the very first CFF to Skinny Lister who after an amazingly energetic set in 2014 have been given a well-deserved Stage 2 slot this year. With a mix like this it keeps the lineup fresh and future proofed for the successful continuation of the festival and future generations.
Arriving on Thursday I caught some of the bands on stage 2, Fara and Lynched who both pulled in great crowds before my main band of the night Katzenjammer who are another of those extremely talented young bands performing this year.
Between them they play over 15 instruments and with a lively punchy set which mixes dancehall jams and traditional ballads. All the band take turns on vocals and all have quite distinctive sounds, almost as distinctive as the wild and wacky triangular cat print double bass.
Friday morning and we head over to the Club Tent for the planned Mojo interview with Wilko Johnson, for some reason he wasn’t there and instead we witnessed an extremely interesting and funny interview with Frank Turner.
Who would have thought that this now fully acoustic post-Bragg era folk punk artist was originally turned onto music by hardcore metal and Iron Maiden!
Indeed later in the day he appeared on stage 1 and was joined by Matt Nasir (guitar) when he played a great set that included a number of tracks from his latest album Positive Songs for Negative People.
After some early sets on stage 1 that included great music and stunning Pizzica dance from Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino and some fine American Country music from Angeleena Presley we came to one of the much-anticipated sets of the day.
It seems that Wilko Johnson is making up for lost time with several festival appearances this year. He powered thorough a set of Dr Feelgood and Rock and Roll classics including ‘Roxette’ and ‘Back In The Night’ ably assisted by Norman Watt Roy on bass – one of the most charismatic players around – and Dylan Home keeping the backline solid.
Over on stage 2 is something a bit special, Peggy Seeger, who is currently touring with her sons Calum and Neill. She started off the set alone onstage surrounded by her instruments and enjoyed some fine banter with the crowd and also the photographers as she stated ‘please make me look good’, not a hard task for such a fine lady. In a set that encompasses many eras of music the highlight for me was when she sang the song written by Ewan McColl, ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.
Well, they might not have walked 500 miles to get here but they are certainly here to give 500% in entertainment as The Proclaimers brought the night to an end with a packed out and heartily singing stage 1. Scottish or not the songs are known by all, including ‘Letter From America’ and ‘Sunshine On Leith’ ringing out as we approach the curfew.
One of the best things about CFF are the workshops and festival sessions held every day and the one on Stage 2 this morning is one of the most anticipated.
It is led by Brian McNeill who after packing out the Club Tent on Friday is now joined by a host of friends for a true masterclass of folk music, mixing his own amazing touch on guitar/fiddle and vocals.
Over on stage 1 was a band who were not only playing at the festival for the first time but also making their first trip to the UK. Goitse are one of the many young bands picking up on their roots and played a great traditional Irish folk set full of energy and passion.
This five-piece have been making waves with their albums but the more so with their uplifting live performances full of great jigs and reels and a fine way to get ailing joints flexing.
There has been quite a lot of chatter about The Stray Birds already this weekend and indeed they have three sets booked over the stages. As part of the Americana feel over the weekend they huddled around the 50’s style microphone and performed perfect 3 part harmonies, a subtle mix of bluegrass and American folk, they ended their set with the title track from their latest album Best Medicine to rapturous applause.
Heading on over to a packed out stage 2 for one of the must-see bands of the festival, currently on a Europe-wide tour, Skinny Lister are the type of band that links the old and the new and will ensure the Folk Festival will be perpetuated in future years.
They take their traditional instruments and ideals and mix it with their vitality and produce something that pricks up the ears of the old folkies and the new folkies en masse. It’s not many times a band presents you with an ale jug and asks you to have a swig and pass it on, before the double bass player jumps in the crowd and crowd surfs whilst still playing.
Artists like Joan Baez become timeless as her music is taken on by each different generation and she finds a whole new audience who flock to her concerts. I have seen her here a few times over the years and, as ever, it’s standing room only in the vast stage 1.
She is very humble to the applause and cheers as she chats casually with the audience before opening with one of her early songs ‘Railroad Boy’. Her distinctive vibrato fills the silent tent as she reels off a great set mainly of the collaborations with people she’s worked with over the many years including a great version of ‘Me And Bobby McGee’.
As the night rolls on to its inevitable conclusion there is one last band The Treacherous Orchestra, who appeared dressed like an insane mixture of celtic and steam punk before erupting into a high energy set with a very modern hard hitting edge built on a steady undertow of traditional Scottish instrumental work. Similar in style to The Peatbog Faeries and a fitting finale to another great day of music.
As ever with CFF where is so much going on and so many stages and bands that you can miss so much by trying to see it all. Wandering round this morning I caught The Hub doing a great youth folk session before heading over to the lake where I caught The Stray Birds doing a live recording session for the BBC. Passing the Flower Garden, a glimpse of a festival favourite as he holds a crowd enthralled, The Storyteller aka John Row.
In their continued attempt to bring the Ukulele to the people The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played a humorous but extremely entertaining set of covers including The Zutons’ ‘Valerie’, Blur’s ‘Song 2′ and ‘God Gave Rock And Roll To You’.
I’m sure they have managed to turn a few people on to the power of the ukulele and one or two may even have been inspired to purchase one from nearly Woodworm Music.
The Club Tent hosted some great artists over the weekend and another on the must-see list was Wild Willy Barrett and his French connection. I have seen him many times both solo and with John Otway but now he has taken on a full band that includes his wife Mary on cello, with a performance that could easily have come direct from the pre-1940’s France. Featuring the divine vocals of Aurora Colson, definitely not as wild and frantic as his Otway days but still as experimental as you would expect.
2014/15 sees Joan Armatrading on her last ever world tour. She played a solo set on both guitar and piano and took us through her whole catalogue beginning with ‘City Girl’ from her first album Whatever For Us, a stunning version of ‘Love And Affection’ and 80’s hit ‘Drop The Pilot’ before finishing the main set with a great version of ‘Me Myself I’.
Passenger aka Mike Rossenberg, took The Den by storm a few years ago and since then has literally gone from busking to worldwide acclaim; he is the closest thing to a boy band you will get this weekend and judging by all the young lassies hanging over the barrier and screaming at him he will be lucky to get out of here fully clothed.
Although he uses a band for recording and touring, tonight he in solo and he owns the tent, with a voice that is simply stunning and powerful and a tone similar to American neo- folk singer Joshua James.
It’s the pure simplicity of guitar and vocals that holds the tent in silence until the roar of the crowd at the end of each song and especially ‘Let Her Go’, his breakthrough hit.
After a long 4 days and numerous bands the best was definitely saved until last. Ben Miller combines psycho-folk and rockabilly rolled into a three-piece powerhouse combination.
Their set included a great version of the blues classic ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ and ‘John The Revelator’ whilst mixing in songs from his own album Any Way, Shape or Form.
Using an old phone handset as a makeshift harmonica microphone sums up the Lo-Fi style of his music and the single string washtub bass and use of the washboard by the drummer completes the mash-up.
As I wandered offsite to the strains of Shooglenifty on stage 1, I reflected on another great Cambridge Folk Festival – combining the best of the traditional and new to ensure its relevance and durability going forward.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 20 December., imbued with a festive flavour to raise the spirits
More about Josh: http://getreadytorock.me.uk/blog/?s=%22Josh+Taerk%22
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 December 2020 and announces the results of the Popular Poll for Best of 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 20 December 2020 and includes Pete’s best of the year selections
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12:00-13:00 SERGEANT STEEL Truck Tales (Boyz Tyme Records)
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