Yet again CFF has come up with an intriguing and eclectic mix of artists that pulls from many eras and styles of folk and world music, included in this are enough big names to entice people. This helped to yet again ensure the festival was sold out. From early Thursday morning the early birds have been queueing to get onsite and by the time most of us got there the Cherry Hinton site was awash with colour as the punters adorned their tents with flags and banners as they setup for a weekend of fun.
With any multi-stage festival there is always so much choice and those willing to forsake the main stages and headliners have plenty to occupy themselves with the Club tent and The Den hosting full schedules. The many impromptu sessions that happen throughout the weekend also includes the Guinness Bar.
Thursday is a gentle run into the main event and for me starts with the Bridlington Duo Seafret, new to me but not to the audience they delivered an extremely atmospheric and moody set mainly from their debut album ‘Tell Me Its Real’.
Jack’s emotive vocal delivery and Harry’s delicate phrasing on the guitar hold the audience in silence and songs like ‘Breathe’ and ‘Tell Me Its Real’ really stand out. Over the weekend many singer/songwriters take to the stages and give the more general music lovers something that is not too Trad folkie to enjoy.
My only venture to The Den tonight was to catch a couple of songs of rhymes and harmonies from the wonderful Heg And The Wolf Chorus before heading back over to the Club tent to catch Will Varley.
Having beaten the well-trodden path and played to one man and his dog, through his own hard work and 500 miles later he was out supporting The Proclaimers and Billy Bragg. The club tent is a homely place for him and the packed out crowd enjoyed a great set that included not only his own tracks but also plenty of witty banter.
Following on and it was only a matter of time before Jon Boden surfaced after departing from Bellowhead earlier this year and tonight he performed a great set of his own solo work and a few choice Bellowhead tracks.
Friday morning and it time for the Mojo Interview which this year is with the wonderfully charismatic Kate Rusby, the northern lass keeps true to her roots has an amusing and absorbing chat with Mojo’s Colin Irwin.
Her live set on the main stage later in the weekend was as ever one of the main crowd pullers of the weekend and the finale was the band and most of the audience donning blue card spectacles and superhero capes for ‘Bill Brave Bill’, Barnsley’s one and only superhero.
A busy rest of the day brings a great fusion of folk and reggae from Edward 2, a song writing masterclass and great stage 2 performance from Chris Wood and a fine mix of Québécois folk music from Le Vent Du Nord.
Over on stage 2 Jeroen Blind Box Paxton was a revelation, multi-instrumentalist he plays music that belies his young age and goes from deep blues to jazz and American folk.
Glen Hansard was for most the headliner of the day, many will remember him as the fresh faced guitarist in ‘The Commitments’ but in his own words “this got in the way of his real music”.
Busking at the young age of 13 and performing either solo or with his band The Frames he delivered a polished but still emotional delivery as he captured and held the crowd in the moment, with highlights ‘Bird Of Sorrow’ and ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’.
Final band to catch tonight and without doubt one of the liveliest band I’ve seen here for a few years, Gogol Bordello hit the stage like there is no tomorrow and gave the willing crowd a full on gypsy punk extravaganza.
It’s not often you see a mosh pit at a folk festival but they managed to get a section of the crowd pogoing. They might be a marmite band but to be honest if you don’t “get them” there is plenty going on elsewhere.
They finished the set and the night with ‘Undestructible’ which saw Eugene and Pamela surfing the crowd atop two bass drums, no one can follow that. A totally exhausted crowd headed back to their tents having witnessed one of the sets of the festival.
It seems that Saturday is Americana day with no less than four artists giving their take on this wide genre. Cash Box Kings are pure Chicago blues and could have stepped off the Blues Brothers set.
Sam Outlaw could be right out of Nashville with his wide brimmed hat and southern drawl although he is actually LA based. A great modern country feel whilst keeping the roots firmly in the south with most of his set coming from the debut album ‘Angeleno’.
Darlingside we’re proud to say that this was their first trip out of the US and also first gig in the UK as they took to stage 2, little did they know that later in the day – due to the unfortunate news that Charles Bradley had to drop out – they would be taking to stage 1 for their second gig in the UK.
They became the festival favourites as the four-piece gathered round a single mic and won over the crowd with their four-part harmonies, so much so that by the following morning all their CDs had sold out on site.
Final Americana came from Applewood Road whose stunning three-way harmonies floated over the delicate accompaniment from guitar and fiddle, they even fit in a great cover of REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’.
One of my favourite stages over the weekend is the The Den which offers a great drop-in and chill-out feel where you can come and lose a few hours in the company of some outstanding musicians.
Situated among the trees out near the pond the vibrantly coloured tent is carpeted in rugs and pulls you in to sit and enjoy the buzz. It is fast becoming the place to be at CFF and showcases some of the new and upcoming bands that will soon be gracing the main stages.
Tir Eolas performed an outstanding set of Celitc and English folk, haunting vocals and sublime musicianship. Dublin based band The Eskies wowed a packed crowd with their energetic gypsy folk and thoroughly deserved their standing ovation. I could easily spend the entire weekend at The Den and would not be disappointed.
Christy Moore, a name that runs through folk history, this year brought a quartet to the festival that included Sligo musician Seamie O’Dowd, although the pull for me was more in the direction of The Club tent to see a great set from the BBC Radio 2 young folk award winner Brighde Chaímbeul. She plays a mean set of Moore small pipes, definitely the best choice and a chance to see artists that will be keeping the traditional music alive for generations to come.
Finally for me tonight was Kila who in a similar vein to Shooglenifty link trad folk instruments and styles with more up tempo world music rhythms to produce a hypnotic blend that brings the crowd to its feet. Linked with a few more traditional jogs and reels it’s a great way to end the night.
Sunday morning and arriving early on site I spent some time walking round and looking at the many facets of the festival that can quite easily be overlooked: the sessions at the duck pond and the wood craft and basket weaving workshops. Chatting to one lady from Belgium she mentioned “what a wonderful place it was, so happy and friendly”, I think that really sums up the feeling of the festival.
In the club tent Lady Maisery offered up an exquisite set of vocal harmonies whilst Blazing Fiddles kept the main stage alight before one of my artists of the weekend. Eliza Carthy is one of those catalyst performers who will ensure that festivals like Cambridge will continue, bringing folk to a wider audience whilst still keeping faithful to the genre.
With the Wayward band she oozes fun and excitement and the whole band has a lively stage presence. Her flashes of blue hair and makeup give her that wild side look but underneath beats the heart of a true folkie and with good reason as she comes from a line of “who’s who” in the trad folk world. A brilliantly uplifting set with a lot of songs from their upcoming album ‘The Big Machine’.
Imelda May may have dropped her signature quiff for a more rock chic look but that certainly didn’t detract her giving a stunning performance with standouts ‘Tribal’, ‘Wild Woman’ and ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’. A great way to end the festival.
The whole weekend ends up being a blur as you hang on to the beat and rhythm of the last act whilst looking for the next, indeed walking past The Den and hearing Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ seemed most appropriate as – before you know it – the weekend is coming to an end.
One thing that Cambridge Folk Festival hasn’t lost for me – and still as strong as my first visit – is the magical time you have as you submerge yourself in the proceedings.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
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