I must begin with a confession; this was my first time attending Cambridge Folk Festival and I only recognised a handful of the acts scheduled to play. I know, I’m a folking heathen. Especially when you consider that the festival has been running since 1965, I’ve had ample opportunity.
I enjoy folk music and will take the opportunity to see folk acts at other festivals I attend throughout the summer, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect beyond folk music in a field and it turns out Cambridge Folk Festival is so much more than the image the name conjures. It’s not just beardy blokes and fiddly diddly violin playing.
Friday 3 August
On arrival at the site, I walked into the middle of a storming set by First Aid Kit on Stage 1. They certainly gave a performance to get you singing and dancing. Their beautiful country harmonies filled the marquee with sublime sounds and pulled you into their performance with their uncapped joy. As first impressions go, this place wasn’t too shabby.
St. Paul and The Broken Bones followed First Aid Kit on Stage 1 and the heart pumping energy that erupted from the stage from the word go just kept coming. A soul/rock band from Alabama, lead singer, Paul Janeway, has a voice that is pure soul music and he sings and performs from the depth of his being. He fills the stage with his amazing, soulful voice and commanding presence and performance. They were first rate.
Second confession; I misread my own notes as to which bands I’d planned to see on Friday night. I had meant to go to Stage 2 to see Pierce Brothers. I wasn’t disappointed I’d made this mistake and saw St. Paul and The Broken Bones, they were fantastic, but I’d particularly wanted to check out Pierce Brothers as I’d had them recommended to me.
It was pure luck that I ended up walking past Stage 2 twenty minutes or so before the end of their set. I heard an explosion of acoustic indie folk that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to curse myself for my mistake because what I was witnessing on stage was awesome, genuinely awesome.
Twin brothers from Melbourne, Australia, Jack and Pat Pierce certainly make their instruments work hard! A guitar being played by both brothers at once then in the blink of an eye it’s used simultaneously as a guitar and a drum-kit being hit with drumsticks.
On stage Pierce Brothers seemed to be having the time of their lives, and so were we. They invited the crowd to singalong with them and when the song had finished, in the small break between songs, the crowd began singing their part again, so Pierce Brothers joined in and reprised the song for a few more choruses. It felt as if we were up on stage with them, so immersive was their performance. If you ever get the chance to see them live I definitely recommend you do.
Saturday 4 August
As I hadn’t really had a chance to explore the festival on Friday evening I went for a walkabout when I arrived on Saturday. The main arena is much like the festival itself, compact and unconventional. The typical image that comes to mind when one thinks of a festival is a main stage set in a fairly large, open field, whereas Cambridge Folk Festival is slightly more enclosed, which seems to be dictated by the structure and layout of the location.
Stage 1, the main stage, is enclosed in a large, open-ended marquee with big screens erected either side making it possible for those who were sitting on the main field to see the action on stage. The atmosphere seemed intensified inside the marquee because of the enclosed set up and gave the feeling of being at a gig. Definitely a plus.
Another bonus to the layout was the short distance between the stages in the main arena meaning you didn’t have far to walk at all, also walkways were marked out making it easier to get around the site.
While wandering I stopped for a drink in the shade by the Club Tent, I had intended to only sit for a few moments but members of Fèis Rois, an organisation who give Scots performers the chance to perform at gigs and festivals, were on stage inside the tent and their music kept me rooted where I was, unable to leave until they’d finished.
It’s a good job they finished when they did because I had plans to see Darlingside at Stage 1. Darlingside’s vocals have a unique sound because all four members sing through the same microphone lending an ethereal air to their music. Acoustic music at it’s most sublime, Darlingside’s sound is as beguiling as the band members themselves, their stillness on stage and beautiful music were both restful and captivating. Music to settle the soul.
Blues master Eric Bibb then took us way down south with his deliciously gravelly rhythm and blues voice and pure blues guitar playing. With his band accompanying him it would have been easy to imagine we were in a smoky bar in Louisiana. I’ve never really listened to blues before, I’ve heard but never really listened, but Mr Bibb and his associates have definitely changed that. I’ve been making up for missing out since returning home after the festival.
After my induction to blues I made my way over to Stage 2 where Irish Mythen blew me away. She speaks with honesty, wit and passion and sings with the whole of her heart and soul. She also makes you think, about life, love and our relationships other people.
Mixing stories with songs played on acoustic guitar, she absolutely charmed the audience; and wow, what a voice! I fell completely in love with her and her music. Just stunning and a definite highlight of the weekend. She gave me goosebumps and grins.
Saturday evening I was faced with a difficult decision, Patti Smith or John Moreland. But because of the layout of the festival I could flit between the two stages with ease. However, I ended up spending most of my time at Stage 2 where John Moreland was playing, probably because his voice is very Springsteen, he has the same effortless gravelly drawl that I find so pleasing on the ear. Plus his relative shyness was so endearing, he just seemed to want to play while we listen, to share with us his music, nothing more, nothing less. And I could have happily sat and listened for hours.
Sunday 5 August
Sunday for me began at Stage 1 with Daoirí Farrell who performs traditional Irish folk music on bouzouki and sings songs written in a traditional folk style. So lovely and soothing for those who might be suffering with sore heads or festival fatigue.
The restorative effects of pleasurable music continued with Robert Vincent on Stage 2. A blues and country musician from Liverpool, Robert Vincent and his band played music to listen to and appreciate. The kind of music perfect for a sunny afternoon in a beautiful place.
I hung around Stage 2 after Robert Vincent as William Crighton was another artist I was interested to see. William Crighton is a fairly intense Australian musician with a unique singing style. He sings some parts of his songs through the microphone, then he bellows from the bottom of his lungs towards the back of the marquee and beyond for other parts of the song.
He can certainly project his voice, but without shouting. A tremendous effect that adds to the intensity of the performance. His huge presence on stage commands you to listen to his music, and he has a lot to say with his lyrically poetic songs.
There was a break in the list of bands I absolutely had to see, so I returned to the shady spot by the Club Tent for a bite to eat. The prices of food on the stalls was fairly standard for the size of festival, you could buy a full meal and a drink for roughly a tenner. The Club Tent was a lovely setting to enjoy my food, too. It was nice to sit for a while and just be, listening to music in such a relaxed and relaxing place.
My must see list resumed with Janis Ian. Janis Ian exudes elegance and class. Playing lilting country music and blending poignant story telling and enchanting songs, it was impossible to not fall under her spell.
John Prine, followed Janis Ian on Stage 1. John Prine was a definite must see of the weekend and he delivered his performance with his well known sense of humour and sang songs with a social conscience. It was an honour to see him perform. I only wish his set had been longer so we could enjoy more of his humorous tales and deep country singing voice.
Closing the festival at Stage 1 were Peatbog Faeries, a crazy cacophony of folk, funk and trance music. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. Their music has magical powers, whoever hears it is compelled to dance, even after spending a weekend baking in the hot sun feeling sun drunk and lazy. A magnificent end to a magnificent weekend.
I left Cambridge Folk Festival on a massive high, wondering, why haven’t I been to this festival before? The whole weekend was a banquet of fantastic music and I didn’t see a single act who was anything less than superb.
Would I recommend Cambridge Folk Festival? Absolutely. Will I be going back next year? An emphatic and resounding, yes!
Review and photos by Hollie Latham
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