As with most new experiences in life, a certain fear, or perhaps trepidation a better description, of the unknown exists. Although friendliness assured by many previous visitors, a feeling of nervousness descends as a virgin of the legendary festival, I walk through the leafy Cambridge suburbs, my destination the hallowed folk grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall. What awaits, a hoard of hunter folkies, awaiting the fresh blood of an unsuspecting rock /metal fan, sacrificial human flesh for the hog roast? Fortunately far more welcoming, even before reaching site, a twitter conversation struck up, assuring an approachable nature the festival affords all plus invaluable advice on ground conditions plus footwear requirements. A big thank you to @fireflybelle for your patience and assistance. Arriving early allows time to wander the relatively small site, locating the relevant tented stages, planning my strategy to waste not a minute, experience as much music as humanly possible within the day. Even before the main stage awakes at 1.00pm, impromptu performances abound in The People’s Living Room, one third of the No Frills band from Camden providing stripped back versions of traditional songs, at The Den, a new stage for emerging talent set within a stunning Indian marquee, open stage slots, including fledgling talents, Alex Taylor and Tamsin Porter. Stage 2 provides a juggling workshop, The Club Tent’s guitar workshop, The Hub, children’s entertainment and The Duck Pond allows an opportunity to find your inner self, T’ai Chi, Positive thinking and yoga amongst others available, the whole atmosphere of Cherry Hinton, relaxed, chilled, a genuine family festival enjoyed within gorgeous surroundings, weather definitely a factor, slightly hazy sunshine this morning, a comfortable heat.
Reconnaissance complete, time for scheduled music as I head to Stage 1 to sample the early afternoon atmosphere in the company of The Mighty Doonans, an Irish family affair, at least two generation’s, perfect openers in the sun filling the stage with Gaelic charm, colour, Irish dancing, even folk funk and unapologetically referencing Ray Davis as a truly inspiring song writer before a rambunctious version of The Kinks, “Dead End Street. ”
A ten minute walk finds The Den’s intimate, chilled surroundings beginning to draw attention, solo artist, Robin Gillan well received, plaintive vocals accompanied by alternating guitar or fiddle, continuing last night’s Billy Bragg theme, celebrating Woody Guthrie’ 100th birthday with a cover from the revered man. A distinct change in atmosphere and temperature suddenly apparent, an influx of mainly young females envelopes the tent, it appears the highly anticipated Jake Bugg something of a heart throb to younger festival attendees. Unfortunately, an announcement, Jake’s car broken down somewhere near Nottingham earlier, desperately trying to make his slot, although timings will mean at best, truncated. While tension grows, it’s testament to the patience of the audience, no real signs of frustration assisted by a spontaneous acoustic performance from the midst of the crowd. After around forty minutes, the news everyone hoped for, Buggs’s arrival confirmed, after a sprint from the gate, taking the stage to rapturous applause and well worth the wait.
While crowd interaction and stage presence is minimal, perhaps due to the breathless, nature of arrival a youthful charm exudes, (is he even old enough to drive?) bolstered by a slightly truncated performance of strong vocals, robust chord structures and expressive, solid material, inclusive two new songs, one of which “Two Fingers” particularly venomous lyrically. Again, in keeping with surroundings, no girly screams emanate throughout, instead doe eyed intensity fixed at the onstage figure, before rapturous applause between songs, reaching a crescendo as Bugg ends with a triumphant “Lightning Bolt.”
A quick turnaround takes place, both within the audience and on stage, average age within the tent increases by approximately twenty years if not more for Nick Mulvey. Those who choose to enter or hang around, witness one of the performances of the day, from an assured and experienced artist ex of the Portico Quartet. Mulvey playing a number of tracks from a forthcoming EP due for release in October, exhibiting stunning, intricately picked guitar, supplementing sublimely smooth vocal talents, especially mesmerising during a penchant for Congolese melodies and lyrics. At this point, hunger and particularly thirst generated by the ever more stifling heat within The Den suggests a move required, although not before Liz Green. Possessing one of the most distinctive vocals of any genre, although never really appreciating her recorded work, something deep inside suggests a need to investigate her live performance, a decision fully rewarded. A vulnerability surrounds Green, introducing herself as a not very interesting person, hence the need to write songs about dead people. Completely quirky, with a darkly dry sense of humour straight from the heart of her native Wirral, more than capable of losing herself amidst songs, acknowledging a dislike of practise not especially helpful. The innocence and awkwardness only ensure her all the more captivating and engrossing however, running though a selection of songs from debut album “O, Devotion” including “Midnight Blues,” “Bad Medicine” and “Displacement Song” with new material “Penelope” and “Rybka.” An attempt to leave the stage before a reminder from the sound desk still time for two further songs sums up an unconventional show, before Green eventually finishes with a cover of Pulp’s “Help The Aged” in true contradictory style.
Hunger pangs and necessity for fluids eventually dictate a short break from proceedings, transporting me towards food and drink stalls and a quick chat with colleagues before heading back to Stage 1 for The Oysterband and June Tabor, almost royalty it seems on these hallowed fields. Tabor holds court initially, prior John Jones taking the stage to a noticeably well-rehearsed piece of apparent banter. Their brand of dark and anthemic folk rock, impeccably played and sung, a mixture of original material, traditional songs and two completely off kilter covers The Velvet Undergrounds “All Tomorrow’s Party’s” plus an especially spine tingling version of Joy Divisions classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” stripped down and laid lyrically bare to even more mournfully stark effect. Tabor exhibits strong social and political beliefs between songs, slightly at odds with Jones’ appearance, more Folk Star than grass roots, especially armed with just microphone in hand, not that anyone appeared concerned during a crowd pleasing performance.
I decide to spend the latter part of the evening back in a more sparsely populated Den, arriving just in time to catch Derbyshire male / female duo David Gibb and Elly Lucas. They provide a pleasant enough, although slightly twee performance, on occasions circumnavigating pantomime territory, working hard to involve the audience. The Den’s inhabitants (Gibb’s local folk club contemporaries aside,) are in the main searching a quiet haven, instead cajoled into a sing-a-long of “They Were Only Playing Leapfrog” within an inside vs outside the tent rivalry. More in keeping, Bangor’s Lee Mitchell, who’s grittier song writing, delivered via exceptional vocal range and appealing melodies utilising a second guitarist, held those present rapt for the duration. Unfortunate, more not present to witness a sterling performance.
Upon researching unfamiliar names through Spotify, Seamus Cater and Viljam Nybacka a main focus today, their album “The Anecdotes” seizing my attention, whilst certainly folk music, adopting a progressive and inventive nature, a chance to witness their absorbing sound live, far too good an opportunity to miss. A similar mind-set seemingly shared by one of the main organisers of today’s line-up, certain rules revolve around The Den’s bookings, including no drums, no amps and no one over the age of twenty five, Cater and Nybacka breaking each and every one. The duo won’t appeal to all, certainly the case tonight, minimalist keyboard, accordion and harmonica soundscapes with restrained, unassuming rhythms supporting in the main, narrative tales of eccentric characters and occasions from history. Cater taking time between songs, explaining the influences behind his cerebral lyricism, “Alexis Lapointe” a French Canadian athlete who raced horses, trains and cars in the late 1890’s to 1900’s, or “Bas Jan Ader” a Dutch conceptual artist lost at sea in 1975 as part of an art performance “In Search of the Miraculous.”
Some may suggest Cater and Nybacka pretentious, personally I prefer intellectual, enthralling and hypnotic. With a three hour drive home required, I decide this entrancing performance my last of the day, although can’t resist one last incursion to Stage 1 now dark fallen. I’m met by the largest ceilidh I’ve ever witnessed, the whole field turned into one enormous party by Treacherous Orchestra, in the middle of an exuberant rendering of “Superfly.”
The stark contrast between just ten minutes previously, portrays perfectly everything which deigns The Cambridge Folk Festival such an outstanding event. Special mention should also be made to the sound crews, whether sat immediately in front of a duo on a tiny stage, or stood two hundred yards from a ten piece band, every instrument wholly audible one, quite a sonic achievement. Guaranteed, after the complete enjoyment of the day, Cherry Hinton Hall a location to which I’ll return, sooner rather than later.
For those keen to ensure next years festival indelibly marked on the 2013 calendar, tickets already available at www.cambridgefolkfestival.co.uk/
Review by Andy Barnes[living room and crowd scene photos]
Other images provided by Ellie Clarke [Prescription PR] from photographers:Danny Sambuca www.dannysambuca.com