50th Cambridge Folk Festival


A decent night's kip and a good solid full English is pretty much the best way to start the day. Blagging a lift from the car park to the site hints that this has the hallmarks of being a classic. As per usual the Club Tent is first port of call. A cup of coffee and a chat about the night before will be followed by taking in the fiddle workshop, but before that there's just enough time to finish off the Thursday write up on the Nokia E90 Communicator, still the best ever device for making notes at and revi

ewing festivals.

Cambridge is very much a festival that believes heavily in putting something back into the music scene running regular workshops for all ages over a variety of items appealing to different age groups across a number of spaces around the site, The Hub, The Flower Garden and even the duck pond as well as two of the main stages, Club and The Den. In addition there are activities for younger festival goers both at the main site and the Coldham's Common Campsite. This year there was even a knitting workshop.

The Club Tent focuses on instruments and this year it was Nancy Kerr delivering a fiddle workshop. Despite not being a player, over the years I've really got into the fiddle workshops. Catriona MacDonald taught me to play air fiddle, Brian McNeill helped me hone the skill and this year, Nancy Kerr taught me important elements about learning a tune by ear.

That's what is great about the workshops, the individuals that deliver them bring their personality to them and decide what they think is important, what has influenced them. I get so into what I'm listening to that I forget to head down to the Den to catch Sam Lee doing a talk on emerging voices.

The other Friday tradition at The Club Tent is The Mojo Interview. Every year, Colin Irwin interviews some of the biggest names in folk about various aspects of the scene and this year with it being Cambridge's Fiftieth, it was natural to bring in two of the names from the Great Folk Revival, Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy, as well as Martin's daughter, Eliza, back with blue hair, to represent the third wave of folk.

Whilst Cambridge remained very much the focus of the stories and reminiscences, the conversation did drift around festivals in general with the audience questions often being the ones to bring it back on topic, though with three names such as these to exchange banter with and get an insight into events, the conversation, which this really was, could have gone anywhere.

One of the things that occurs to me as I'm waiting by the media caravan to head down for the first band of the day is the changes there as well. As with all things with Cambridge, there have been changes over the years, names have come and gone both on the press office side and amongst the writers and photographers.

Many from both groups can be found around the festival, either in other roles or simply turning up and enjoying themselves. There's also some names that have been missing making welcome returns, a chance to catch up on old friendships. Like the musicians we're here to photograph and write about, there's a new generation of highly talented snappers that have appeared and brought new life into the pit ponies, a couple of whom remember the old caravan that we used to share before we got the more solid temporary building we call base now.

The music starts just after lunch and it's already a bit of a clash. Welsh band Calan are opening up Stage 1 and Megson are playing the children's concert on Stage 2. That's one of the things I like about Cambridge they really do cater to all ages, some might call it indoctrination, I call it encouraging a love of music and long may it last.

Calan are my first port of call, they've played the festival before opening the Club Tent a few years back. They play traditional Welsh folk music and use traditional Welsh instruments, including the pibgorn, which wasn't in the dictionary when I played it Scrabble a few back.

Whilst predominately an instrumental band, they always deliver songs, delivered in a delightful South Wales accent and normally with a light hearted lick.

It's a quick dash to Stage 2 to catch Debbie and Stu, aka Megson delivering a children's concert. Having become parents themselves a little while back, the duo revived the folk link to nursery rhymes by recording an album of old and new ones, at the same time re-linking nursery rhymes with the politics of the day.

It gives them an extra string to their bow and they really do relate well to the children they are entertaining whilst introducing them to folk music. Though there is something slightly amusing about watching Debbie run through a host of animal noises.

Enjoyable though it is I cut the set short to head down to the duck pond to view the unveiling of the Ken Woollard Memorial Bench, by his widow Joan. The bench will offer a great view across the festival site all year round a fitting tribute to a man without whome there wouldn't be a Cambridge Folk Festival.

The money was raised by friends of Ken Woollard and the bench provides a fitting memorial, especially in this Cambridge Folk Festival's Fiftieth year. Cambridge is almost unique in not only still being a council run event, but also during those fifty years, it has only had two artistic directors, Ken Woollard and Eddie Barcan (whose tenure more or less matches when Fatea started attending) initially as Ken's assistant and then taking over the direction.