50th Cambridge Folk Festival


Having got on the outside of a damned fine and highly substantial breakfast, thanks Tom, it's time to head to site for the day. Every day at Cambridge seems to have its own personality and over the years, I've come to realise that Saturday's is manic. It is definitely the day of most rushing around, it is also the day of my festival favourite, The Brian McNeill Session, but more of that later. Saturday also happens to be the day the team get the new t-shirts out.

Thinking about it, Thursday with just the evening is a night out with friends, take in a bit of food, watch some great bands and then catch up on the year with mates. Friday is getting into the vibe day, throwing the world off and realising that you are definitely here. Saturday, manic, Sunday relaxed with that take it easy feeling, especially if the sun is shining.

First port of call is the Club Tent for a cup of coffee and somewhere to sit down and finish off Friday's review. The queue has already started forming outside to try and get one of the turn up and play slots for later in the day. These are now also available at The Den so it's a smaller queue than normal. I notice that it's also a queue with a higher average age, it looks like the younger musicians have gone for The Den, which runs its open slots from twelve to one forty five.

For me a new Cambridge day starts off with poking my head into the Club Tent Workshop. Over the course of the festival there are a number of workshops aimed at different age groups and activities, unfortunately including juggling. Today at the Club Tent it's whistles delivered by Michael McGoldrick who has brought guitarist John Doyle along to accompany him on some of the sections where he's playing and to give an idea how to blend the whistle in with other instruments.

Once again I get so engrossed I forget to head down to the Den for the talk on fifty years of the festival, something I had been looking forward to. Having given myself a metaphorical kicking, I'm off to Stage 1 to watch a local Cambridge duo who I think I first saw at the thirtieth Cambridge Folk Festival, Ezio, though I think they were called Ezio and Booga back then.

The first time they were mentioned to me they were described as being something very special, subsequently described by the Guardian as 'easily one of the UK's best live bands'. Somehow despite numerous attempts, I've never really got them. I'm going to give it another go, but the hopes aren't high. It's good to see Booga back. He missed a few gigs earlier in the year due to illness and does really give depth to the sound.

It's time for my Cambridge Folk Festival Highlight, the Brian McNeill Session. I'd caught up with Brian and Jacqueline the night before and will do again later, but whilst they are in the process of sorting out the running order and delegating the task of getting the tunes sorted for the opening mass ranked number, a cheery good morning and keeping out of the way is what's required.

It's always good to be there as the musicians gather around the table to get a quick rehearsal done of the opening tunes, sometime they also include one of the closing tunes from the previous year which really doe help with the sense of continuity. According to the board the opening set this year is "Farrell O'Gara", "High Road To Linton" and "Humours Of Tulla", which was a closing tune last year.

The Brian McNeill Session always starts and ends the same way, with a mass of the people playing the session, or there to support in some cases, it gives the Brian McNeill Session that sense of continuity. The faces change, the session rolls majestically on. I set up camp in the pit and look forward to the next two and a half hours with a real sense of anticipation.

The Brian McNeill Session has always heavily featured youth and blends that with experience, which very much fits in with the Fatea philosophy and is probably the reason that it feels very much like Fatea's musical home. Similarly whilst the word session, has its Celtic connotations this one features music from right across the acoustic spectrum. It's also one of the longest running features at the festival.

The opening tends to feature a lead musician and this year it's rising fiddle player Matt Tighe, who also happens to be an occasional writer for Fatea, so it might not be a coincidence that he's wearing one of our t-shirts.