50th Cambridge Folk Festival


Yesterday proved beyond a doubt the wisdom of a full English, nearly 12 hours without any proper food, so commonsense says that Sunday should start the same way. I'm trusting the weather forecast, bush hat left in the car, slightly worse for wear Panama back on my head. It's older than both my kids and I'm just glad it can't talk or I'd be paying for substantial amounts of silence.

As I've mentioned a couple of times, mornings at Cambridge Folk Festival normally start off with a workshop, but it's something different today, a guitar master class. What's the difference? I hear you ask. Well a workshop is more about participation, people are encouraged to bring their instruments with them and take part, a master class, more about listening and asking questions.

The reason makes sense, Martin Simpson is giving the master class and if everyone turned up with their guitar, a lot of people wouldn't be able to get in, hear the tips and ideas and get the chance to ask Martin for a bit of advice on their own personal trails to guitar heroics.

In a classic case of read the programme, I finally realise/remember that there are also morning workshops/presentations at The Den. This morning its Cambridge Folk Festival's artistic director Eddie Barcan.

I leave a packed Martin Simpson Guitar Master class and make the longest walk of all, Club Tent to The Den, it's still comparatively early on a Sunday Morning, the sun is shining and I'm getting a sneaky feeling the step count for today is going to be high.

Eddie is one of only two directors the festival has had, with most of my visits here coinciding with his tenure. Along with Joan, the widow of the previous director, he collected the Folk Award on behalf of Cambridge Folk Festival.

It was a relatively light hearted affair that took us from selling ice cream on South End seafront to setting the direction at one of the best known festivals in the world. There was good banter with both Colin Irwin, the onstage interviewer as they went over the many success and occasional failures over the years.

There were joking references to the number of artists who ended up playing their last festival appearances at the festival, which drew the line, "Gene Clarke never even made it here". It was a great way to start the day and a rare insight into a man that rarely takes to the stage.

I was enjoying myself so much I ended up having to make a run to Stage 1 to catch the opening act of the day, The Young'uns, who are on sparkling form, carrying forward a sense of humour and sharing great banter with the crowd as well as exceptional harmonies.

Suddenly it got a bit serious on the introduction to the band's second song, "Three Sailors" inspired by a grave to three unknown sailors. I come from a nautical background and songs about the sea always seem to have an added poignancy, but there was something about the way this one started that suggested this was going to be one of those songs that you sit down, listen to and hope you can hold back the tears.

It really says something the Young'uns that having really concentrated the thoughts and emotions, they were pretty much able to bring the mood straight back up, that's real talent. I heard later that they had had the biggest queue of the festival at the signing tent, I'm not surprised.

Next up it's Sarah Jarosz, who I'd seen the previous day on Stage 2 and I have to say I'm slightly disappointed with how she's set the stage. I appreciate that she's got an intimate sound and that's why she's set the stage in the same tight triangle she used the previous day. In the narrower Stage 2 it worked quite well, but in the width of Stage 1, it meant that there were a lot of people in the wings that couldn't actually see her past her band members.

She is really chuffed to be not only at Cambridge, but there for the fiftieth and it has to be said, she not only sounds great, but there is a real sense of excitement in her voice, this is an artist living her moment and it's one that she, her band and the audience will look back onto with real affection.

From Stage One to Club Tent to catch two of the best rising talents in England at the moment, Luke Jackson and Maz O'Connor, both of whom have released extraordinary albums this year, ones that almost make a mockery of the concept of age bringing wisdom and experience.

Despite not yet being twenty, Luke Jackson has released two immense albums, he debut, "More Than Boys" and more recently "Fumes & Faith". He has a stage presence that many artists would kill for and a voice and guitar style that make you think that he's a sixty year veteran who happens to have discovered the fountain of eternal youth.

I've been coming to Cambridge for a good number of years, as both website and magazine attest, I can honestly say that I don't think I've seen a performance quite like this before and hearing the response of the packed to the maximum crowd in the Club Tent there are a lot here, just like me standing in the shadow of greatness. Luke is one of the most perceptive songwriters I know, I know I tend to gush whilst writing about him, he can be inspired by a tv program and then write a song that makes you believe he was there.