50th Cambridge Folk Festival


There is nothing quite like a good journey to put you into the right mood for a festival and the journey between Poole and Cambridge was as smooth as a rusty nail with added honey. As if to emphasise the point as I'm entering Cambridge City limits the celebratory tones of the Eurythmics' "So good to be back home again" hits the sound system to all must be right with the world. Ok, we know it's not, but for four days, at least, it's time to transport myself to a better place.

Cambridge starts with the standard ritual of collecting the passes/wristbands, the physical confirmation that it's all good to go, before heading off and catching up with the rest of the team, coming in from a host of geographical directions for a spot of lunch at the pub, before moving on to onsite gastronomy for the rest of the event, well except for breakfast. Breakfast which is coming from a great little B&B just down the road where I head off to next to dump my stuff.

Cambridge Folk Festival is about two things, music and people and with the music not starting until the evening the main focus of the afternoon is people, but first a quick tour of the site. Two major changes come to mind. Firstly the Den appears to have grown by a fair old measure, which is great as it tended to fill up very easily and with the likes of Lucy Ward playing it this year, it still will, but with a lot more people able to see, rather than listen from the fringes, secondly there appears to be a photo pit/barrier in the Club Tent, something I've never seen here before.

It turns out that it's going to be a temporary measure, Skinny Lister, who are headlining the stage in the evening have been described as 'being like the Pogues, but with better teeth.' Even though I know the barrier will be going before Nancy Kerr's fiddle workshop in the morning, I suspect I'm going to get a great evening of photography in.

The afternoon is whiled away in a pleasant series of catch up with old friends, newer friends and putting names to faces with people that I've communicated with over the years, but never actually met, something I know will continue over the course of the 50th Cambridge Folk Festival.

The Thursday is a comparatively quiet affair, only in terms of numbers, open to full festival ticket holders and resident only Thursday tickets, but it doesn't let that keep down the passion and enthusiasm down in anyway. There was a time where I used to try and plan my festival, but I soon learned the futility of that, this year it's time to go where the music takes me.

The first place it takes me is the Club Tent, but not before making my first difficult choice of the day, the Radio Two Best Duo Award winning Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin or rising stars of London's contemporary Irish scene, CrossHarbour, whose self-titled debut release came out earlier in the year to a series of great reviews.

The latter win out, I really rated their album, as I did Phil and Hannah's, but I've yet to see CrossHarbour, live and I know they are going to be an excellent act to start the music side of the festival. As well as opening the festival, they also happen to be one of the acts on the new Fatea Showcase Sessions download "Connections" which launched during the course of the night, so if you want to get a flavour of the band, get along to www.fatea-showcase-sessions.co.uk and grab yourself a free copy.

CrossHarbour kick off the festival in instrumental mode with a set of tunes called Jackson's which gradually built the atmosphere giving the audience a chance to warm up, rather than going in hot and fast, which shows the band have already got a sense of stagecraft to match their high performance standard.

The instrumental line up of Tad Sergeant, Orlaith McAuliffe, Sam Proctor and Phil Barnes are then augmented by the appearance of the band's vocalist, Rosie Hodgson, for the next number and first song, "Wedding Day" which she dedicated to Phil, who got married earlier in the year. She's an exceptional vocalist who is one of the few that I know that really manage to combine to the two disciplines of clarity and passion. It goes down really well with the audience and you can tell that this is a band that is being warmed to quickly.

When she's not singing, Rosie departs the stage, leaving the musicians to not only take up their place in the spotlight, but also without having the distraction of having the audience wonder if the singer is going to cut it, from my point of view, it works well.

The combination of songs and instrumentals goes down well, as does the variation in pace and subject matter. For what terms out to be the penultimate piece, CrossHarbour play "Chicago", which is the track they've lent to the Fatea Showcase Session. "Poor Man's Late" rounds off a great opening set and their Cambridge Folk Festival debut performance, judging by the response they've got a good chance of being back on one of the bigger stages in the not too distant future.

During the course of their set, the heavens opened for what turned out to be quite a heavy shower as it was still coming down hard, I made a weather related decision not to split my next watching between harp and kora duo Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita and local Cambridge duo Naomi Randall & Tom Gaskell, who launched their debut album in the spring this year, so I took the decision to stay in the Club Tent.