51st Cambridge Folk Festival


For me Cambridge Folk Festival really starts with the Thursday lunchtime meet up with friends. It's become very much part of my festival ritual, rituals that are different for all regular festival goers and part of what makes a festival unique for everyone attending.

My Cambridge rituals are too many to list here but as the review develops I'm sure you'll spot a good few of them.

Cambridge Folk Festival has always been about more than just the music to be at the top of your game, a festival is about the experience and you don't get to be a fifty one year old festival without being on top of your game.

Even though Cambridge Folk Festival is fifty one, this year is also a first as last year the festival became a charitable trust and this is its debut as organiser it will be interesting to see what changes that brings, I'm old enough to remember the shocked look on people's faces when they realised the Guinness Tent had become the Pimms bar.

Of course there have always been changes, a fourth stage, The Den was added a few years back and a welcome addition it has proved to be, increasing the number of younger, aspiring, bands playing and increasing the amount of walking for me around the site.

Arriving at the site, it immediately feels familiar, a few of the stalls may change, but essentially the routes through the site, the location of infrastructure remains the same, so if you need to responds to a call of nature, find a beer, coffee, food in general, cd, guitar etc you know where to head.

One immediate change I notice is that the media area has been relocated in order to improve disabled access to Stage One. A serendipitous benefit is slightly more space for snappers and writers to be able to make notes, download pictures etc. between sets.

It's here that we notice another change, Neil Jones has moved onto a new role and David has taken up the mantle. Many thanks to Neil for all his help in the past and here's to many years working with David. Time to catch up with the regular members of the Cambridge team, as well as the various writers and snappers, aka The Pit Ponies, and catch up on what seems to have been a very short year.

Soon it's time to head off to the start of the music. On the Thursday, only three of the four main stages are operating, Stage One doesn't start until the Friday.

First choice is between is Scots traditional all female five piece, Fara or bluegrass, Americana folk trio, Jaywalkers. With Fara playing again during the festival, Jaywalkers become the immediate choice.

Having released a new album, "Weave" earlier in the year, things seem really buoyant for Jaywalkers and that really seems to have fed back into the live set, a set which is never less than dynamic. The band hail from Lancashire and that gets reflected in their original material, reflecting both landscape and heritage of the region as part of wider themes.

The music is string driven, be it strummed, plucked, bowed, picked and drives the crowd very quickly into clapping and tapping along and the atmosphere in the Club Tent rising very quickly. Slower numbers are slipped into the set to give the less fit of us breathing space and also to allow Jaywalkers to build the next wave. It's a great start to the festival Cambridge 15 is definitely go.

Decision two is slightly tougher as both of the acts being considered are only playing the Thursday, Lynched on Stage Two or stay at the Club Tent for Hannah Sanders. Whilst there is a great attraction to heading across the site for some Dublin driven folk, Hannah Sanders has a unique take on both her writing and interpretation of song.

The decision to stay is immediately rewarded by a vocal only start to Hannah's set, which it has to be said was stunning, although slightly ruined by noise from the bar area at that stage. On stage with Hannah is Ben Savage, who will be appearing later in the festivals with The Willows.

The two of them form an impressive combination, Ben subtle guitar and dobro, combining with Hannah's own guitar and Appalachian dulcimer, to form some truly emotive backing to a series of songs that are dark in nature. They also have a great harmony vocal and it has to be said I came away from the set hoping that they become a fully fledged recording duo.

I head back towards the media centre and stop to capture some of the plentiful street theatre that Cambridge Folk Festival has admitted into its DNA. Granny Turisimo are a three piece who are possibly the only three piece drag act performing dance routines mounted on motorised shopping trollies. When I say drag act, think more Hinge And Brackett (Does that date me?) rather than Divine. It's highly entertaining and not anything I would have anticipated seeing looking through the festival poster.