52nd Cambridge Folk Festival



Once again the day starts with a good breakfast and a walk to Club Tent, stopping only to get a flat white, with the emphasis on flat and dodge a gaggle of Pokémon Go players, these ones that bit older than the night before. (Is there a Folkachu?)

It's workshop time and today's delight Is a singing workshop from Eliza Carthy. She's brought her fiddle with her for accompaniment, despite having broken her pinkie on a flight back from Canada she's good to play, which is just as well as she's playing with her full band in a mainstage slot tomorrow. Club Tent stalwart Bernie Kedge gets to do the introduction and away we go.

Eliza's fiddle has been through some temperature extremes in the last few weeks and isn't playing ball with tuning. I do the pretend it's a banjo and play it anyway gag and am rewarded with a laughing smile straight down the lens.

During the workshop Eliza mentions that you should never be afraid to take on great songs. She admits to whole sale stealing songs from Watersons and Copper family etc. because they are great songs that deserve to be heard. As you would expect, there's a good deal of banter as well and everyone walks away feeling more knowledgeable than when they walked in and, naturally, it's been highly entertaining too.

It's time for what has become my annual festival highlight, as well as my biggest stint, but when you get to hear music like you hear at Stage Two for the gathering of bands and artists that is The Brian McNeill Session it's what makes it all worth it.

Even watching frantic rehearsals for it are breath taking for the shear musicianship and that's before two and three quarter hours of fast change over action happens, carefully curated and hosted by the legend that is Brian McNeill and coordinated backstage by Jackie.

The Brian McNeill Session starts off with The Ramnee Ceilidh, Miss McCloud and The Fairy Dance, as the selected tunes for the traditional mass band trad-Celtic thrash start, that provides the link of continuity with the end of the previous year as well as to provide a rousing opening to get the crowd going. Also providing that sense of continuity was fiddler Matt Tighe, who was lead on the opening, a role he performed last year. Objective achieved, one very up for it crowd, it's time for the first act.

Almost as much a tradition as the Brian McNeill Session is the appearance of musicians from Feis Ross. Celebrating its thirty-year anniversary, Feis Ross is an organisation tasked with keeping the Scottish musical tradition live and vibrant. One part of that is taking groups of young musicians around the world to introduce Scottish music on a Ceilidh Trail. Feis Ross has been responsible for bring through some great musicians.

Five of the fifteen Feis Ross players are here today, they'll be working damned hard over the week, but for now it's a couple of songs and tunes, starting off with some Orkney mouth music, which sees the voice used more as an instrument than a conveyor of words, cracking start.

Almost immediately it's time for one of the genre switches for which the session has become famous, switching from Celtic to Americana. I'd seen Mike + Ruthy in full band mode earlier in the festival, but they're here as a duo, well actually a trio as they invite Brian to join them and add his fiddle to their first number, a classic death ballad.

Brian drops out to leave them as a true duo for their next number which emphasises their social conscience credentials. It's beautifully performed, the effortless way Mike + Ruthy interact musically is just stunning, they are definitely becoming one of my favourite acts of Cambridge Folk Festival number fifty two.

Next up are Kadia, the Dorset trio that had played a queue up and play session in the Club Tent the previous night. They had been fortunate enough to be seen by Brian who invited them to take part today. Following a quick introduction and a hasty re-plug for the mandolin, they were up and away, starting with one of the own tunes, "Beast Of Bodmin Moor" from their debut album "East Of Alexandria".

It's not long before the audience are clapping along and there's an outbreak of dancing further down the tent, something that continues as the band move into their second song, a Kadia arrangement of the traditional "Raggle Taggle Gypsy". They are building up a good head of steam with the crowd behind them, two great songs.