43rd Cambridge Folk Festival


PhotocreditFriday starts in glorious sun, the sky is blue and it looks like the start of the traditional Cambridge Folk Festival Weekend.
It's also the start of my morning visits to The Unicorn for the full English. There's been a change of ownership since I was here last and Debbie is now the genial host.
A cooked breakfast sets me up for the day and also means that if I have to miss lunch I'm good to go until tea. A fiver sets me up for a gut busting start to the day.
The portents are good, I sort out collecting a ticket for a friend and then head off to the site, the ground is muddy and sticky under foot, but the sun and breeze should do a good job of drying it before too many people start trampling it under foot.
I bump into Steve Knightly from Show Of Hands(Fatea's band of the year 2006) wandering in the direction of HQ. He's going to be doing a songwriters workshop in the Club Tent at ten. We stop and have a quick chat.
If you've not been to Cambridge Folk Festival before, the workshops are part of what makes the event. Artists that are performing during the festival transfer some of their skills to members of the public.
The workshops are in amongst the audience so they get to experience things close up and personal, that it starts at ten means that it's mostly the dedicated that want to learn that are there, having sacrificed a 'night before'. That I bumped into Steve in the public field also highlights another of the nice things about Cambridge. Artists feel comfortable taking a stroll in the crowds so they can get out and savour the atmosphere.
It's soon time to get round to the Club Tent and await the start of the workshop. Whilst I'm waiting, Stage One has sent a roadie across to nick the Club Tent's Hoover, the b@stards.
Steve arrives and starts setting up. He also starts a hunt for WD40. His ukulele has been recently repaired and a thin layer of lacquer has attached it's self to the strings and neck. Where would the world be without WD40?
There's a good array of instruments on the stage for Steve to start sound checking. You can hear the sound of the site coming to life outside. The start of Friday can be a bit quiet, there are a lot of people that can't get here on the Thursday and for many Friday is arrival day and the start of their festival.
Despite all that Mr Knightly (sir) is met by what must be a record crowd for a Friday. They come from all backgrounds and ages, but share an enthusiasm for song.
Steve starts with some stories of his youth in Devon and how he started making the move from performing the likes Dylan and Cohen and into his own material.
How travel songs about travel and places became his early inspiration, almost by trying to be a faux southern hobo in Devon, smoking roll ups and catching trains.
He performs one of his early numbers and leaves the audience to fill in odd words, from obvious clichés. Steve talks about how he encountered British names like Swarbrick and Carthy and realised that this was what underpinned the American songs he'd listened to.
It got him into the narrative songs, songs you sing from a viewpoint rather than the self. That brought in a new perspective as well as exposure to sex, death and stories in songs.
In order to broaden songwriters horizons away from the I and me stuff, the diary singers. When you write about yourself all the time if people don't like your stuff are they saying they don't like you? Diary singers may get wounded that way.
Steve was saying that these days he tends to write a story almost like a script. He then starts to blend it with chords he's assembled when playing freestyle.
It's a sign of how good the workshop is that it the time just seems to fly past. Another trick that Steve gives is to expose a song to the public at least six times before you discard it.
Also play it a lot before you record it, give the song a chance to find it's self before firmly committing it to the recorded medium.
It is without doubt the best start to a Friday that I've had in my time coming to Cambridge.