46th Cambridge Folk Festival

The Co-Operative Cambridge Folk Festival

Following the obligatory breakfast at The Unicorn, there's a requirement to get into town and pick up some more compact flash having had a few issues yesterday which resulted in having to use the contingency camera, new cards are desperately required and duly purchased.

I manage to get back to site in time to catch Rachel Unthank doing her singers workshop which starts with warm up exercises that I'm sure are an opportunity to have some fun. She certainly had some of my crew striking silly shapes last year.

Rachel got quite a good crowd and they are not just looking for somewhere to dry off after a damp night. It's a popular workshop and even if you've not got the best singing voice in the world, you get some great tips on preparing your voice. My day job involves the occasional presentation; I've used things I've learned in the singing workshop to help out there.

For me one of my highlights of the festival is to spend two and a half hours at the Brian McNeill Session on the Saturday. It starts at noon and then runs through. The array of musicians and styles squeezed into that time is blistering. I can't think of anything else quite like it.

Brian is a great believer in giving younger artists a chance there's always a selection of up and coming names mixed in with the more established artists. The talents on display from all artists are of the highest quality, the amount of times you find yourself wondering how people got so good so young, daunting.

The Brian McNeill Sessions always start and finish the same way, with a mass ensemble of as many of the players as are around. It provides a sense of continuity from the previous year, especially as there are normally a couple of musicians that are in both line ups.

Braebach are the first unit on once the mass ranks break and they kick in with the twin pipe onslaught. They're really starting to bring people into tent even though the rain has stopped and it's time to get out factor 20.

Passion and energy are two words I use a lot at this festival and it's because of bands like Braebach. Calum MacCrimmon breaks ranks from the pipes to get some step dancing done. God knows how you get up and dance and then go back to playing the pipes, I'd be collapsed at the back of the stage following either activity. I guess that's why I'm a touch over weight. (Though with the volume of walking I do during the festival I bet I'm one of the few that leaves Cambridge lighter than when I arrived)

Following explosive instrumental opening, it's into a song By Ewan MacColl, There's a small slice of unprompted audience participation on the chorus, the Session is definitely up and running.

There's a joke at the expense of fellow Lorne MacDougal, 6 foot two, ginger and plays the pipes so pretty much ticks all the Scottish cliché boxes. He briefly joins them on stage in a fit of fake anger.

Braebach squeeze in another instrumental piece before half the band leave the stage to leave just the two pipers, who are genuinely joined by Lorne this time to form a piping trio.

Lorne starts by tuning his pipes; something I didn't know could be done, whilst Calum switches to the whistle for the first series of tunes in their short set, but he pipes up for the next series of tunes.

I'm not the biggest pipes fan in the world, but this could see me converted. They've got the crowd really get going, loads of clapping along. The tent is getting fuller and fuller; it's real master class in how piping should be done. Fun and entertaining!!

Next up is a group of young musicians who come out of the Feis Rois music project in. pipes, fiddles guitar, really young harpist who was also a top Gaelic singer. It starts slow and clear like a Cairngorm top lake before tumbling down through the rocks, cool and fresh. It's as entertaining for the vocal quality as the words, which to be honest I don't understand. Again absolutely gobsmacked by the talent on display and grateful to Brian for giving youth a chance to show exactly what they are capable of delivering

It's a real change now. Sean Taylor is playing a showcase on Sunday, but he's also managed to grab himself a ten minute slot and the Session is about to move from Celtic into blues mode.

Sean has quite an unassuming personality when he engages with the crowd, almost chirpy, but he manages to catch out a few people that don't know him when he suddenly goes into some dirty dirty blues.

Whilst it's clear there are few in the audience that aren't familiar with his work, he's soon got their respect judging by the reaction to his first number. Sean is quite some guitarist and can really get a raw growly texture into his voice, it's a real contrast to what's gone before, but seems to be winning him new friends.

Following a plug for his new album, "Walk With Me" he's into his second number and paying tribute to the beat poets. It's only two songs, but hopefully there's now more people aware of him than there was at the start and hopefully will want to see his Showcase.

Fay Hield is up next solo to solo is actually rare for the Session, but it's another big contrast in terms of style. Fay is singer/songwriter performing traditional accapella solo, but she normally performs with a band. As with a number of the artists on the Session, she's got a Showcase on the Club Tent, hers is later today. We've also got an interview with her later.

Fay performs "The Banks Of The Nile" unaccompanied. She's expressive and makes good use of hands to emphasise key sections. Her songs have a wistful sense of lost love and lives lost on distant shores. At times the performance is almost chilling, getting those clichéd hairs on back of neck time.


Photocredits:Neil King