46th Cambridge Folk Festival

The Co-Operative Cambridge Folk Festival

Following on from breakfast at the Unicorn I'm at the site to try and finish the Saturday write up whilst I'm waiting for the Gretchen Peter's Songwriting Workshop.

I'm still not finished by the time Gretchen arrives so another task is added to the post festival tick list. Gretchen is a wonderful choice for the workshop. She spends a lot of time over here and has picked up on the difference in thought processes on both sides of the pond and its gives her songs a more universal appeal.

As part of the workshop she showcases a brand new song "Five Minutes" about a waitress on a smoke break. Even though she doesn't say it the restaurant feels like an American diner, but somehow the waitress feels English from a struggling northern town. I guess that's the power of song.

It's early, well ten on Sunday; the weather conducive to a relaxing lie in and yet there's plenty that have made the effort to get out of their pits and catch a really informative workshop.

Sunday is overcast, but the Archers are playing over the tannoy so all must be right with the world. I quite like the start to Sunday, it's one of the most relaxed times at the festival. The site takes little longer to come to life as people recover from the excesses of the Saturday night. There's time to browse the market area, take a slow look through the cd selection at Proper.

The music doesn't start 'til twelve so there's time to get back to the media caravan and get some more writing done.

English rose and leading fiddle singer, Jackie Oates leads us into Sunday afternoon by opening Stage One on the stroke of midday. She's an artist I can see time and time again as her passion for delivering English folk music, particularly that from the West Country knows no bounds.

She mixes the traditional with new tunes, one of my favourites is a song that her brother gave her "Wistfulness Waltz" which comes really early in the set. Another one of my favourites is her cover of "Birthday". Both songs in the same set on a lazy summer Sunday, sheer bliss.

Jackie's set is a celebration of English folk music, both traditional and contemporary; she's got voice that is really expressive. Her style is not fast and furious, it burns slowly at your soul and lingers long after the final note has left your ear.

It's time to switch across the Atlantic for my second encounter of the day with Gretchen Peters, this time putting all her songwriting skills into practice.

There's a heat on the day and Gretchen is making damned sure it doesn't take its toll on the audience as she opens with one of her rockier numbers and one that celebrates the joys of real girl power, rather than perceived girl power.

It would be easy for someone like Gretchen to preach at you with her issue based songs, but it's testament to her songwriting skills that she would rather make you think.

She points out that Sarah Palin adopted one of her songs during the election campaign without really hearing the words or understanding them. During the course of that election Gretchen donated all the royalties from the song to a pro-choice group, love the gesture.

I'm beginning to understand why she's more popular over here than back home. She's got a good following in the audience and everyone seems to be warming to her. I reckon she's added to her following and rightfully so. There's a real spirit about her songs, almost feisty. Gretchen seems to think the world is made up of fighters who won't let the b#stards grind them down. I'm all for that.

I'm off to Stage Two to catch The Burns Unit, A Scottish Canadian collective that are not unlike a Celtic styled Imagined Village, which is no bad thing.

Featuring names from the pop, dub, folk and alt. Folk communities the proto-band came into existence back in 2006, but it's only more recently that the Burns Unit came together on a more serious level, releasing their debut album to coincide with the festival.

Fusion music has really been a feature of the last ten years, to some it merely means adding some drum beats to a traditional cultural piece of music, to others it means exploring the sounds of music from different cultures and finding points of commonality and as importantly contrast.

The Burns Unit very much falls into the latter category and the result was a scrumptious blend of musical flavours. The problem with this type of thing is that they are very much a side project for most of the musicians involved, getting together for rehearsals must be very much a premium and there were a couple of places where things didn't quite happen.

Even so, this was a highly enjoyable performance. I went away with a smile on my face and the feeling that I'd had a really good time. Off to Stage One to see a different combination of musical fusion.

There's a threat of rain outside and temperature and humidity are on the rise inside the tent as well. This would be mainly because of the arrival of Salsa Celtica who closed Stage Two the previous night.

Both the band and audience seem to have recovered from what was, by all accounts a riotous night. Cuba and the Celtic fringe don't on the surface sound like good bedfellows, but fifteen years longevity suggests otherwise. I'm not sure about them being at afternoon band. They're not really my cup of tea I'm off to see the Jolly Boys


Photocredits:Neil King