47th Cambridge Folk Festival


Friday starts in the traditional manner except instead of having to wander to the now defunct Unicorn, it's simply a case of having shower etc., getting dressed and wandering downstairs for a breakfast lovingly prepared by Pete, my host for the weekend.

There's time to finish the Thursday write up and back up the pics before taking the relative short walk to the site. Cambridge has gone very interactive this year with even more workshops than usual, but a staple of my festival is the workshop over at the Club Tent.

I learnt to play air fiddle under the watchful gaze of Catriona MacDonald. Last year, Rua MacMillan and assorted members of the Muckleloons added a few flourishes. This year I'm looking to hone those skills under the tutorage of Mr Brian McNeill. Whilst I enjoy these sessions, I know the musicians get a real benefit from them. Chances to have a lesson from musicians of Brian McNeill's calibre don't come all that often.

Brian is the most featured artist to play Cambridge and is setting up when I get there. That said, it's not long before we're catching up with all that's gone on with the world, who has impressed us over the last year or so and it turns out to be quite a list. Fortunately a number of them are playing this weekend so we've got some really good crib notes.

There are a good number of musicians of all ages in attendance covering all abilities and age ranges. Brian is a firm believer in teaching tunes the old way, which is by singing. That means those of us that aren't playing fiddle aren't going to get away with just watching we're all going to be participating and quite right too.

There's a brief gap during the workshop for a keenly observed two minutes of silence for the people of Norway. It was a good thought and was aplenty observed right across Cambridge, not just at the festival.

Brian technique of using singing for teaching the songs proves to be spot on as by the end of the workshop everyone went away with two great tunes in their head.

Next up on the club tent is the annual Mojo interview with Colin Irwin. For reasons of simplicity Bellowhead have trimmed themselves down to five musicians in a way that favours the string section, with Jon Boden, Benji Kirkpatrick and Paul Sartin covering, though I guess Sartin also covers woodwind. John Spiers represents the box players and Andy Mellon brass. Once again percussion was missing.

The set up and lack of instruments means they aren't going to be playing and getting the essence of an interview down on the page without going question for question is a little futile. Suffice to say Bellowhead are a band with a sense of humour and a sense of mischief, both of which came out in the interview.

The sun had already passed the yardarm so the beer is already flowing and in some cases has been for a while. I make my way across the site for the second workshop of the day.

Newton Faulkner is delivering a workshop on guitar. It's not totally working, Newton has unusual tunings on the guitar and is having to try and transpose on the fly.

It seems to be ok for those that understand guitar, but somehow the whole thing doesn't seem to be as inclusive as the fiddle workshop, I guess it's harder to do a workshop from the bigger stages.

It's almost time for things to kick off on Mainstage so it's time to get to the media caravan ready for the escort down to the pit. Photographers work under strict rules. No entry into the pit without earplugs, first three songs only, no flash. These days there's normally a film crew sharing the space. Most of the photographers know the score and prime shooting slots are exchanged.

Manran are opening the main stage and are easiest described as a Scottish super group of youthful talent, drawing members from a number of award winning bands from those parts.

The set is a fiery mix of tunes and songs; some sung in Gaelic others in English, its real crowd pleasing stuff, hands being clapped in time (mostly). If the job of the opening band is to set the standard to those that follow, the bar is being set high.

From Celtic to Cajun with Feufollet up next. Hailing from one of the homes of Cajun music, Lafayette Louisiana, Feufollet take a contemporary approach to the genre, using it as a primary influence rather than the whole shooting match, an approach that has brought them a whole host of nominations and awards back home.

One area where they haven't made any compromise is in the language with most of the songs being recorded in French and the local patois. Cajun songs do sound better in French, it gives them a flow that they generally lose when translated into English, almost making them a bit swamp poppy.

There's a good mix of pace and tunes, a high energy and slow and waltzy with a particular highlight being a slow and sensuous waltz penned by co-lead singer Anna Laura Edmiston. Whilst it's not exactly sun blazin' outside the humidity is on the rise so the band must be feeling pretty much at home on what is their first English tour. They seem relaxed and their presentation is par excellent.