47th Cambridge Folk Festival


With the early morning routine taken as read I find myself at Club Tent ready for the biggest workshop that's been held in all the times that I've been here. All ten members of Port Isaac's Fishermans Friends are taking to the stage for a singing workshop.

The tent is absolutely packed, standing room only. I've never seen it so busy on any morning let alone a Sunday. It's described as a singing workshop, but it's more a sing-a-long and comedy show rolled into one.

There's plenty of banter and mickey taking on and off stage. Pretty much every song has audience participation either singing or actions or both. The front row get surprised when Lefty, one of the shorter members of the band breaks ranks and takes a microphone down to them.

The routine is a mix between shanties, forecastle songs and general folk songs with a nautical bent. Anyone who still had any cobwebs in the system didn't have them by the end of the workshop.

If you looked really hard you could see various members of the Fatea crew joining in the sing and the rounds, though they assumed that if it comes in rounds there must be drinking involved. Imagine the shock. :-)

I don't recall a better start to a day at Cambridge in all the time I've been coming, it was verging on magical. I don't think there was anyone who left without a beaming smile on their face. Just to show how special this festival is at the end of the set a mum beckons Lefty over so her little girl can give him a drawing that she's done during the workshop. That's what makes Cambridge so special.

Across to Stage 1 for Abigail Washburn, who I managed to catch a short flavour of during the Brian McNeill Session yesterday.

She starts off with a slow, quiet gospel number and something really unusual happens, after the initial burst from the photographers almost as one stop shooting and just stop and listen. There was something about the delivery that asked for and got that respect.

It becomes more up tempo and instrument focused some real good old timey music. I want to hear more, but I need to get to Stage Two and catch the Spooky Men's Choral doing the children's concert.

All dressed in black, the Spooky Men, an Australian accapella combo are a fearsome sight and naturally the kids love them. It's a great sense of theatre and facial expressions. Not that that's what the children are thinking, they're thinking about fun songs about getting eaten by lions and everything.

The Children's Concert is a favourite with young and old alike. It gives a nice family focal point for the start of a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I wish more of the choral and choir activity that's on the rise was more like this. Both the Spooky Men and Fisherman's Friends play the music and songs that matter to them. There are a whole host of great secular tunes, some fun, some serious waiting to be explored and adapted. I watched the younger elements at both this and Fisherman's Friends on both occasions there was a look of enjoyment and not the boredom I've seen at most choral events. I quite like world music, but it would also be nice if local choirs included more local works, rant over.

I'm going back to Stage 1 to catch the end of Abigail Washburn and arrive in time to catch some of her Chinese bluegrass combination, extraordinary. The Mumford & Sons fiddle player is guesting with them whilst they're over.

I really liked Abigail's last album, she can really turn it on live. Look out Alison Krauss, someone is after your crown. This was bluegrass/old timey music with a real twist. You could almost feel the music living and breathing, liberated even.

From Americana, it's definitely time to switch to this side of the pond with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill and a cracking series of tunes. The duo are rightly considered virtuoso on fiddle and guitar respectively. You always know when there's a guitar mic there, rather than a lead into the instrument that this is going to be some serious guitar playing.

Naturally they don't disappoint, this really is music of an incredibly high standard, the songs heavily infused with heart and soul. Percussion is provided by some serious foot tapping and a few audience clap-a-longs. I really couldn't fault it technically and have no wish to. You could feel the respect the duo had for the music they were playing, but it just felt a little staid for me.

The day is turning into a real scorcher, high factor sunscreen almost compulsory, well that or sunburn. Warnings are being broadcast from the stage and people in the venues are being asked to shuffle forward to let other people into the tents and keep them out of the sun.