The long established Cambridge Folk festival changed its weekend to a week later this year, throwing many regulars that we know out of the equation for attending. The event must have been close to sold out though judging by the size of the crowds over this sunny and extremely hot weekend.
Things kicked off on Thursday night with plenty going on. For us it was Rob Heron & the Tea Pad Orchestra who were great fun in the sweatbox that was the club tent. On a day return trip from Newcastle these guys were excellent with a rock-a-billy, jazzy, skiffle sound. Plus an excellent sense of humour!
Main highlight of the evening was the return of Drever, McCusker and Woomble who played a lovely set around the 2008 album ‘Before the Ruin’.
Friday as for all three days, the daytime was about pipes, fiddles and music for the folk purists with old and new favourites. Peggy Seeger was one legend to tick-off the list on Friday. Peggy had been personally invited by this year’s festival curator Rhiannon Giddens and like most people, just seemed to be delighted to be there to perform as well as catching up with old friends and making new ones.
Whilst the afternoons were for the folk purists, the evenings became far more eclectic. Friday saw Songhoy Blues from Mali who have now developed into a full blown rock band who provided a far better work-out than any gym session you could attend, particularly in the heat of this Friday night!
First Aid Kit are the night’s headliners and much like the National a few years ago seemed to have stepped up into the big league with their presentation and stage set. The first part of the show I was starting to think 80’s Heart (Annie and Nancy Wilson) but FAK (Klara and Johanna Söderberg) are also a classy outfit and with a great band behind them, play a mighty and energetic set of many styles. .. Arenas next then.
At Cambridge there is always a band on after the headliner which no doubt eases the flow of people leaving the site. Tonight it is the fabulous St. Paul and the Broken Bones with their Alabama soul train. About as far from folk as you can get. They were brilliant.
Saturday was a scorcher so it was to the cover of the main stage tent which provided unique music from ‘The Shackleton Trio’, ‘The Poozies’ and ‘Stick in the Wheel’.
Festival sweethearts ‘Darlingside’ played a triumphant set around one mic. Like many artists spent the weekend at the festival they kept popping up on various stages. Eric Bibb and band were as engaging as ever, I really need to see a full concert set from these guys. The band just play via telepathy it seems. The blues came home Saturday afternoon.
Rhiannon Giddens played a most wonderful show. As the festival curator there was a bit of pressure no doubt but she was on fire, a quite incredible performance of original songs and standards.
Headliner was Patti Smith who still delivers a dynamic show and the start of ‘Wing’ ,‘Redondo Beach’, ‘Ghost Dance’ and ‘Dancing Barefoot’ was stunning. She asked the stage guys to turn off the smoke machine ‘I’m not Metallica’ (although she does like them) and all of a sudden she seemed a bit self conscious that she was at a folk festival. A crowd sing-a-long of Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rains a- gonna Fall’ went down a storm.
Patti then told us about her day in Cambridge and a visit to Kings College followed by a ‘We Three Kings Improv and Patti taking a break as the band covered ‘People Who Died’ (by The Jim Carroll band). The set seems to be drifting ... Patti returned to the stage .. yelled "Mother Fuckers" and blasted though ‘Summer Cannibals’, ‘Pissing in a River’ ‘Because the Night’ and a senses blowing ‘Gloria”. There were many wide grins on the faces of the crowd at the end of set!
Seeing Patti meant no John Moreland’ but, he was also on fine form apparently. Final band of the evening was a real find, ‘Honeyfeet’ a folk/jazz combo rocking the night away as well as offering free sweaty hugs after the set!
Sunday ... yes another scorcher of a day started for us with a crowd jumping lunchtime set from Daoiri Farrell followed by Banjo supremo Kaia Kater who played a confident set alongside a double bass player who in the mix seemed to drown out the banjo. Giving up I wander over to the second stage for the Robert Vincent Band who are a very solid outfit but nothing to really stir the fire, perhaps it's just too hot!
All our Exes Live in (Sydney apparently apart from one in Scunthorpe) Texas proved really popular on the main stage. Nice songs and a solid Aussie sense of humour)!
Back to Stage 2 next for another Australian artist this time with a real fire to light. William Crighton comes from a small town near Waga Waga NSW. A two piece band (guitar and an excellent drummer) should have been a three piece but the Home Office wouldn’t let his brother in! .... Still this was an electric set with material from two albums. Latest ‘Empire’ just has an Oz release at the moment but you can stream it on the usual channels.
William prowls the stage with a scowling face and a National Steel electric guitar spitting flames as gritty songs about home life, homeland and history hit us head-on. As a 3-piece they must be sonic wonders!
Next up is the legend that is Janis Ian and another artist whose fire still burns brightly. Her voice is still as sweet as when she first sang ‘At Seventeen’ .... a completely wonderful hour.
Headliner John Prine is now thankfully back in prime health and performing with a great band and in great form. The dry humour still exists in abundance. The songs are wonderful and the set has a real this is life, get on with it, feel good charm. I first saw John Pine at Cambridge may moons ago it was fantastic to see him back again on Sunday.
Beth Neilson-Chapman rounded-up the festival for us. She was delightful, so many song to choose from, she sang beautifully even when competing for sound space with the Peatbog Faeries who where closing the main stage.
This was my first visit to the festival for some years and it was a brilliant weekend. From a site perspective nothing much seems to have changed. As summers are likely to be getting hotter (we are told) the organisers really need to get tough with the forest of chairs that take up VAST areas and make options for viewing both stages, particularly the main stage, very limited in the evenings. Making areas gradually ‘No Chairs’ would certainly help. Most festivals say "No Chairs"
Here’s to 2019!