The beauty of festivals lies in the unexpected – whether acts, emotions, or indeed, weather. 

After 3 days of sun and good music, Sunday looked like a quiet relaxing day…but it held the best parts of the weekend…


The Staves were lovely; 3 sisters from Watford sounds like the start of a folk limerick, but their harmonies and understated simple playing made them probably the best discovery of the festival (maybe with the Moulettes – similar but with more strings!). And although they looked like butter wouldn’t melt, they had a nice line in raunchy inter-song banter – apologising to the families in the audience for the use of a word in a song about relationships, suggesting they swap it for ‘dang’ or ‘duck’! Then again, they have done backing vocals for Tom Jones.


They just avoided using another expletive when the heavens opened, thunder and lightning crashed overhead. Still, we were in a dry tent, so no problem…until we left. Where once there had been picnics and folding chairs, now all was mud and rather deep pools…and some very soggy chairs, and people.


Seth Lakeman powered on through the rain, up to his usual best, with great songs about the old lost trades from new album Tales from the Barrel House. Wonderful hammer drumming on ‘Blacksmiths Prayer’ and the mining song ‘More than Money’ – and that fiddle, playing up a storm – as the sun came out again.

Cambridge always has a world music act, usually Sunday pm, which can feel a bit tokenistic and condescending. This years was Angelique Kidjo. She came on singing slowly, in a tall hat and typical African dress …though the split up the side did suggest there was more to her than just ballads. And so it proved...after 2 short numbers she had had enough, the rhythm cranked up to overdrive, she whipped off her hat to reveal a striking ginger crop – and started to dance. And she didn’t stop. The tempo went through the roof, as she showed more energy than many of the younger artists – and even the main stage was too small for her.

After an amazing version of Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata’, during ‘Afrika’ she disappeared, only to emerge in the crowd, followed by a hapless sound tech with her radio mike base. She danced from one side of this big venue to the other, and back again, hi-fiving everyone she passed. Then a quick break to deliver a heartfelt antiracism message about the power of love (she also advised the audience to take a 10 minute break doing nothing every day – so that’s her secret!) she was off again, with an R Rated dance battle with her drummer during a version of ‘Move on Up’. Then she appealed for other dancers to try, and the stage quickly filled with a mixed bunch of amateurs vainly trying to compete. She left to the biggest cheer of the weekend…so far.

It seemed impossible that another act could create even more emotion. Almost the opposite of Ms Kidjo, he could barely make it onto the stage unaided. But as he lent on his lectern and looked out at everyone with those dark eyes, his face split into a big grin – Nic Jones was about to start his first full set for 30 years. Ably supported by his son Joe and former Unthank Belinda O’Hooley, he started by almost reading the lyrics to ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’, then his voice gently increased and everyone roared, willing him on. As he settled into his old place, centre stage, he interrupted Joe to joke about the hospital nurses, and threw both hands in the air to encourage all to join in on ‘Yarmouth Town’ and ‘Barrack Street’ from the classic Penguin Eggs.


He is writing again and did a poignant new song about living in the moment, not the past, called ‘Now’. Joe explained how as he recovered he got into Radiohead, and they did a moving version of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ together. There was so much self-depreciating  humour and warmth – no encore as Belinda said it would take them till Monday to get on and off stage. He ended instead with ‘The Little Pot Stove’, and walked off waving and grinning, a tribute to determination and resilience and the healing power of music.


Kevin Hand