CC Smugglers have played in many unusual places; I first saw them busking in the bar at Cambridge Folk Festival, then at a summer street party, and last year they had graduated to one of the main Cambridge Folk stages. They are always very riotous, a mix of bluegrass, music hall jazz and folk reels, the life and soul of the party.

This cold Monday night showed how versatile they could, or rather had, to be. They were in another bar venue, part of the City Roots folk fringe festival, created because the big Folk Festival cannot get any bigger on its present site - so it is expanding in time and space, using other venues, and in the winter when there is much less going on, a great idea.

On arrival there appeared to be a large crowd waiting for the band, archetypal students draped in scarves of many colours. They were staring at a space above the sound-checking band, and muttering what sounded like the answers to obscure questions. Turns out they were there to watch University Challenge on the bar tv, where a nearby college were ‘playing’. The Smugglers wisely decided they would have a riot if they started to play before the show was over - something I would have loved to see, with students throwing intellectual insults and bon mots instead of bottles.

So when the band did start, it was inevitably a bit subdued - which actually worked really well. It forced them to show off another side, slower numbers, wistful and elegant, you could almost waltz to them...and sure enough, half the audience did! Amazing to watch. The rumour was that the University Lindy Hop Society, having just finished their evening meeting, had popped in for a pint - and found the music very much to their liking. The more normal CC Smugglers sound did emerge towards the end, as they realised their bizarre mixed audience were really quite ‘into’ them. A rousing sing-along encore finished a crazy Cambridge Monday night in style.

I was delighted to chat afterwards with the young and enthusiastic organisers of City Roots and the Cambridge Folk Festival, and was able to ask them the burning question of the day: why change the dates this year? Some of us regulars can no longer make it. Folk megastars with date clashes? Avoiding competition with WOMAD etc? The unexpected answer was the school whose grounds provide the main car parking was still teaching during the set up period for the original week, and nothing could change that. We talked about the annoyingly good lineup that I will miss, much of it down to Rhiannon Giddens enthusiastic embrace of the annual curators post, and her good contacts. Enjoy it if you go!

Kevin Hand

Band Website