Cambridge Folk Festival is now in its 51st year and celebrated it in style with an eclectic line-up which included many different genres of music from traditional folk to bluegrass and ska. This was our second year at this great festival and we were as excited as ever to arrive and explore the site.
Another blisteringly hot weekend was ahead of us as we ventured into the festival, first of all browsing the stalls and finding some great music and clothing traders. The traders, as much as the punters were there to have a fantastic time and listen to some great music (as well as sell a few things of course!).
The line-up this year boasted some legendary acts including Joan Baez, Joan Armartrading and a no doubt future legend in Frank Turner. As well as these established stars, Cambridge has the reputation for giving the opportunity for up and coming bands and artists to get the chance to play at this prestigious event. So it was great to see artist like Inti Rowland, Fabian Holland, Hannah Sanders and The Portraits on the bill (the latter two having featured at our very own Artree Live club nights earlier this year).
The sun was shining as we arrived at the festival site, and with so many bands to see we were spoilt for choice. The great Peggy Seeger put on a spectacular show and it was also good to see some some of the folk scene’s newer acts in the Club Tent. Artists ranging from BBC Radio 2 Folk award winners Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, to the Sam Kelly Trio all graced this stage. While on the The Den stage you had chart toppers Ward Thomas and some other great bands including Seafret and Ben Nicholls current project, Kings Of The South Seas.
The main stage was where we headed to catch ever youthful Proclaimers. It was entertaining to see these two guys ply their trade to a very respectful and engaging crowd. They played through all their hits with rapturous applause, giving the crowd the opportunity to exercise their own vocal chords. Earlier the stage was graced by Frank Turner who delivered an excellent performance. The almost miraculous Wilko Johnson, who was practically given a death sentence no more than a year or two ago, also gave a fine performance.
Saturday we were looking forward to a huge array of bands and artists. First up we started with the tried and tested and caught a little bit of festival favourites Show Of Hands. As usual these guys put on a professional show that did not disappoint. Today the main stage was awash with such a great line-up that the tricky decision had to be made of who we covered on the other stages… We decided to catch Inti Rowland as we had reviewed Inti’s album a few months back and his live performance on the Den Stage echoed that astonishing haunting sound that we heard on record. Truly amazing! We look forward to hearing more from Inti in the near future.
Next, we headed over to the Club tent to catch the wonderfully delightful Anglo-Irish alt-folk duo The Portraits, aka husband and wife songwriters Jeremy and Lorraine Millington. Their sound was uplifting with beautiful harmonies, perfect for a mid-afternoon set in the sun. With the main stage not too far away we managed to run across to see the fantastic The Skatalites. This band are legendary, backing all the developing artists back in the day, such as Toots and The Maytals, Prince Buster and “The Wailing Wailers” featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Their set was full of energy and the crowd loved it, everyone was having a great time dancing and singing to many classics.
It’s always good to see such diversity in the music at Cambridge, and a change of pace was in the offing again next up with award winning Australian Roots band The John Butler Trio. John Butler starting busking on the streets of Fremantle, Western Australia many years ago and has now released 6 studio albums with his band JBT.
JBT rarely come over to these shores and it was a real priviledge to see them at the most prestigious folk festival in the country. They take to the stage and play through some classic tracks from the Sunrise Over Sea album to 2014 release Flesh & Blood. You can see this band have gathering fans as they played this astonishing set, and Johns guitar playing in the instrumental track ‘Ocean’ is just mesmerising. JBT are so musically tight as a band and give so much to the audience that this has to be one of the highlights of the festival so far.
Skinny Lister on the Second stage managed to pull a fantastic crowd as they have been building a great reputation for their live performance. Playing up beat folk punk, they get the crowd going and then even joining them at one point, double bass as well!
Back on the main stage were The Unthanks. They have now been on the scene for over ten years, firstly as an all-female band, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset which then evolved in 2009 to become The Unthanks. There was what seemed to be a long wait for The Unthanks to take the stage but when they did the crowd were silenced by what I can only describe as pure brilliance. Musically this band are astounding, fine tuning each beautifully crafted original song with traditional vocal arrangements that just float through you giving you the feeling that you are the only one present and nothing else matters. This was yet another highlight of the festival and with sprits high we were definitely looking forward to the headline band that evening.
Treacherous Orchestra, took to the stage with souring sounds, the dark lighting setting the mood for what was about to happen. An explosion of what I can only describe as traditional instrumental arrangements played by a heavy dance band. These guys looked amazing, all dressed in black and a cross between goth and steam punk. They rocked the crowd and have defiantly found many new fans just on this performance alone. What a fantastic way to end the Saturday night with.
We woke up Sunday with the previous nights bands still playing in our heads and hoping that today would be just as special and it started off with The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain, playing some classics with the crowd singing along.
We headed across to The Club Tent where Hitchin Folk Club were showcasing some of the artists that have graced their stage over the last year or so. We came across a fantastic duo called Finch And The Moon. Great guitar work form both and some really tight harmonies.
Over on The Den Stage we managed to catch a host of artists which included the wonderfully talented Dan Walsh showing everyone why he is one of the greatest banjo players in the country right now. Fabian Holland gave an assured performance with his souring vocals and solid guitar playing. We were also lucky to catch Anna Pancaldi who we had briefly spoken to earlier that day about her performance. Anna said she was very excited to be playing the festival and it showed in her performance as she delivered a faultless set. It’s great to see such talent coming through in the folk and roots genre and these are the artists to look out for.
Back on the Second Stage there was excitement in the air as a very large crowd were waiting for Keston Cobblers Club. This band has risen up through the ranks over the last couple of years having played the festival a couple of times before. Their fan base was obviously growing and they did not disappoint. Engaging with the crowd throughout their set, you could see this band were loving every minute of it and so were their audience. We stayed at the second stage to catch the Ben Miller Band, with some of their home made instruments – washboards and banjos etc, this band were about to show Cambridge Folk Festival what the delta blues is all about. This was a stunning performance, which kept the audience wanting more. We can’t wait for these guys to return to the UK.
We were split between two stages for the last bands of the festival as there was much hype about them both. On the Club tent you had CoCo & The Butterfields who took to the stage with what I can only describe as Folk Pop mixed with Hip Hop and Bluegrass. Their sound and stage presence were bold and the performance has to be one of the highlights of the festival with most of the band joining the crowd by the end of their set. Truly outstanding, and a band that has been made for festivals.
The other band were Demon Barbers XL who played the Second Stage. Demon Barbers have been on the scene for many years and in many different forms. Tonight they bring their XL show to the Cambridge Folk Festival and what a show! Traditional folk tales with dance grooves, clog dancing and break dancing. Demon Barbers XL were here to close the festival on a high with a show that would push the boundaries of trad folk and bring it in to the 21st Century. It was non stop like nothing I’ve ever seen before, a full on rave was happening at Cambridge Folk Festival – Class!
It’s widely known and evident very quickly that this event is the flag bearer as far as folk festivals go in the UK. We are blessed in this country to have such a thriving scene of roots music, and some incredible festival events run by promoters who give the time and creativity to stage them in all parts of the country, all through the summer. However Cambridge is a different breed – it’s a meeting place, a community, from the most famous artist who graced Woodstock in 69, to the artists who are playing their first season of festivals – the event means the same, and that is to provide a weekend of the very best performances to an audience there to lap it up. This year, like every year – Cambridge Folk Festival delivered big time.
Review by Adrian Holden
Photography by Adrian Holden & Nigel Twelvetrees