Live Reviews

Published on September 2nd, 2018 | by Gareth Allen


Cambridge Folk Festival 2018 Review – Part 1

Cambridge Folk Festival 2018 Review – Part 1

 This year’s line-up for the Cambridge Folk Festival, underlines just how musically adventurous its approach is becoming. This is surely the lifeblood of a festival, that bravely seeks to reach out to, and inspire its audience, to embrace the blurring of musical boundaries. Well done to the organisers, for keeping this eclectic passion to the forefront of the festival. So how was the 2018 edition of this iconic and legendary festival?


 Friday sees some gorgeous summer weather, creating a warm and welcoming type glow, across the festival site. It is a day full of great performances, including Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys on the main stage, who are a fantastically joyful ensemble, that whip up a storm of rockabilly influenced country; and wow Gordie’s dancing on the final number, is something to behold, as all the band locked into a ferocious hoedown!

Peggy Seeger, with son Calum MacColl, playing between them guitars and banjo, were introduced by guest curator Rhiannon Giddens. Rhiannon rather wonderfully sat in the photo pit to listen to Peggy’s set.

Peggy’s set spoke to the social issues that continue to require our attention and care, and the often-turbulent human experience of relationships.  One song had the striking and resonant line “things that turn us against each other, and don’t learn us to be brother and sister”. A line very much for our troubling times.

‘Careless Love’ had the very appreciative audience singing along and swaying. Peggy’s voice magically communicates a story with real humanity and empathy. The sparse and fitting musical accompaniment, also seems to create just the right musical landscape for Peggy’s voice and storytelling to capture our hearts.

The John Smith Trio played the marvelous Saved My Life’ from the ‘Headlong’ album. The double bass, fiddle and guitar, create a very evocative setting for this love song. Closing my eyes, it could have been the late great John Martyn singing.

A song written on the A14, about leaving and yearning, has the bittersweet line ‘My heart wear’s a fancy dress burst at the seams’, and seems to touch on something fragile about life. A song about growing up in Devon, with a beautiful wordless chorus sung by the audience, really spoke to this reviewer, who also grew up in Devon.  John has a way of conveying emotional connection with a place that is quite unique.

Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band are simply extraordinary. All the musicians had turquoise markings on their faces, and had the feeling of a posse of musical outlaws, who love and live punk! The first couple of numbers have a heavy blues feel, with Eliza dancing across the stage, in a way that urges on the other musicians.

‘Hug You Like A Mountain’ from the ‘Big Machine’ album, majestically rang out across the audience, with the stunning refrain of this great song, punctuated by the thrilling sound of the brass section. Just fabulous!

Eliza and the band have a swagger and swing, and a stunning wall of sound, that is completely irresistible, and leads to waves of joyful dancing, expanding out from the stage. At the end of a great set, the stage announcer declared “professionals they are, they still finished on time, despite technical difficulties cutting short the time”. A fitting tribute to this wonderful and talented ensemble.

Songhoy Blues have a funky expansive sound that seems to fill the whole of the area stretching back from the covered part of the main stage, with some great hi-life like guitar work being a real highlight.

Vishten with some funky jazzy electronic keyboards alongside more traditional folk instruments, have a lovely danceability to their Acadian musical traditions. ‘549 centimeters’ about the snow that fell in a year, epitomised their gutsy musical approach.

The two female voices weaved some gorgeous harmonies throughout the set. The group talked about the new Acadian musical traditions being created, and how excited they feel around that creativity. As the band took up the pace with some fabulous reels, with a modern rhythmic jazzy take, the audience responded with whoops and applause.

Eliza Carthy and Dave Delarre from the Wayward Band, in a packed Club Tent, played the most beguiling of sets, towards the end of Friday evening. Commencing with a lullaby, accompanied by Dave on banjo, Eliza’s voice soars and swoops, with some wonderful jazz phrasing.

‘Second Half Opener’ sees both musicians smiling, and completely in sync and sympathy with each other. ‘Amelia’s song’ from music composed by Eliza for a Shakespeare production at the Globe, tells the story of Amelia praying to the goddess Diana to make a choice between two men. The music and voice emanating from the stage are lilting and utterly beautiful.

Eliza wryly refers to how hard the festival has worked her, under taking a workshop, playing the main stage, and now singing over a pedal steel, an endearing cheeky reference to First Aid Kit, playing at the same time on the main stage

The ‘Three Jolly Sheepskins’ tune from North Yorkshire, saw the tempo go up several notches, and the clapping from the audience start in earnest. Eliza and Dave are so in the moment with the audience. Looking around the Club Tent, the audience smiles, and heads and bodies moving with the music, is a joy to experience.

A great Friday that sets the bar high for the rest of the festival!

With thanks to Anne Robertson for her musical reflections and contributions to this review.

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About the Author

A committed metal head with a love of jazz, soul, and folk. Living in Central Scotland and attending gigs in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with it's really amazing venues. My iconic moment... being invited on stage at the Glasgow Garage, by DevilDriver's Dez Fafara!

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