Published on August 15th, 2017 | by Gareth Allen0
Cambridge Folk Festival Review Part Two
So its the Saturday of the Festival, and Moxie from the West Coast of Ireland are a great wake up tonic. Their first number sets the pace, with the accordions taking the lead melody, accompanied by some dynamic jazz influenced drumming. They then crank up the tempo with a great electric piano solo, before bringing everything down again, for a gentle shimmering finish. A fabulous beginning.
What you notice immediately about Moxie, is their what can only be called hard folk riffing; with accordions, banjos and guitars, and swinging drums in intense unison. Its a wonderful sight to behold. As the band tell us from the stage, “things are hotting up!”. On the next number we get ample evidence of this, with one of the guys hitting a ringing accordion power chord, and sliding across the stage Pete Townsend style.
Planted is the title track from the bands debut album, and its the highlight of this fine set. The dual banjo lead melody, which is then joined by the accordion, is utterly enchanting. The audience at Stage 1 love it as they dance and clap along, and the band are all smiles. On the final number the band even introduce some progressive music type dynamics with tricky time signatures. There is literally nothing this band aren’t capable of, if they chose to put their mind to it!
Fantastic Negrito delivers a great set of soul drenched blues, with a band that deliver a sound on a par with Booker T and the MGs, with some great guitar and organ. Fantastic Negrito commands the stage with a great call and response with the band, and with the audience, and some really cool blues rapping.
In the context of Friday’s ‘Women’s Takeover Day’ Fantastic Negrito says “I dedicate this song to the people who hold the fabric of society together women, especially my mother”, following this with playing a slow Leadbelly blues. He then makes one of the most powerful statements from the stage to be heard across the whole Festival “Politicians see in front of them a diverse group and think how do we divide them; artists see that group, and think how can we unite them”.
One of the songs has the line “Take that bullshit, turn it into good shit”, which he gets the whole audience singing. Its a great piano driven blues with some incisive wah-wah guitar. At the end of the set the Festival announcer comes back on to the stage, and says something that really seems to resonate with the audience “That’s my kind of folk music, I could listen to it all weekend”.
If you were at the Festival and missed Roxanne de Bastion’s set on Stage 2, then you missed something very special indeed. Roxanne is one of those rare artists, who from a place of deep empathy, is able to give authentic voice to human experience, and in particular the impact of trauma.
Some Kind of Creature, is a song of individual psychological struggle, that is sung with such warmth and compassion for the courage of the struggle. Roxanne’s eyes are closed as her voice reaches incredible heights. Towards the end of song she walks right to the front of stage, and makes intense eye contact with the audience. Its a moment of sublime artistic connection.
Run from the new album Heirlooms and Hearsay, Roxanne describes as a song about “people who find life changed from one day to the next “ and asks “Do we learn from the past?”. Its remarkable sung live, and the depth of feeling that Roxanne can convey in her voice, is powerfully released and shared. The song while imbued with sadness, also expresses the hope that we can learn from our collective experiences. This is one of the most beautiful and best performances of a song at the Festival.Roxanne introduces her excellent bassist Stuart Irwin, and gently sets up Rerun, the final track on the new album. At times it seems like there are two voices on stage; that’s how dazzling Roxanne’s voice and musical arrangements are.
Quirkily the set finishes with a “punk number”about “blood cells” which involves audience participation, and sets the seal on an outstanding set.
Watching Beoga on Stage 1, transported the listener to a dancehall, with some very fast paced songs that generated much dancing and cheering. A fantastic thing to observe, is when an instrumental song midway hits its stride, with the song pausing just for a moment, before all the instruments go up tempo with an exciting physical intensity. In its own way, its like a breakdown in a death metal song, that signals the mosh pit to go super charged! Beoga deliver this with ease and confidence.
Beoga can also play slow and beautifully. One song inspired by the bands home town, included evocative and atmospheric notes from the fiddle and accordion, with the piano weaving a pretty melody around them.
Daphne’s Flight was another highly anticipated set, and no wonder with a line up of some of the most talented women in folk. Originally coming together in 1995, and after a long hiatus, now back at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Comprising of Christine Collister, Melanie Harrold, Julie Matthews, Helen Watson and Chris While.
Goddess of Mann from the new album Knows Time, Knows Change has a soul and jazz arrangement, with absolutely gorgeous harmonies, that seem to just float on a cushion of air. When the voices combine to sing “She is the power, she holds out her hand”, it is something close to taking flight and leaving behind the normal constraints of music making. A liberation of the voice and music, led by five amazing women.
A version of Elvis Costello and Clive Langer’s Shipbuilding is able to offer a biting contemporary take on this great song, from the time of the Falklands War. The words are sung with anger, sadness, and a yearning for a different way. That different way, and vision of solidarity, is marvelously expressed through the song Count Me In, with the audience singing back the chorus to the group.
All these songs are on the new album, and we at Sonic Bandwagon have no hesitation in recommending you buy a copy.
Lau being Lau played in front of a banner saying “Save the NHS”. Its why we love them! It was a fabulous set full of contrasts, from at times music close to free form avant-garde…after all they began the set gathered around a Theremin. They can also transition seamlessly into something closer to a traditional folk sound, with a song like Save the Bees.
And they inter-wine themselves even further into our hearts when Martin Green says “This is for all the brilliant people who live here, but were not born here”. Their final number sees them get back into the more electronic like groove, with gathering smiles shared on stage. We are lucky to have Lau, if they ever play near you, please go and see them.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, on the main stage had enormous energy and a real indie feel. Peggy Sang The Blues, Frank introduces as song about drinking whisky in a tent sheltering from the rain. It couldn’t be more apt, as the heavens have opened up. It’s a jaunty song with lots of great piano, and just what’s needed.
The Way I Tend To Be has a very anthemic feel, that just carries everyone along, and leads to waving arms in the audience; and what a great voice Frank has, full of life, and able to carry any melody or tempo.
Wessex Boy is more acoustic based with electric mandolin. The sing along section at the end brings massed voices into the mix, and they magically feel an integral part of the song. Frank says “I like to think I am making friends with all of you; and all you need to be in a band is a voice …lets all be in the band!”.
Niteworks from Skye merge folk with dance beats and electronics, and it’s like nothing else you might hear at the Festival, and totally unique. The first number, with its thumping dance beats juxtaposed with bagpipes and fiddle, is a bold statement of intent. The second number has a lovely traditional vocal integrated seamlessly with the electronics…… and then sadly transport back to Cambridge beckons for your reviewer.
Niteworks are at the cutting edge of what folk can do, mixing up traditional idioms with beats and electronics, and are very exciting live. Expect to hear a lot more about them!
So to the final day of the festival, with energy and listening levels remaining remarkably high amongst the audiences around the different stages.
Opening up on the main stage, Ho-Ro had travelled from the Isle of Uist and described a long tiring journey, but that touchingly it was “worth it now”. And can they build an instrumental track! At one point you are floating with the instruments and then the cymbals come in, the pace goes up, and the bagpipes join, and everybody is dancing.
A new song is described as having a sing-along chorus but “no words, so it is easy whether you are drunk or sober“. It’s a wonderful song with atmospheric accordion and quite a funky beat, and the audience at one point sing unaccompanied, and it’s really tuneful, but then it is the Cambridge Folk Festival!
They slow things down for a song by Dougie McLean She Loves Me, with the fiddle full of gentle and soaring sounds, which complement perfectly a story about love. There is even a “Gaelic Rap” to conclude a fantastic set.
They are followed by The Eskies, who rather brilliantly sound like they have been transported from a 1930s cabaret under the influence of Bertolt Brecht, and discovered folk and rockabilly.
With a wonderfully quirky humour, they lead us through a highly enjoyable set, including the very decadent Down, Down, Down, with a really cool guitar riff and the audience being asked to “have your hands waving like the sea”. We are of course like putty in their hands and comply, and the audience at Stage 1 in an instant become the waves on a sea!
Emma McGrath plays the Den, a stage specifically for new artists. Its an amazing place, a brightly coloured tent with carpet rugs and a fireplace on the stage, and everyone sits comfortably on the rugs. The tent was packed for Emma, who played a set that held everyone’s attention. You could feel a sense amongst the audience, that we were witnessing someone very special, that we are going to hear a lot more of in the future.
The second song Love You Better had the rich jazzy expressiveness of John Martyn, with fellow musicians Lauren on guitar and backing vocals, and Alfie on percussion, providing just the right sympathetic musical setting, to let Emma’s voice really take hold of the song.
Spiralling was introduced as a song inspired by the story of someone trapped in a plane in a storm, and was imbued with a real sense of connection with that experience, as the song journeyed through upbeat rhythms to a quieter section, where Emma’s voice just drifted like gentle notes carried on the wind.
Lifeline as a song offered the most poignant insight into not wanting to be left lost “.…my only lifeline, don’t leave me behind“, accompanied by some great rhythmic guitar playing. There is a very strong and quite wonderful soul influence at play in Emma’s music, and in Honey it comes to the fore in the clipped funk like chords. Seek out her work……and experience a major new artist in the making.
Kate in the Kettle led by Kate Young on fiddle and stunning voice, completely charmed the audience at Stage 2. Marigold Grove floated and weaved as Kate exchanged smiles with Su-a Lee on cello and Patsy Reid on fiddle, then turning to the audience and saying proudly “My band!’.
Kate has been working on a new project, a song cycle exploring folklore around plant medicine. And from this set it is going to be something to really look forward too. Dandelion from the project, with its jazz scat singing over an incredible strings based melody, brings to the fore the sense of adventure that pervades Kate in the Kettle’s playing.
Kate talks playfully about herbs and giggles, and the audience clearly like this interaction with her.
Then Kate introduces a Bulgarian song about flowers, where one of the fiddles and the cello play a drone like sound, while the other fiddle soars over them. Kate’s voice is like a choir of voices. She sings with her eyes closed and effect is completely ethereal, and stunning.
Jon Boden, the guest Festival Curator joins for a combined shanty and Bulgarian song which is unrehearsed, and produces a striking mix of musical atmospheres and themes. In one instrumental section all the fiddles are playing what feel separate parts but also in perfect attunement.
Blue Rose Code is singer songwriter Ross Wilson, brought up in Edinburgh. Early in the set the audience applaud before a song finishes and Ross and his co-singer Wren laugh and smile, and there is clearly a lot of affection between Ross and the other band members on stage.
The legendary double bass player Danny Thompson joins Blue Rose Code on stage, and they play Leave the Light On, with Danny’s fantastic tone lending the piece a real jazzy syncopation. Ross smiles and sweetly acknowledges the mass of applause at the end with “Ah guys“. Ross in bringing Danny on stage referred to Danny having survived “a stroke, a heart attack and tours with John Martyn”; and the tours with John Martyn are of course completely legendary for their …ahem excess!
The songs that follow are touchingly autobiographical, about where Ross was born, the city that shaped him, and early rejection because “your music is not folk“. The musical settings for these stories shimmer and unwind with great beauty, with some lovely accordion and piano solos. It’s music for the soul.
At the end of the set Danny and Ross hugged, and Danny put his hand on his heart. An emotional end to a glorious performance.
The Oysterband combine a punk ethic, being political dissidents, and the rush of uplifting folk music, designed above all to be danced too. The River Runs has a rhythm driven momentum, cool banjo and wistful fiddle. The line “River runs through you and me, never reaches the ocean, never reaches the sea”, seems to have a laden sadness to it, but it feels that the audience’s clapping, keeps pushing the song through the sadness.
The band describe in the introduction to Walking Down The road With You, that “it’s about the little imp who tells you drink too much …and remember the more you drink the better we sound”
Dancing As Fast As I Can is a simply beautiful song with the cello accents adding something very special. When the tempo steps up and the band sing ” …don’t you understand that I’m dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing as fast as I can…”, it really speaks to the power of music.
All That Way For This, the band describe as written “for when your team gets relegated to the 4th division or if you are Hilary Clinton … or Theresa May……we didn’t want to be controversial”
It’s mandolin and fiddle driven rhythm starts up the dancing again. Ending with the audience singing back to the band “Everywhere I go, I hear what’s going on, and the more I hear, the less I know”, brings a joyous if poignant end to a great set.
With Hayseed Dixie it’s pretty much lost for words, but let’s try anyway!
With early songs in the set including Journey’s Don’t Stop believing and Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It, you have to pinch yourself that you are not at another kind of festival, but of course the banjos and mandolin’s keep it grounded. But maybe not ……a fantastic bluegrass version of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs preceded by Edwin Stars War, sees an abundance of devil horn gestures on the stage!
And if you never heard Bohemian Rhapsody ‘”the best killing song ever” done blue grass style …well make it your business to go see Hayseed Dixie, if they hit your town! A great end to a great festival!
If you appreciate music over a wide range of genres and at the cutting edge, in an exceedingly well run festival that is socially conscious, then make sure you seek out next year’s Festival. You will be glad you do!!
Photograph of the Oysterband by Mike Ainscoe, with many thanks. All other photographs by Gareth Allen. Special thanks to the Cambridge Live Press Team and to Jay Taylor. These were some of the best press arrangements we have experienced for any Festival.