Mairtin O'Connor led Irish tradition supergroup proves the highlight of a talent filled final day

Cambridge Folk Festival 2009 review

published: Wed 12th Aug 2009

Mairtin O Connor

Thursday 30th July to Sunday 2nd August 2009
Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB1 8DW, England MAP
£104 for full weekend
last updated: Mon 3rd Aug 2009

Blue skies and warm sunshine begin to dry the Cherry Hinton mud, and the punters feel confident enough to ditch their wellies in favour of Crocs or even flip flops for the more fashion conscious.

After two days of crap instant coffee at our B&B, we decide to join the lengthy queue at the only stall on the entire site that offers real coffee. Generally speaking, Cambridge is not noted for being well served on the catering front. Prices are not as outrageous as at WOMAD, but the choice and quality is pretty indifferent. A 25 minute wait for a coffee and pain au chocolat is just on the boundaries between acceptability and a piss take in my opinion.

Bella Hardy (2)
Suitably caffeinated we head to Stage 1 to listen to Derbyshire singer and fiddler Bella Hardy. No coffee for Bella though. She takes the stage with a full champagne flute in hand. A hair of the dog? Maybe some Dutch courage, or perhaps it's to celebrate the launch of her new CD 'In The Shadow of Mountains'. Either way, it does the trick and she treats us to an effervescent performance of thought-provoking self-penned tracks from the CD, accompanied by Corinna Hewitt (Unusual Suspects) on harp, Anna Massie (Anna Massie Band) on guitar, and Chris Sherburn (Last Night's Fun) on concertina.

Mairtin O Connor
The combination of Máirtín O'Connor (accordion), Cathal Hayden (fiddle), and Séamie O'Dowd (guitar) is something of a supergroup of the Irish tradition, with between them connections to Riverdance and legendary bands such as De Danaan, Dervish and Four Men And A Dog. If any cobwebs still remain from last night, this trio's opening set of breakneck paced reel blows them away in an instant, O'Connor himself pronouncing it a grand hangover cure. O'Dowd shows his stunning guitar fingerwork with a cover of a Rory Gallagher song. These are possibly some of the finest players that we'll see at Cambridge this weekend, and given the quality of the other acts that's quite a tribute.

Megan Henwood
I first saw Megan Henwood doing a floor spot at Nettlebed Folk Club about a year ago. That night she held the audience in the palm of her hand with her solo rendition of her new single 'What Elliot Said' a song she wrote when she was 16. It's no great surprise to find her performing at the country's top folk festival today on Stage 2, and a measure of the respect she is commanding that she is backed by a band consisting of ex-Steeleye Span and Jethro Tull members, as well as fellow holder of the 2009 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Musician of the Year award, brother Joe Henwood. These are without doubt the weekend's top 'Ones To Watch'. Megan Henwood has a maturity in her songwriting and live performance way beyond her 22 years.

Folk is a very incestuous business. Line-ups tend to be 'mix and match' affairs and occasionally a few surprise guests show up. Martin Green (accordion), Kris Drever (guitar), and Aidan O'Rourke (fiddle) of Lau are joined today by respected pedal steel guitarist B. J. Cole which is an interesting choice on the face of it, but he provides a novel depth to their sound. Lau are a genre-bending act of the first order, and in addition to being virtuoso and innovative musicians they are are great actors in live performance, and prove very popular with fans who wouldn't necessarily describe folk as their music style of choice. Talking of surprise guests, O'Rourke's erstwhile ex-colleagues from Blazin' Fiddles appear behind him on stage to give a respectful parting tribute fiddle back up.

Eddi Reader also has a stellar line-up today, a veritable 'Who's Who' of Scottish traditional music in fact, including Donald Shaw (accordion and keyboards) and Ewan Vernal (bass) of Capercaillie, John McCusker (flute and whistle) and Heidi Talbot (vocals), and local lad Boo Hewerdine (guitar). All highly respected musicians and singers in their own right. Eddi's bandmate from Fairground Attraction Roy Dodds completes the line-up on drums. A great comic performer on stage, Eddi has the crowd roaring with her banter. Her expressive interpretations of Robert Burns' songs are now becoming her trademark. The set also includes original songs from her new CD 'Love Is The Way'.

Oumou Sangare
Mali's singer and musician Oumou Sangare is this year's only world act, but it's a very welcome and occasionally thought provoking addition to the programme. Sanagare has bravely promoted difficult issues in her country, particularly those affecting women, such as forced marriage. Her performances in the UK are becoming rare, so she is a very welcome guest today. Her band of unrelentingly smiley musicians and backing singers are a treat, their beaded and shell decorated costumes a blaze of colour; This performance provokes the biggest response from the crowd we've heard so far this weekend.

Imelda May
Imelda May is another artist who stretches the boundaries of the definition of 'folk' this year, and her band's retro look and rockabilly stompers are a welcome antidote to overdosing on the all the 'diddly' stuff and she fills the Stage 2 tent to capacity.

Lucinda Williams has something of a rep as being 'difficult'. The festival photographers had heard talk of her ordering that the photo pit be emptied at a recent London gig, and sure enough a few bars into her opening number, she hits the brakes saying, "I can't do this!" The photographers withdraw voluntarily and the show goes on. She still manages to find fault though, complaining that the crowd barriers are too far away. She clearly loves her public, but just can't cope with being photographed. Her public love her style of bluesy country with dark lyrics back at her, and it's sing along with Lucinda, but for me her truculent attitude jars with the camaraderie and absence of ego of Cambridge.

The Treacherous Orchestra
And so it fell to The Treacherous Orchestra to close Cambridge 2009. A fully 13 man strong line-up, this could be said to be Scotland's answer to Bellowhead. Their energetic big folk band sound causes the weekend's first mosh, and I was almost expecting some crowd surfing. Unfortunately, this ensemble lacks the subtlety and varied textures of Bellowhead or the inventiveness of that other Scottish festival dance favourites The Peatbog Faeries. I feel they can achieve the same sound with fewer members, however, they leave the crowd yelling for more and next year, they may well oblige.
review by: Douglas Coulter

photos by: Douglas Coulter

Thursday 30th July to Sunday 2nd August 2009
Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB1 8DW, England MAP
£104 for full weekend
last updated: Mon 3rd Aug 2009

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