Thursday evening's cut down music programme provides a good start to the Cambridge Folk Festival

Cambridge Folk Festival 2009 review

published: Tue 11th Aug 2009

Ruaridh Macmillan

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

It's a daunting task setting about reviewing the Cambridge Folk Festival. Cambridge is in many respects the daddy of festivals in the UK, some would say the world. It's about as old as your old man (born 1964), commands a lot of loyalty and respect, and certainly has its funny habits.

This year some thought the old fella had started to go a bit doolally, as Cambridge’s famously eclectic coverage and broad definition of 'folk' this year included rocky pop outfit The Zutons. Some of the more cynical Cambridge regulars have put this down to an insurance policy for organisers Cambridge City Council to recoup last year’s £618,000 loss incurred by the collapse of the ticketing agency SecureTicket UK. More of that later though.

The festival has been sited since its inception in the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall, south east of Cambridge city centre. You can camp adjacent to the festival site or at a second quieter campsite on playing fields at Coldhams Common. A frequent and reliable free bus service takes Coldhams Common campers to the main festival site. The Cherry Hinton campsite tends to be the late nighters' preferred location and it's here that the instruments come out after the pro's have packed theirs away.

Cambridge is a four day event, Thursday to Sunday, or three and half days in reality as Thursday evening features a cut down, warm-up music programme on stages two and three (The Club Tent). We arrived late on Thursday afternoon to find the site already filling up with other early arrivals and headed to one of the two bars to take the edge off the effects of the M25. BBC Radio 2's Mark Radcliffe had beaten us to it and was already propping up the bar, pint in hand and looking relaxed, no doubt anticipating the weekend eagerly. Radio 2 does excellent coverage of Cambridge and their website at BBC Online also features videos, photos and a blog. BBC Four has three half hour summary programmes screened in the weeks following the festival.

The site is roughly shaped like an upside down L with Stage 1 at the top right, Stage 2 in the crook and the third stage or Club Tent at the top left. All stages are under cover in rectangular marquees with a large open arena to the rear of Stage 1 where the music can still be heard through repeater PA speakers. It's in this area that many of the festival goers set up camp for the duration of the weekend and becomes a sea of green folding camping chairs. Inside the marquees punters stake their claim to territory with blankets and again seem to camp there for the entire weekend.

With three stages of music it can be a daunting task choosing which bands to catch up with, however, this is alleviated by some artists playing more than once on different stages over the weekend.

Mumford And Sons
It fell to the London four piece Mumford & Sons to open the festival on Stage 2. With their urban hillbilly look, and their poppy folk with rich four part harmonies they put me in mind of Fleet Foxes. Half way through the set they swap mandolin and upright bass for electric instruments for a more rocking sound that sadly is a bit distorted and less pleasing that than their acoustic numbers. There's been quite a buzz about the Mumfords recently and I don't doubt they will be bumped up the billing next year.

Ruaridh Macmillan
Next we headed over to the Club Tent to see this year's BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the year, fiddler Ruaridh Macmillan. Ruaridh is a member of the Paul McKenna Band but for this performance he was joined by the prodigious talent of the previous year's award winner, Ewan Robertson (Breabach), and one of this years 'ones to watch' Adam Brown on bodhran. Macmillan is an exciting fiddler to see as well as listen to. Opening the set by teaching the crowd how to exclaim the Scottish ceilidh cry "Hewch!", his pipe marches had our feet tapping, and a solo slow air showed off his impressive virtuosity.

Adam Brown is allowed a tricksy solo to demonstrate why he is two times All Ireland and four times All Britain bodhran champion. He even makes his own bodhrans!

Adrian Edmondson And The Bad Shepherds
Back over at Stage 2 the tent was filled to near capacity for Thursday night's star turn in the shape of Adrian Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds. Star of TV that is. Edmonson only started playing the mandolin in 2007, so to be headlining a major festival is quite an achievement. I confess I was going to need convincing that he deserved this slot for more than his notoriety as a 'Young One' and one half of 'Bottom'. The band is admittedly a good one. He has managed to recruit some of the folk world's finest journeymen players as his backing bad, so surely it couldn’t go wrong. Where it does fall over though, is in Edmonson's thin and passionless vocals. The Bad Shepherds' 'schtick' is covering punk and other '80's hits in a Celtic styley. A novel and witty idea maybe, but the novelty wears off quickly and is only carried by the audience joining in with the easily recognisable choruses. A novelty act and a vanity project in one package I fear.

We left to make space for others and finished the evening in the beer tent.
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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