Cambridge Folk Festival offers a feast of music on Friday

Cambridge Folk Festival 2010 review

published: Thu 5th Aug 2010

The Unusual Suspects

Thursday 29th July to Sunday 1st August 2010
Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB1 8DW, England MAP
£108 for full weekend
last updated: Wed 14th Jul 2010

Ghost Town Showdown
After a relatively comfortable and blissfully peaceful night at Coldhams Common, we set off for the main festival site at midday on Friday. Arriving to a splendid scene of sunshine and buffoonery, we strolled past the MOJO Signing Tent, just in time to catch a live performance from British Bluegrass contemporary pioneers, Ghost Town Showdown. The trio, who hail from the Home Counties, consist of brothers Phil (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Colin Attrill (double bass, vocals) and their cousin, Simon Roberts (mandolin, vocals). The band performed several tracks, some of which are included on their debut EP such as 'Ball and Chain', 'Pretty Girl Blues', 'Battlefields' and my personal favourite, 'Rabbit's Foot'. Their sound is traditional bluegrass with an accessible raw edge and I found their harmonies particularly impressive, as I did Roberts' exemplary skills on the mandolin. I haven't listened to a great deal of bluegrass music to be fair, but I think I might just have found a new obsession and that's thanks to these guys.

Over to Stage 1 and a spectacular and exclusive UK performance from Irish folk royalty Sharon Shannon (accordion, fiddle) and rockabilly diva du jour, Imelda May. May's striking signature '50s style and sassy jazz-blues fusion vocals have made her quite the industry talking point, so I was really excited to see the collaboration between these two Irish female inspirations. Entering the stage to a capacity and clearly charged crowd, Shannon and her band, which included fiddle, electric guitar and melodeon, performed a couple of Irish traditional treatments, which went down a storm. There was lots of crowd participation throughout the set generally, with much hand clapping and foot stomping; indeed, it was easy to forget where you were and to imagine that you were sitting bar-side drinking a jar of Guinness in a dusty Dublin dancehall. My idea of heaven!

Imelda May
After a performance of 'The Flying Circus', followed by a set of reeds, Shannon beckoned May to the stage, were she was greeted by much applause and anticipation. They performed their hit single 'Go Tell The Devil' which also appears on Shannon's latest studio album 'Saints and Scoundrels'. The addictive track proved a real highlight, showcasing May's rich and sugary vocals perfectly. The biggest cheer was given for May's amazing vocal performance on The Beatles' track 'Oh Darling', which was followed by a fast-paced instrumental number with bodhran accompaniment. May also performed a further couple of tracks from her debut album 'Love Tattoo'; tracks that I am sure you will all become accustomed to as her career continues to flourish. This was a set which highlighted Irish traditional folk music at its best; the musicianship of the band was outstanding and definitely left the crowd wanting more.

Seth Lakeman
Sky Arts were filming highlights from Stage 1 across the weekend, so it proved difficult at times to get the best photographs from the main stage as restrictions had been put in place as to where photographers could stand. Next up on Stage 1 was Seth Lakeman (violin, guitar, viola), the English folk singer-songwriter and all-round expert in his craft. His family are something of a dynasty in the genre; him being the dashing and slightly younger Bobby Ewing I would expect. Kicking off his storming set with latest album title track 'Hearts and Minds', it was evident that Lakeman is well respected and revered at the festival, as the crowd sang along and gave a deafening applause. Other tracks from this album which were performed included 'Changes', 'Preacher's Ghost' and 'See Them Dance', all highlighting Lakeman's leaning towards a rockier edge with this album. Older tracks included 'The Hurlers', 'Solomon Browne' and 'Race to Be King'; all taken from Lakeman's 2008 fourth album, 'Poor Man's Heaven'. Each track was performed with passion and tenacity, as Lakeman invited the crowd to join in with the lyrics and provide a clapping accompaniment to his fierce plucking of the guitar and violin strings. After performing both a marching and drinking song, Lakeman said that he always enjoyed the Cambridge Folk Festival and the crowd certainly appeared to return the compliment in equal measure.

Other notable performances from Friday evening came from Seasick Steve, The Committee Band, and Mama Rosin. Drawing a large crowd to Stage 1, Seasick Steve entertained with his tunes and tales of how he ended up doing what he does now and where he came from. His blend of country rock combined with the onslaught of the now wet and wild weather, made for a memorable performance and definitely a weekend highlight. Steve sang a couple of tracks for his friends recently departed, including a somewhat humorous account of being "shown around town in a police car." Steve said that he had loved his time at the festival, seeing all the families and little people having a good time; which they certainly were during his set. A sing-along came in the form of a recently penned track, especially for the festival, with the chorus line 'It's a long, long way, "cos I've been there before"...the overall set had an air of positive reflection, which the crowd seemed to appreciate.

The Committee Band
The Committee Band are a ceilidh group who have been together for almost twenty years; this however being their final season together, so I was determined to catch a glimpse of what they do best. They filled Stage 2 with laughter, song and dance which was a delight to witness, with children and adults alike trying out a bit of Irish dancing and weaving through outstretched arms.

Mama Rosin are a Cajun and Zydeco band from Switzerland, who I would personally describe as plonkytonk folk; fusing traditional folk with Cajun tunes and delta blues. The band were genuinely excited to be part of the festival, stressing that they didn't bring the rain with them. Some of their set was performed in French, which added an infectious edge to their performance, which was definitely a hit with the crowd.

Kitty MacFarlane
Cambridge Folk Club set up residence at the festival, allowing amateur musicians and singer-songwriters to book sets at the Club Tent. I especially enjoyed a performance from Kitty MacFarlane. MacFarlane hails from Taunton in Somerset and had an appealing catalogue of observational acoustic folk tracks, including one about the 25b bus that takes Taunton residents to the nearest bustling town; it's amazing how many songwriters are inspired by the goings-on of a common bus ride! I really liked MacFarlane's tone and her lyrical ability; I wish her well for the future. Other performances came from TTom Conway, April Anderson, and Spencer Rivers; all three choosing to perform with just an acoustic guitar. I do think that in order to make an impact in this type of environment, you have to offer something different or have a vocal instrument that wows the crowd. Rivers performed mainly covers of, albeit well known folk songs, but I don't think that he offered anything extra to his performance. Conway's lyrics were intriguing but perhaps didn't appeal to me or my tastes and Anderson was pleasant and clearly well respected in her field; but my favourite of the performances and my tip for the future would be MacFarlane.

Headlining on Friday night were The Unusual Suspects, a jaw-dropping Scottish folk band, consisting of harpists, violinists, accordion players, double bass players, trumpet players, to name but a few. The orchestral quality and awesome sound of this band on stage was something to be marvelled at. I would liken their sound to a Scottish Riverdance, as they performed their own treatments and compositions of traditional pieces. The band have a new album out this year, which I would definitely recommend. I think the strength of this band lies in their live performances, as they demonstrate with ease how traditional instruments can compliment a horn section and everything in between.

The Unusual Suspects
review by: Shelley Hanvey

photos by: Zoe Jane Lawson

Thursday 29th July to Sunday 1st August 2010
Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB1 8DW, England MAP
£108 for full weekend
last updated: Wed 14th Jul 2010

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