if only Cambridge Folk Festival could never end

Cambridge Folk Festival 2010 review

By Shelley Hanvey | Published: Thu 5th Aug 2010

around the festival site (Coldhams Common Campsite)

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

Saturday's performances in the Club Tent came from the very entertaining Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs and an impromptu acoustic session from Jeff and son Seth Lakeman. The Junkyard Dogs are a three-piece Skunk outfit (blending Skiffle and Punk genres), who fashion their own instruments from various inanimate objects and get the crowd involved in their performances. They performed a few tracks including a dedication to the King of Skiffle, Lonnie Donegan and a rousing version of 'What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor'.

Seth Lakeman
We were then told that a surprise guest would be making an appearance shortly; which turned out to be father and son combo, Jeff and Seth Lakeman. The duo performed a selection of transportation, Cornish and traditional pieces, with Jeff on the concertina and Seth playing the violin. Jeff joked about the violin lessons not having gone to waste, as his son once again wowed the crowd with his musical craftsmanship. The duo came across as approachable and friendly; and I found myself wishing I too could join their folk dynasty, perhaps as the lovely Pamela Barnes Ewing!

Stage 1 performances on Saturday came from Scottish multi-instrumentalist and singer Julie Fowlis, Irish folk wonders Dervish, the dazzling Pink Martini and headlining, the incomparable Natalie Merchant. Julie Fowlis is from the Hebrides and sings in her native tongue, she even tried to teach the crowd a few basic snippets but it didn't seem to be catching on easily! I found myself thinking about the similarities between Gaelic and Celtic traditional pieces and reasoning that both sounds span generations and geographical locations, bringing a sense of an uplifted and spirited atmosphere. Fowlis performed a total of eight treatments of traditional Gaelic as well as more contemporary pieces and the crowd gave her a hearty applause as she left the stage.

Next up was Dervish, who I was especially looking forward to seeing. The Irish traditional folk supremos last appeared at Cambridge four years ago and have since won a slew of awards in their native Ireland and indeed worldwide. The band have recently released their ninth studio album, testament to their passion and longevity in the genre. The band performed a selection of traditional and contemporary pieces, including tracks from their 'Spirit' album, a piece about hare-coursing called 'The Hills of Greenmore' and Irish folk favourite, 'The Jolly Tinker'. Lead singer Cathy Jordan is an animated and infectious performer, encouraging the crowd to get to their feet and clap along to the familiar refrains.

It was clear that a huge draw for the festival this year, came in the form of former 10,000 Maniacs singer, Natalie Merchant. As Merchant took to the stage to deafening applause, it felt as if you were in the presence of someone truly exciting and the anticipation was palpable. Kicking off with the slow and easy country-rock of 'Cowboy Romance', Merchant then introduced her band and said how happy she had been to be invited to the festival this year. Merchant performed a series of pieces which were based on late 1800's poems from both British and American sources. She has recently released an album containing these tracks entitled 'Leave Your Sleep', which contains an elaborate mix of styles including folk, reggae, bluegrass and Cajun. Merchant could certainly never be typecast in to one genre, that's for sure. Her voice is full of soul and her performances captivate in a way I hadn't quite yet seen at the festival; not to take anything away from previous artists of course, but Merchant was something else.

The simple lyrics to tracks such as 'The Janitor's Boy', and 'Isobel' highlighted Merchant's ability to adapt any narrative to music. Covering Fairport Convention, Merchant said that she had visited Westminster Abbey with her daughter that day and had discovered the final resting place of a couple of those poets whose work she had adapted. 'Carnival', and 'Kind and Generous' were especially well received by the crowd with lots of singing along and dancing in the fields. Merchant is a lovely performer and her on-stage antics seemed to reverberate across the crowd, leaving everyone with an upbeat demeanour and smiling face. The band finished with their favourite piece to perform live, 'The Walloping Window Blind', a piece inspired by the children's poem by Charles E Carryl. The applause for Merchant rang out long after she had left the stage; some of which was coming from the little girl sat next to me, who I later discovered was her daughter.

Johnny Flynn
Being a huge fan of his music, I was most looking forward to seeing Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit perform on Stage 2 on Saturday evening. He certainly did not disappoint the capacity crowd performing tracks from his debut album 'A Larum' and recently released second album 'Been Listening'. Flynn's voice is mesmerizing, with his lyrics just as deep and brooding as his vocal tone. Kicking off with crowd favourite 'Kentucky Pill', Flynn took his onlookers on a veritable jaunt through his musical catalogue, following up with 'Lost and Found', 'The Box', 'The Wrote and the Writ' and 'Churlish May'. I heard another festival-goer referring to Flynn as "the new face of folk music" and I had to agree; Flynn's not a man of many words on stage, but it's quality not quantity and what he does say, or rather sing, is in my opinion worth a million casual mutterings. Album title track 'Been Listening' is a slow, electro-folk number which was very well received by the crowd and after he had dazzled us with his musicality on instruments such as the trumpet, violin and electric guitar, I noticed the St John's Ambulance staff arriving stage-left. I could only assume that these were on hand for the inevitable fainting females that would surely transpire around the camp site after seeing Flynn's set...at least, that's what I reasoned after the kindly Ambulance lady brought me round for the second time.

Another of the weekend's highlights for me were Gretchen Peters and Salsa Celtica. A true country great, Gretchen Peters has been likened to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris and has a simply staggering back catalogue of tracks which she has written for herself and her peers. Her track 'Independence Day', sung by Martina McBride, was the number that I was previously most familiar with; however, as Peters started her set I found myself recognising more tracks than I had expected. Peters is a captivating performer, she tells stories both in banter and in song and had a real unassuming nature about her, epitomising the festival and its artists overall for me. This was Peters' nineteenth tour of the UK and she said that she had always been surprised to come over here and see that people actually show up to see her perform – surely not?! I found Peters' voice smooth and sultry; perfect for country and roots music and it was clear to see why she has enjoyed the level of career success she has to date. Peters said that she writes about love and the beauty of everything and there was certainly a lot of love in the crowd for this artist. She has a best of album out at the moment, which I very much look forward to getting better acquainted with.

around the festival site (Coldhams Common Campsite)
After a long weekend of reviewing and rejuvenating, my friend and I decided to spend Sunday taking photographs of the festival-goers and Cherry Hinton Hall, chatting to people about why they came to the festival year after year and we also managed to catch a lively performance from Salsa Celtica. The Cuban-Celtic traditional fusion band were a delight to behold, with the salsa beats blending seamlessly with the expert fiddle-playing on display. The band have been together for fifteen years and are something of an institution in what they do; it was clear to see why. Their closing performance was a perfect moment to leave the festival on and a great memory to possess.

I couldn't compliment Cambridge City Council more on their organisational and technical prowess throughout the weekend, with both artists and festival-goers having a great time and quite genuinely not wanting the weekend to end. I am counting down the days till next year's festival and am already drawing up my dream line-up as we speak!

Salsa Celtica
review by: Shelley Hanvey

photos by: Zoe Jane Lawson

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