Images courtesy of Rich Etteridge
Ah, Folk Music. Pot-bellied beardy types on instruments whittled out of wood and played with one finger stuck in their ear, isn’t it? Well no, not entirely. The 49th Annual Cambridge Folk Festival was, as always, a welcome reminder that while folk in perhaps its most traditional form still exists, there’s also a hell of a lot more to it. Yes, there’s still more than your fair share of fiddles, banjos and bodhráns – at heart this is a festival that still sticks to its roots – but over the course of this weekend it became clear that pretty much anything goes here. We saw musical styles that have varied from Deep Southern Bluegrass to the Celtic sounds of Scotland and then from pulsating Afro-Fusion to the inventive sounds of Hip Hop Cabaret. This is folk music on an international scale. So as we got underway on Thursday night and took on sounds from all four corners of the globe, it was quite fitting that the weekend started off with some acts from the long distant shores of, erm, Cambridge.
Well I say Cambridge, for the opening act on Thursday in the Club Tent were The Brass Funkeys, a local group who could have been straight from the streets of New Orleans. Kicking the weekend off in frenetic style with big band covers of the likes of Madness and Eurythmics, it was about an energetic start as you could get in all honesty, and the standards had been set from the off. A calmer, more contemporary take on folk came next in the form of another local band The Willows. Theirs was a well formed set that slowly built as it progressed, starting with soft, gentler numbers which turned to toe tapping before soon enough, the packed out tent was jumping in time to brisk fiddles, banjos and guitar, all perfectly complemented by lead singer Jade Rhiannon’s quite stunning voice. They’ve been building themselves quite a reputation around these parts, and as the crowd yelled for an encore, to which they duly obliged, it certainly looked as though they may have gained themselves a few more fans. Our opening trio of locals was completed up at The Den, generally a stage for younger up and coming artists, of which Cara Winter is certainly one. She freely admitted her songs were miserable – “I can’t write when I’m happy” she tells us – so sad tales of lost loves and songs inspired by leaking ceilings followed, all delivered by a voice as warm and comforting as the rather plush furnishings inside The Den. She’s certainly one to watch. Winter finished her set with a Willy Mason cover which in hindsight, and this is no slight against her, would probably have been appreciated more had the man himself not been on Stage 2 at the same time. Anyone who knew his stuff was clearly going to be down there, and as it turned out there were plenty of them.
By the time we arrived the tent was fit to burst and Willy Mason was in full swing, his seasoned voice belying of his younger years. It’s hard to believe Mason is only 28 years old such is his confidence and persona on stage, and as we watched on tip toes from far out back it was clear he had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he moved through an impressive country-folk set list, with the likes of ‘Oxygen’ getting the expected biggest response. With Stage 2 being the main stage on opening night, we hung around for the switch over and squeezed our way to the front for a better view of Thursday’s headliner, Lucy Rose. Despite her ever growing fame, each time I see Lucy Rose she still seems as bashful as ever. There’s genuine delighted surprise at the warm reception she gets and as she kicks noisily into her set with electric guitars and heavy riffs, the crowd responds in turn. Moving steadily through numbers off her debuit album ‘Like I Used To’ – we hear audience favourites ‘Middle of the Bed’ and a quite stunningly delivered rendition of ‘Shiver’ – before she reveals there is a new record on the way and drops a couple of newer numbers in for good measure. As a deceptively rowdy set rounds off with ‘Bikes’ Rose admits that she was as nervous as anything, as this is a folk festival and her stuff was a bit rockier. Well, the massive roars for an encore suggested no one in attendance seemed to mind, and after all, this is Cambridge Folk Festival where pretty much anything goes.