REVIEW festival Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Cambridge Folk Festival - An Eclectic & Diversely Rewarding Festival

This year was the 50
th anniversary of the festival which has long been an institution and as a first-time attendee I was keen to see what it was like….

In short it's rather unique and a festival which incorporates the feel of a village fete more than anything. The music is everywhere with a lot of the bands playing more than once over the course of the festival over the 2 main stages and numerous smaller stages and tents for more intimate performances. There are also traditional Irish sessions going on in the Guinness tent throughout the weekend.

The line-up seemed to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the festival with an eclectic mix of both long-established and newer performers. Richard Thompson played the main stage on the Friday evening drawing on his huge catalogue and showed what a master of the acoustic guitar he remains. Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker & John Doyle also proved a highlight of the Friday along with Molotov Jukebox who played a blistering set on stage 2.

The singer, Natalia Tena (of Game of Thrones fame) proved to be a magnetic and charismatic performer whether singing, cajoling the crowd or playing the accordion. Highly recommended to catch live if you can. A lot of the crowd appeared much less enamoured of Sinead O’Connor on the Main Stage who drew a much less equivocal response.

 The early highlight of the Saturday (for me at least) was Sarah Jarosz and her young band on Stage 2 playing beautiful Appalachian mountain music. If pushed you may say her music was reminiscent of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings work but frankly her music is very much her own and all the better for it. A very endearing performance ensured lots of new fans I’m sure.

Loudon Wainwright III proved very popular on the main stage and very much had the crowd laughing when not signing along whilst Eddi Reader and her excellent band played a great set on stage 2 mixing old and new and she even threw in some Robert Burns. Eddi showed what a unique and powerful voice and presence she still has. She even addressed the thorny issue of Scottish independence stressing the links between the two countries (and the rest of the British isles of course) whatever may happen in September.

Ian Siegal & The Mississippi Mudbloods were last-minute additions to the line-up replacing Hot 8 Brass Band who have cancelled their European tour. The band is a collaboration with brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson from North Mississippi Allstars. This was apparently their only show in 2014 and what a show it was on stage 2. At times Allman Brothers-esque and a great Saturday night band. Some in the crowd were rather shocked by Mr Siegal’s Stepney accent when he spoke such were his Tony-Joe White-isms!

The Peatbog Faeries closed the main stage. On paper it shouldn't work: bagpipes, dance beats, heavy rock guitar, big drums and fiddle. But somehow it does and the crowd loved it. A masterful headline performance. Then it was on to the Silent Ceilidh which again should not work but most definitely does. It consists of 100-odd people attempting the Gay Gordon and Canadian Barn Dance wearing headphones and listening to their choice of either traditional ceilidh music or Bon-Jovi/Pharrell/The Beatles. Potentially even more fun for those watching the silent madness unfold.

On the main stage on Sunday afternoon Jason Isbell played a hauntingly beautiful acoustic set accompanied on voals and fiddle by his wife, Amanda Shires. The set leaned towards singer-songwriter country and was weighed towards his last album Southeastern. Very powerful.

On stage 2 Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham played reels and airs with some funny stories and banter thrown in. They make it look easy but they are world-class musicians whose reputations are well-earned.

While Ladysmith Black Mambazo played to a huge crowd on the main stage one of the smaller tents was packed to bursting for CC Riders, a young English band. They play their own distinct brand of pre-war hillbilly music with acousitc guitars, fiddle, harmonica and double bass. They are all lively perfomers and the singer, in particular, is a livewire whipping the crowd up throughout the set. They even made their way, double bass and all, into the crowd for an unmiced final sing-along.

They made their name busking outside Old Crow Medicine Shows on their UK tour last year. The writer caught them outside the Glasgow Barrowlands show. No strangers to busking themselves OCMS invited them on stage to perform with them later in the tour. They certainly have chutzpah and on the evidence of their Cambridge performance I'd expect big things. Definitely ones to catch live if you can.

Van Morrison closed the festival on the main stage and old grumpy-arse himself was on fine form. Unlike a lot of singers who've been around as long as him Van still has the voice, albeit deeper and maybe gruffer. His band and set leaned towards jazz and he had a full Caledonia-style horn section who he joined on sax regularly.

Any Van set will, by necessity, leave out more than it includes and no doubt everyone had favourites missing. But there could be no complaints with the versions of Moondance, Baby Please Don't Go, Brown Eyed Girl, and the closer, Gloria. Alright he didn't play Into The Mystic but Eddi Reader, ever the pragmatist, played a spectacular version the night before just in case....

I will definitely be back. Written by John Tonner