Cambridge Folk Festival, Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge

4.00

 

If you had looked at this year's Cambridge Folk Festival from above, you might have mistaken the scene for an army encampment, so well equipped were the picnickers. Arguably the most civilised of Britain's music festivals, certainly the best organised, it was the perfect setting for some beguiling folk.

On Friday a Scottish ceilidh got us dancing, before a playful set by Newton Faulkner. We were then lulled by the smoky tones of The Robert Cray Band before being pepped up by the fizzing fervour of America's Cajun Francophiles Feufollet. The headliners, Bellowhead, were excellent.

The sun broke through on Saturday, as Penguin Café struck up on the main stage. A "rebooted" version of the late Simon Jeffes' experimental Penguin Café Orchestra, its reincarnation is an astonishing feat, led by Jeffes' son, Arthur. The classically trained musicians had people cramming themselves into the tented area so forcibly that wardens yelled at people who hadn't rolled up their blankets, to make space.

Kate Rusby was the only performer who wouldn't have felt too intimidated following Penguin Café. Touring with a new band, she bathed us in her heart-melting melodies and chatted about the delights of bringing her daughter to the festival for the first time. As darkness fell, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill proved another highlight. Hayes is a six-time All Ireland Fiddle Champion and his skill is unbelievable.

Away from the hordes was an amazing new addition: the Den. This Tibetan-style tent, emblazoned with colourful shapes, is a new stage for emerging talent. The ones to watch were Rachel Sermanni, Megan Henwood and Passenger.

On Sunday, Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends started things off with a collection of sea shanties and some hilarious banter. Rumer cemented critical comparisons to Carole King with a warm, earth-motherish main-stage set, while Caitlin Rose's vocals seduced her audience in a smaller venue. Laura Marling headlined, playing a mixture of favourites from her popular first two albums but also offering a tantalising glimpse of her happier-sounding, Americana-influenced third album, A Creature I Don't Know.

It was a far cry from the grime of Glastonbury-style festivals, but it was delightfully edifying.

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