Cambridge Folk Festival, Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Whereas Glastonbury is often likened to a tented city, Cambridge Folk Festival is more akin to a small and leafy market town.

Whereas Glastonbury is often likened to a tented city, Cambridge Folk Festival is more akin to a small and leafy market town. About 10,000 people converge every summer on this ancient seat of learning for three days of top-class international roots music - this year's 40th-birthday event sold out in record time.

From nouveau gospel to Galician piping, from classic reggae to contemporary alt.pop, the broad-church programming policy hit the spot once again for a correspondingly diverse, multi-generational crowd. Aided by sunshine, this is a festival that makes weekend bedfellows of everyone, from Home Counties stockbrokers revisiting their long-haired youth, to the kind of dreadlocked skater-Goth teens they wouldn't want their daughter going out with.

Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley's former right-hand man, was just the headliner to pull them all together, and he did so in unforgettable style on Saturday night, with a set that proved him to be sublimely uninterested in resting on his laurels. After "Many Rivers to Cross", there was barely a dry eye in the field.

A love-in of comparable magnitude had taken place 24 hours previously, when Neil Hannon and his rejuvenated Divine Comedy, complete with lush string orchestra and awash with louche romanticism, topped off Friday's bill. Previous acts who have featured as Cambridge's non-folk attraction have sometimes done so with a hint of condescension, but Hannon embraced the opportunity with open arms, pulled out all the stops, and won a tidal wave of appreciation in return.

The sounds of 21st-century Iberia was a mini-theme this year, as represented by the ballsy Latin-hued blues-rock of Amparanoi; the quicksilver bagpipe gymnastics of Galicia's Susana Seivane; and the mesmerising showmanship of the Basque accordionist Kepe Junkera. And the Portuguese fado singer Mariza earned instant forgiveness for her country's perceived sins in the footballing arena with an hour-long performance of breathtaking operatic splendour.

Premier-league singer-songwriters, too, were abundant, with longtime Cambridge favourite Loudon Wainwright III earning a hero's welcome on Friday, wringing the audience to tears alternately of hilarity and heartache. Newcomers Josh Ritter and Mindy Smith each staked a stunningly authoritative claim to similar longevity.

On the Celtic front, the fiddle-led Scottish outfit Session A9 meshed traditional tunes with beautifully layered arrangements and rhythmic verve, and the Manchester-Irish piper and flute-whistler Mike McGoldrick stormed his way into the 40th-birthday annals, first with a blistering trio set flanked by guitarist Ed Boyd and bodhran ace John Joe Kelly, then with his big band to finish with a resounding bang on Sunday.

Comments