Thursday – the opening day of Cambridge Folk Festival, has always been a bit like Christmas Eve – full of anticipation and good cheer and everybody – especially the enthusiastic staff wishing everyone a good time.
But in recent years, it’s not been just the day you settle down and set up your tent. Seriously good artists have been invited to open the show – and this year felt like a stronger opening than ever before – for music and for entertaining wit.
The bigger names, the Swedish duo Symbio – with hurdy-gurdy, accordion and stompboxes (both graduates from the Swedish Royal College of Music in Stockholm) – and Ibibio Sound Machine – Afrobeat and funk, got whooping and hollering and a massive reception from the audience at Stage Two. (Stage One doesn’t open until the second day).
But meanwhile, those bands less heard of held the surprise and delight of the evening. Indie Folk duo Flyte, playing on Stage Two started as a band of two boys writing songs after school.
They played a smooth and soothing song written after the death of a grandfather – which to the composer’s surprise is now often played at weddings and on Love Island.
The Vanguards on Stage Three (the stage previously called The Club Tent) are a tight-playing bluegrass group who you might think are American but again, are from South London.
Five musicians, each virtuoso on their own instrument, including the lead on mandolin and the others on banjo, fiddle, guitar, and double bass. There was a great bluegrass version of an Irish song Come Down from the Mountain Katy Daly.
As they said, played that like that, even sad songs sound happy. It’s true, it’s the nature of the music. The song is actually about drinking.
The best tale of the evening came from Niall McNamee – in the intimate smaller tent set up like a living room called The Den.
The singer-songwriter introduced himself saying he had just been given a role in a film- as a failed singer-songwriter. He thrilled the audience with a really excellent version of Paul Brady’s song The Lakes of Pontchartrain.
He too had a story about his grandfather, about how he and his grandmother met. They came from Clones, a small town in County Monaghan, Ireland. His grandmother made up her mind to go to work in England but couldn’t decide whether to go to London or Birmingham. She moved across the water and the couple lost touch.
He decided he would go over and find her. He didn’t know which city to look in, so he got the boat to Holyhead and tossed a coin. Birmingham won – so he went to Birmingham and bumped into her. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – you’ve got to find a tale to beat that.
Cambridge Folk Festival at Cherry Hinton Park, Cambridge runs until July 30. Acts include Judy Collins, The Proclaimers, Imelda May, The Fishermen’s Friends, Arrested Development, Kiefer Sutherland, and Angelique Kidjo.
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