Cambridge Folk Festival Saturday, July 29, Cherry Hinton Park, Cambridge
Saturday’s festival had all the buzz, excitement and brilliant entertainment that has kept people returning to the event year after year since it began in 1965.
The afternoon was lifted into the skies by the Canadian band Le Vent du Nord. They have a stirring sound created by hurdy gurdy, two fiddles, banjo, and guitars.
They are celebrating 20 years of touring. Our success is down to you, they told an enthusiastic crowd. “Merci very much” they said or “Thank you beaucoup”. Thank you, they said, for allowing them to have all the tours, all the journeys in cars, on buses, planes, and once in a snowmobile over frozen wastes. “For millions of miles we have been glued together.
“A lot of cheeseburgers and fish and chips and gin and tonics. Complicity and hostility. “We have French blood, so we know what is arguing for no reason.”
But, of course, it’s their rich, rollicking, foot tapping, high spirited music that has meant this five piece have played more than 1,800 concerts over five continents.
The packed crowd in stage one just roared with delight. Over all the years, they had never written a song about maple syrup they said. “The blood of our trees”. So, they sang one. In French, of course, like all their songs.
The syrup they said was the link between the first nation people and the Canadians. “This is the French American story. Our ancestors left France to turn their back on the plague, they met the heat of summer and the hostility of winter.”
The day continued with America’s Got Talent finalists, Gangstagrass. Their music is a lively combination of hip hop, bluegrass, and rap. They entranced stage one with music you just had to move to and had a great rapport with the crowd. Stage one danced and clapped their hands.
And that was how Saturday carried on.
At night, stage Two whooped and hollered to Baskery, three Swedish sisters who sing and between them play banjitar – a six-string banjo, plus guitar, drums, and double bass.
As teenagers, Greta, Stella, and Sunniva Bondesson formed a group called The Slaptones with their father Janake. He bowed out later and they formed Baskery. Their sound is American – with Swedish accents. The crowd loved them. They played out to a few lines from Abba’s song: Super Trooper. “Somewhere in the crowd there’s you.”
They were followed by The Chair, a group of stupendous musicians from Orkney. Their music was fast and dazzling. The eight-piece played for 50 minutes, and it went by very fast.
It’s a blend of folk, blues, rock and klezmer on fiddle, banjo, accordion, guitar, bass, and drums, played by virtuoso musicians. Overall, it’s turbocharged Celtic. Again, impossible to keep still to.
There was iron in the soul on Saturday. The mellifluous voice of Angeline Morrison – singing with the Sorrow Songs Band – reminded us on a sunny afternoon of a railway workers’ strike in the 1950s. She sang Ewan MacColl’s song about it. They weren’t striking for better pay or (as now) to stop the railway company closing ticket offices. This was The Colour Bar Strike.
A black man was appointed a manager at King’s Cross in London and his white colleagues disagreed and stopped working – but in this case the National Union of Railway Workers would not back the strike. The man kept his job.
Later on, protest singer Grace Petrie, introducing herself as a “socialist, feminist lesbian” who has five albums of passionate songs, had the crowd in stage one rapt. Her diction is perfect, her tunes are catchy, her voice is compelling She is also very funny. She doesn’t just have an audience; she has a following.
After her show, she spent over two hours signing CDs. The audience joined in with the chorus of her song The Losing Side. “And if I spend my life on the losing side/You can lay me down knowing that I tried.” A lot of us would take that as an epitaph.
Saturday at Cambridge Folk Festival was tremendous. It was a privilege to be there and a rousing, musical feast.
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