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Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2012 – Friday

Lisa Ward


Day two commences with The Mighty Doonans, a combination of the Doonan family band and members of Hedgehog Pie, who kick things off with a rousing rendition of Step It Out Mary. Whilst Hearts Gone is much more low key, it allows the band to showcase their multifaceted nature. With a cover of Ray Davies’ Dead End Street and step dancing thrown into the mix, it’s the perfect start to the day. Before their set, I was dubious about the sea of chairs, especially having attended Cornbury, where attendees become precious over blades of grass, but at Cambridge it works well, with plenty of space left inside the tent area for those who want to get closer to the action.

Heading over to The Den, I manage to catch a glimpse of Robert Gillan singing Woody Guthrie’s 1913 Massacre whilst waiting for Jake Bugg. Though by this stage The Den is overflowing with younger Bugg fans, an issue with his car means he’s late, so I instead I opt to catch Raghu Dixit on the main stage. As the highest selling non-film music artist in India, he fuses Western folk with more traditional Indian sounds to create something which on paper shouldn’t work, but in reality is nothing short of faultless. Though his attempt to get the crowd to sing along in his native tongue soon disintegrates into a sea of “na, na, na’s”, this doesn’t stop the throngs from rising from their chairs to dance along.

Back to The Den, I catch some of Liz Green’s stripped back set. Though it lacks some of the peculiarity of the album without the accompaniment of a band, it’s still the vocals and lyrics which hold the strength, especially in Midnight Blues.  With a theme of death running through her set, it seems fitting that she covers Blind Willie McTell’s Dying Crapshooter’s Blues and with the equally unusual Displacement Song also working its way into her set, it’s clear to see why Liz is being noted as one to watch.

In the Stage 2 tent I can’t help but be drawn in by Blackbeard’s Tea Party ceilidh and though I’m not quite brave (drunk) enough to join in I still find myself tapping my feet and watching the spectacle unfold. Whilst it has to be said there were some groups who looked liked seasoned pros, there were others exerting a lot of effort to simply remain on their feet. With up tempo energetic music from the band I quickly come to realise my years of scorning is ill founded, and vow next year to join in.

Back on Stage 1, June Tabor & Oysterband bring a dose of something more serious and as they open with Bonnie Bunch o’ Roses I soon discover they’re another band that I’ve never paid enough attention to. As June welcomes John Jones to the stage, she quickly reminds him he’s on work experience before having a pop at David Cameron and Vince Cable prior to Fountains Flowing. Nevertheless, it’s their versions of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart and The Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties which hook me in, especially the former which is tinged with sorrow. With June delivering an a capella version of (When I Was No But) Sweet Sixteen and the Oysterband offering a string heavy version of Dancing As Fast As I Can I end up as their newest fan, wondering if anything else on today’s bill is going to measure up to their set.

In reality I need not wonder for long as the blue haired Horizon BBC Radio 2 folk award winner, Lucy Ward, rapidly won me over. Full of humour she starts her set by informing us she’s “bricking it” but with the Club Tent so full that security end up limiting access she needn’t have worried. Whether it’s her folk version of Pulp’s Common People or the traditional Maids When You’re Young, her voice is filled with charisma and her intonation gives her a distinct edge.

As she outlines her manifesto in a bid to become the next Prime Minister, which involves 1) common sense 2) learning from the mistakes of the past and 3) every household having a pink unicorn, it’s clear she’s carried by her sense of humour. The juxtaposition of the sombre self penned song, For The Dead Men, which follows catches me off guard and hooks me even more. For those who, like me, are worried that the future of folk seems to lay in cross over artists such as Laura Marling, Lucy puts my fears to rest, firmly marking herself as a young voice who is able to span the divide between traditional and contemporary folk.

My time on Stage 1 closes with John Prine, a songwriter I’ve come to love through countless covers of his work, but have never seen live. From the opening Spanish Pipedream to the closing Paradise which sees Gretchen Peters join him on stage, Prine is faultless. His easy story telling style and husky drawl fuels Six O’Clock News and throughout the set he’s able to find a depth of sound in his acoustic guitar, especially in this likes of All The Best. A storyteller between songs as well as within them, he’s quick to highlight that the next song is “three separate songs which have nothing to do with anything, tied together with a chorus that doesn’t have shit to do with anything” before launching into Fish and Whistle. In the end, his set becomes too short for my liking, with Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness distinctly missing from the set.

I end the day in the Club Tent, where I witness local singer songwriter Dan Wilde and local band Fred’s House. Whilst the former is a relaxed affair, with just an acoustic guitar and bass, this doesn’t stop me nodding along to Previous Experience Required, which could easily become the them tune of any 20 something searching for a job. On the other hand Fred’s House are a more up tempo offering. Though, like Dan, they’re limited to a short set, they still win me over. Fine Life, though thematically similar to Dan in terms of disaffected youth, is delivered with a more catchy chorus which forces you to sing along.

Sadly exhaustion hits a couple of songs in to Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams, aka State of the Union, but from what I see, it’s safe to say they combine their usual musical prowess and poignant lyrics, especially in the catchy 23 Skidoo. By the end of day two, I feel like I’ve been on a musical adventure, and with several new discoveries it takes all my effort not to fuel up on CD’s at the record stand on my way out of the site.

Photos © Jo Cox and must not be reproduced without prior consent