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Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2012 – Saturday

Lisa Ward


Day three begins with Hannah Scott in the Club Tent. Though she has no space on any of the main stages, she’s due to launch her new EP next week and has been working her way around any open slots. Opening with the title track, Still Static, it revels in honesty, whilst My Dad and I competes with Nizlopi’s JCB Song as the perfect ode to childhood memories. Though it’s another short slot, it’s enough of a showcase to flag Hannah as a songwriter to be reckoned with, easing me into Saturday morning.

On Stage 1 Fay Hield is joined by The Hurricane Party, something of a super group that features Jon Boden, Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeny and Rob Harbron. Suffice to say the set is musically faultless and when coupled with Fay’s sultry vocals it becomes near perfect. From the more up tempo Mad Family to the low key The Weaver’s Daughter, whilst it’s Fay’s vocals that carry the set it’s impossible not to be drawn in by the instrumentation, which forces me to spend the majority of their performance in awe.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised at Cambridge’s ability to pull out the best acts for the festival and though I’ve previously been disappointed with Gretchen Peters’ live shows, her inclination for playing the new album from start to finish leaving me somewhat uninspired, today I find enjoyment in her set. Despite the more sombre nature of her songs, the likes of Hello Cruel World and Woman On The Wheel feel like they have extra depth in the open air. Whilst I can’t help but be slightly disappointed that The Secret of Life doesn’t make an outing, I’m consoled with On A Bus To St. Cloud and the accompaniment of Barry Walsh’s on accordion and Danny Thompson on bassfor The Matador, which give the set extra breadth.

Over on Stage 2, it’s The Unwanted featuring Cathy Jordan’s piercing vocals over Irish melodies with California influences which draws me in. The result is the likes of The Morning Blues, which is an upbeat number with a hint of Christie Hennessy’s Don’t Forget Your Shovel and their version of Dylan’s Boots Of Spanish Leather, which captures their influences from both sides of the pond. Within just a few songs I’m instantly in love with their style, marking them down as another to add to my ever growing list of ‘must see live again’ bands.

I have to confess that I’ve never been a fan of The Unthanks, their vocals too dreamlike for my taste, and the suggestion of listening to a brass band would normally send me running for the hills. Nevertheless I somehow find myself back at Stage 1 for The Unthanks and the Brighthouse & Rastrick Brass Band, and become utterly enthralled. Whilst at times the noise from Stage 2 dwarfs the delicate sound from sisters Rachel and Becky, they carry their own, with the accompaniment of the band at times sympathetic and others rousing.

Opener King Of Rome seems to have a similar effect on the rest of the crowd and suddenly I’m struck by what makes Cambridge so special; noticing the sea of faces not uttering a single word makes me realise it’s been like this all weekend, with respect for the music an absolute given. Even as They break into a louder Broadway style rendition of Queen Of Hearts (which shouldn’t work, but does) the audience remains hush, allowing me to fall further in love with the festival and by the end of their set, The Unthanks too.

Those, like me, who were disappointed that John Prine omitted The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness were in their element as Nanci Griffith opens her set with the number. Though I’ve seen her several times over the past few weeks, I’m still drawn in by her charisma. With her tribute to Loretta Lynn in Listen to the Radio, and The Loving Kind, Just Another Morning Here and Across The Great Divide also all making an outing there’s a strong focus on her back catalogue. Nevertheless the ‘clap brothers’ still make an appearance for newer song Hell No – I’m Not Alright, which sees the entire tent raise up their hands to clap along, whilst a closing rendition of The Rolling Stones’ No Expectations leaves the crowd revelling in her appearance.

After just a few songs of Clannad, I realise they are one band I‘m not going to be converted to and head to Stage 2 for Karine Polwart. Another who’s releasing her album (Traces) at the festival, she doesn’t disappoint. From opener The Sun’s Comin’ Over The Hill, which is more up beat than the album version, I know I’ve made a wise choice. Backed by Inge Thomson, brother Steven Polwart, Graeme Smillie, Jim Goodwin, Leila Dunn and Sarah Hayes, who contribute with drums, keys, flute and clarinet, it becomes a thunderous rendition which turns Tears For Lot’s Wife and its biblical theme into something almost murderous in sound. Nevertheless she never loses her sense of fun, and as we end up doing Grease style arm movements to I’m Gonna Do It All I can’t help but feel every care I ever had, vanish with the setting sun.

Having heard rumours that at other festivals The Proclaimers have had a strong focus on their new album, I’m half expecting to be disappointed by the closing band of the day. Nevertheless they launch into Letter From America just 3 songs in, much to the crowd’s delight. Whilst it might be I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) which captivates the festival site, it’s familiar refrain being sung all the way up to the campsite, I find myself enjoying the newer songs especially Whatever You’ve Got and the piano driven Spinning Around In The Air, which carries a Beautiful South vibe with it. It’s clearly a love or hate moment, with half the crowd pushing forward for a better view, and half leaving before the start of their set. It might not be true folk music, but I can’t help but sing out “I love rock n roll, it took my hand and it touched my soul” and relish in the guitar heavy end to the night.

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

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