Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2012 – Thursday

Lisa Ward


I have to confess I was somewhat confused as we parked our car on Coldham’s Common and were instructed to place our tent directly behind us, and even more surprised when I discovered that we were camped right next to my dad’s friend of 50 odd years. Suffice to say that ease, serendipity and a community spirit seemed set to be the themes of the weekend and this continued as I hit the main festival site.

Though Thursday is a succinct day, with just a few bands on the bill, this doesn’t stop the masses making their way to Stage 2 which is brimming at the rafters for Megson’s set. As a fellow Teessider the highlight comes in the form of The Longshot, their ode to supporting “a rubbish football team” and (perhaps as a true Boro fan should) I relish in the bittersweet elements of the song. As a duo their vocals are perfectly matched, blending in and out of the set in perfect harmony and layered over sympathetic instrumentation, letting their voices carry the melody.

With When I Was A Lad officially released today, they manage to shelve my doubts about an album of children’s folk songs and before long the whole tent is singing along to Dance To Your Daddy even though Megson offer a slowed down rendition, tinged with sorrow. With favourites such as Take Yourself A Wife and The Old Miner also getting an outing, the newer songs blend perfectly into the set leaving little doubt that it’s likely to be another rousing success for the husband and wife duo.

Drifting away from Stage 2 I stumble across some pop up entertainment in the field of the main stage. Whilst at first I find myself sceptical of a grown man pretending to be shipwrecked on an island, it doesn’t take long for me to be drawn in and I’m soon willing him to notice the giant inflatable lobster behind him, along with many of the festival’s younger crowd. It’s then I realise that Cambridge is going to be about more than those listed on the stages, with bands and entertainment cropping up in every nook and cranny of the site.

Venturing further afield it comes as something of a shock that a festival able to host the finest names in folk is also situated on a tiny site with every stage within 5 minutes of the other. The Den is exactly as you’d expect, a rugged floor and pictured walls acting as the back drop for some of the emerging voices. Elsewhere the Club Tent hosts its own bar and open mic slots, in true folk club style, and The People’s Front Room offers a more relaxed environment, kitted out with sofas for those wanting a more intimate experience.

After a wander in the beautiful wilderness area, I return to catch some of Dry The River who fuse more atmospheric moments with a tinge of rock. Whilst No Rest from their debut album Shallow Bed seems to grab the crowd I can’t help but feel the whole thing is slightly out of the realms of my taste, slipping just a little too much towards rock than the more acoustic folk I’ve grown to love.

As I close my day with Billy Bragg’s set, which boasts his trademark range of humour and political activism, the focus is firmly on highlighting the work of Woodie Guthrie. Making reference to the fact that Guthrie thought anyone who played more than two chords was showing off is a risky move at a festival where it’s customary to carry a guitar on your back, but it’s a sentiment which he still pulls off. Closing with a reworking of Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards which he directs at the UK’s current leaders, whilst I have never really grasped Bragg’s work in the way I suspect I ought, tonight he wins me over.

A true folkie and yet a Cambridge virgin, I end the day feeling like I’ve reached my Mecca. Today Megson steal my heart, but I can’t help but feel I’m likely to fall head over heels for new artists and rekindle my passion for those I already love over the course of the coming days.

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