Folk music might (for some) be synonymous with Morris dancing, bearded men and real ale, but Cambridge boasts such an eclectic line up that young sit shoulder to shoulder with old as music from across the globe fills the air. Whilst the main stages showcase the best in the folk world, my first stop is the open mic slot at the Den stage where emerging talent is given an outlet throughout the whole of the weekend.
It’s here that I’m greeted by a singer-songwriter who instantly captivates me. Despite intending to lie back and soak up the sun after an early morning drive to the site, she forces me to sit up and pay attention. Her vocals are so enticing I spend the rest of the weekend determined to put a name to the voice, which delivers an easy blend of bluesy folk. Later I discover it’s Leila Jane, a young Northampton based singer who I wholeheartedly expect to see on one of the larger stages next year.
Leila’s follow up is Luke Jackson, an 18 year old already nominated for the Horizon Award for Emerging Talent and the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. Such accolades don’t come easily and before long it becomes apparent why he’s already carved a name for himself. His style has a vibe of lazy Sundays about it and his vocal delivery is well beyond his years, with Run and Hide boasting intricate guitar melodies. If he’s already this accomplished at 18 he’s likely to become a household name before long.
Over on Stage 2, it’s Larkin Poe who become my next stop. It’s clear this is the perfect arena for the Lovell sisters, their slightly rockier sound filling the tent to capacity. With bass and drums added to the mix their intricate melodies are given weight, merging with saccharine vocals to great effect. It’s their rendition of Wade In The Water which is the stand out moment for me and offers promise for their album, which is due for release later this year.
On the Main Stage Patty Griffin showcases songs from her latest album American Kid. Ohio starts the set off with an atmospheric, though slightly downbeat vibe. As she explains that the album was written whilst her father was passing away, the songs build more meaning and Please Don’t Let Me Die In Florida brings with it a more bass heavy beat filled with emotion. She still manages to turn everything up a notch however and we’re treated to a more stripped back version of Flaming Red towards the end of the set, Versatile and able to keep a crowd engaged Patty confirms that she’s no one trick pony, moving through styles and sounds with ease, all the while ensuring her gritty vocals lead the show.
Back at the Den, X Factor contestant Janet Devlin inevitably brings out all the teenagers, keen to see what the TV star is now delivering. Though much more pop in style than anything else we’re going to hear over the weekend, Janet’s trademark vocals remain, even if her Celtic red hair has been bleached beyond recognition. With her album due for release later in the year we’re given previews of tracks like Creatures of the Night and my personal favourite Working for the Man. With songwriters like Jack Savoretti and Newton Faulkner on her side, it’s folk in perhaps the most liberal sense of the term, but Devlin is likely to find herself among the likes of Ed Sheeran and Jake Bugg in her ability to bring a subtle traditional edge to a larger audience.
In the Club Tent, Tom Oakes and Ross Couper bring things back to a more traditional feel with a series of reels and jigs. Their guitar and fiddle combination sees them work themselves into a frenzy, arms and legs flying around the stage. Tom’s own number The Last Gasp fits in neatly and though it’s a short set, the tempo of the songs means it’s like witnessing a musical sprint. Visually and auditorily appealing, it’s a spell binding performance rooted in traditional folk.
One of the things Cambridge has always been successful at doing is bringing a diverse range of world music into the lineup, so it’s over to the Main Stage next for Malian duo Amadou & Mariam and their band. Having supported the likes of U2 and Coldplay in recent years, the pair are well used to enticing large crowds and I hear people raving about their set for much of the weekend.
Next up on the Main Stage are the Levellers, who bring us into the evening performances. Kicking of with What A Beautiful Day I can’t help but feel they peak too soon, delivering what might well be their most well known track first. Though the more political Sell Out carries a poetic weight with it, unlike the swathes of committed fans dancing in their band t-shirts my interest wanes quickly and I head back round to Stage 2.
Here Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo partially appear, with Emily bathed in bright light whilst the Halo stand and play in near darkness. It seems an odd setup, considering the band is an integral selection of consistent musicians. Nevertheless their musical harmonies are as tight as ever and songs from their latest album, Dear River, slide in among older favourites such as Disappear and Ropes with ease. Ghost Narrative is driven by the harmonica and it’s sing-a-long chorus, whilst Letters nods to her grandfather’s experience during WWII. Like most of the bands work, it takes a while for the songs to grow, but by the end of the set it’s clear there are many who are won over by the Australian.
As the night draws to a close, festival favourites Bellowhead take to the stage Main Stage. Their up tempo numbers never fail to get people moving and as they run through classics such as Yarmouth Town and Whiskey Is The Life of Man there’s no shortage of singing and jigging. Though things slow down a bit in the middle, it’s nice to see them play a less predictable set with The Old Dun Cow and Frog’s Legs and Dragon’s Teeth also thrown into the mix. As The night draws to a close Bellowhead reconfirm their status as one of the most creative bands to have emerged in recent years, and their ability to make folk music entertaining and accessible to all ages is no small feat.