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Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2013 – Saturday

Lisa Ward


Saturday starts which a backstage launch from Creative Scotland and the Feis Rois National Ceilidh Trail. Creative Scotland have strong links with the festival, with many Scottish artists playing across the three days, but it’s these youngsters who highlight the fact that traditional music is still deeply rooted in the highlands and stamp out any fears of it dying out.

Breabach & Le Vent du Nord take to the Main Stage, merging their slots into one long set. Though I’m not familiar with either band they managed to captivate my attention, both musically and with front woman Megan Henderson’s energetic dance accompaniments. The sound merges from traditional to contemporary and back again with ease, with influences from both sides of the channel which by the end has the crowd dancing away in the sunshine.

Their follow up Martin Simpson is somewhat bleak in comparison, but his style forces you to pay attention to the lyrical message. His intricate finger picking carries the weight of the set, and from his cover of Cohen’s The Stranger Song to the award winning Never Any Good he holds the crowds attention throughout. Launching his new album Vagrant Stanzas at the festival, his set reconfirms that despite fast approaching his 40th year in the business, he’s still one of the finest British folk artists around.

Over on Stage 2, Thea Gilmore returns to the festival after something of a hiatus. No matter how many times I’ve seen her live, it still only takes 0.2 seconds for me to be awestruck by her sound. Latest album Regardless features heavily with Love Came Looking For Me and This Road among new tracks featuring in the set, but there’s still room for old favourites like Old Soul to get an airing. Elsewhere, it’s her acapella rendition of The Amazing Floating Man (from her Beginners EP), a take on the banking crisis, that acts as a reminder that folk and politics often go hand in hand.

Back in the Den, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker offer a melancholic set, bound together with Josienne’s dry humour. They start with a cover of Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes before moving into the traditional My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose. Whilst Josienne’s vocals carry the sound, it’s the subtle accompaniment from Ben which gives it substance and weight. With the self penned Homemade Heartache thrown into the mix, Josienne highlights how she likes to call this her “psycho-ballad”, in that it makes her sound like a psycho. Though it does verge ever so slightly on the scary side, it’s also a heartfelt number which shows the duos ability to pen their own numbers as well as bringing life to traditional tracks.

For me the day ends with KT Tunstall, who’s moved back to her more acoustic roots with latest album Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon. Opener Waiting On A Train starts off as a lower key number before building into a meatier sound part way through the song. Older classics such as Other Side of the World and Suddenly I See both inevitably please the crowd, but for me it’s the more obscure Funnyman which makes the set. Managing to get the audience to create a Mexican wave, ending with the umbrellas at the back which by this point are needed for the sudden downpour that has emerged from the heavens, and offering a version of the White Stripes Seven Nation Army on kazoo midway through Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, KT marks herself as one of the best folk-pop crossover acts in recent years and ends the day on a high.