Today I’m treated to singer songwriter Melody Causton and four-piece folk-pop band The Staycations over at the Den. Both are local to the area but very different in style, highlighting how Cambridge successfully showcases aspiring artists. Melody is brave enough to showcase Broken Hearted Lullaby, a song she penned just 24 hours before her set. Elsewhere Anchor, from her forthcoming EP, shows that her time at The Institute Of Contemporary Music Performance in London is not wasted. Melody quickly becomes another young voice to watch over the coming months.
Meanwhile The Staycations’ Mumford & Sons influence is apparent from the word go, and they confirm this with their own version of Little Lion Man. Nevertheless, their own numbers are mature given the band are about to head into their final year of school. Pride oozes with jangly folk-pop sounds whilst Put You In Your Way highlights their musical talent. With just a kick drum and tambourine for percussion, they mange to work the banjo and guitar harmonies with ease, and highlight with a nifty foot you don’t always need a drummer. Though the band might still need to find their own voice, given their age there’s plenty of time for them to develop their own sound.
Jess Morgan follows this with her easy listening style. Travelling Song makes an apt opening for anyone who’s spent time on the road, and her ability to use her guitar for percussion fuels the melody. Quickly it becomes clear that a few years singing in various venues has boosted confidence and today she (rightly) seems more assured than ever. The Missionary offers an autobiographic account of her time overseas, whilst Modern World is a catchy number which showcases her latest EP, Richer Thinner Smarter.
On the other hand, Liz Lawrence’s voice holds gravel of Amy Winehouse, and her more bluesy style with up tempo guitar accompaniment makes the prefect soundtrack to the midday sun. Bedroom Hero takes a wry look at the life of a musician whilst the newer track Health & Safety has summer hit written all over it. Whilst a well trained youngster leaves the tent as she cautions the mild swear word, it’s clear everyone else is won over by the track and before long there are several people singing along.
Back in the main arena, We Banjo 3 deliver their dancey numbers to Stage 2. Intertwining instrumentals with lyrical numbers, their (somewhat predictably) banjo heavy sound creates a folk-country fusion boasting a seven times all Ireland Banjo Champion in the form of Martin Howley. More remincent of a hoedown than the ceilidhs which usually grace the second stage, it’s not long before the whole crowd is dancing along, especially to the likes of We All Need More Kindness In This World.
After a brief break for food, Valerie June takes her place on the stage, to a crowd which is spilling out of the sides of the tent. No stranger to accolade she’s a name that’s appeared all over the place recently and her childlike vocals, which are not too dissimilar to the style of Anais Mitchell or Kasey Chambers, quickly make it clear why she’s garnered such success. Her Tennessee Twang is the main draw of the set, especially in the likes of Working Woman Blues. Soulful vocals mixed with bluegrass melodies are the order of the day and though this might be Valerie’s first trip to the festival, judging by the reaction of the crowd it wont be her last.
In the club tent BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalist Emma Sweeney is joined by Matthew Watson. Though the lady next to me seems slightly disgruntled that the entire crowd is sat on the floor for me this only boosts the set, all eyes firmly focused on Emma’s fiddle. With a series of traditional reels and jigs, though less frantic that Tom Oakes & Ross Couper, it holds it’s own style and charm. This is especially apparent in the self penned The Flying Statue, a nod to her autistic brother and an incident of frustration that saw him launch a holy relic across a garden fence. The tune brings with it an element of sorrow and anguish, and captures the heart of it’s back story.
As the night draws to a close, the crowd pull in for the Waterboys, who confusingly deliver the Glastonbury Song to a mix of bemusement and joy. Elsewhere the classic sing-a-long The Whole of the Moon sees the crowd sing back to the band. It’s a fairly solid set from firm favourites in the folk arena, and acts as a benchmark for many of the younger bands across the course of the weekend. But more, it stands to mark Cambridge’s ability to book bands who span styles and eras, packing them into what is comparatively small site.
Cambridge’s ability to take a more liberal stance on what counts as folk means that once again both young and old will have come away rediscovering older classic bands as well as an array of emerging talent. Another seamless festival from the organisers, the welcoming atmosphere, tidy site, and family friendly vibes leave me wishing I can experience it all over again.