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Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2014 – Saturday

Lisa Ward


Father daughter duo Martin & Eliza Carthy kick off proceedings for day two, winning over the Stage 1 crowd with offerings from their recent album The Moral of the Elephant. Despite a false start to Her Servant Man it’s clear that the duo are in perfect synchronicity, Eliza’s fiddle parts bouncing off Martin’s guitar. Though it’s their version of Molly Drake’s Happiness during which Eliza takes lead vocals, Grand Conversations on Napoleon highlights their musical prowess, confirming the Carthy family as one of the finest names in folk.

Over in the Club Tent Megson offer a more grown up show, leaving the bubbles behind in place of an airing of tracks from latest album In A Box. It’s the heartbreaking title track which stands as the high point of their set and highlights the albums raw look at the passing of time. A heartbreaking look at the things we hold on to it combines with Old Folks Tea and The River Never Dies to create an emotive set. As ever, combining just enough humour and optimism to save it from sinking into a completely depressive set, they leave the crowd begging for more.

Saturday’s highlight comes early in the day in the form of O’Hooley and Tidow. O’Hooley is quick to tell us their devoted to three things, before rapidly expanding it to a list of six things (which includes food, cats, each other and real ale) before delivering a gusty rendition of Summat’s Brewin’ which sees many tip back their glass in some form of salute. Elsewhere the emotive Two Mothers juxtaposes the more humorous Gentleman Jack which brings a diversity to the festival which is normally fuelled by songs about women who are left brokenhearted by dubious suitors. Nevertheless for me it’s The Hum which highlights the duo’s ability to fill songs which feeling and a sense of time and place.

North Mississippi Allstars on the other hand deliver a rare treat at a folk festival, opting to dive into the crowd armed with an array of drums which they continue to beat whilst security can only look on in horror. Meanwhile the rest of the crowd seem divided, some lapping up the heavier rock sound of the band and others simply turning up the volume of their conversations to equal the sound from the stage. Though the set is at times interesting, overall it becomes hard to distinguish one track from the next and feels like the organisers might have pushed just a shade too far away from their liberal definition of folk.

Loudon Wainwright III on the other hand serves as a great reminder as to why it’s wise to invite previous headline names back to your party. His combination of wry lyrics and dry humour allows his cynical songs to sucker-punch you in the gut, when you least expect it. Meanwhile his ability to shun a heckler who is rapidly booed by the crowd, telling them “now now, it’s a folk festival let’s sing Kumbaya and then we can shit on him” at the end of Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet). Elsewhere there are tributes to his son Rufus in I Knew Your Mother and though he spends much of the set talking about his father, it’s April Fool’s Day Morn which reflects on his relationship with his mother that acts as the closer to the set. Though he claims the new album is themed around death and decay, today’s set seems to reflect more on his family relationships, and in tender and touching if you able to see past his harder exterior.

Roseanne Cash on the other hand offers a richer sound, the band bringing a melodic sound which is more akin to Nanci Griffith’s ‘folkabilly’ sound which fuse with her warm vocals to deliver a heartwarming set. 50,000 Watts has a more up-tempo sound, whilst Etta’s Tune has heavy country influences. The highlight comes in the form When The Master Calls The Roll, and it’s look at the civil war which comes with a more stripped back sound, punctuated by the drum beat and carried by the vocal harmonies. Closing with Radio Operator from her 2006 album Black Cadillac she’s offers a set with enough changes in pace to keep the crowd fixated on her every word.

Saturday closes with festival favourite Seth Lakeman who packs stage two to capacity. When Seth opens his set with Kitty Jay you know you’re in for a full frontal fiddle assault and he manages to carry the energy of this song throughout his set. Joined by Lisbee Stainton for King & Country and offering a reprise of Raise Your Glass despite an earlier airing as part of The Full English he keeps the crowd on their toes as the day draws to and end. Nevertheless it’s his cover of veteran Jim Radford’s The Shores of Normandy which is the highlight of the set, and though it ends the night on a reflective moment, it acts as a strong reminder of folk’s ability to ensure stories are not erased by time.

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