Bringing folk together

CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL REVIEW Report and pictures by CHRIS BOLAND NICKEL Creek, a trio that describes itself as a high energy chamber band, with mandolin, guitar and violin sounded upbeat and fun – playing an impressive version of Britney Spears Toxic.

CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL REVIEW

Report and pictures by CHRIS BOLAND

NICKEL Creek, a trio that describes itself as a high energy chamber band, with mandolin, guitar and violin sounded upbeat and fun - playing an impressive version of Britney Spears' Toxic. People laughed, but it was probably the best song they played.

In the Club Tent, St Neots Folk Club presented a fine selection of acts and I wish I had been able to see more.


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On the main stage on Saturday evening, was Cerys Matthews - whose latest album has some fantastic tracks on it. As she began to play, the sun was bright, but low in the sky and she promised to "play until it was gone". It was clear she was enjoying the setting.

Her new songs are certainly poppy, but have some subtle moments that would feel at home at such a festival. However, it's the perfect melodies and choruses of Oxygen and Open Roads that remain in my head days after her set finished.

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Following the modern sounds of Cerys were The Chieftains, now in their 44th year together. Backed by some energetic younger members - with a tendency to leap from their seats and start dancing (an impressive blend of Irish dancing and tap) this was certainly an energetic performance. They mixed their trademark traditional instrumentals and standards with quirky songs such as Cotton Eye Joe.

They play with such heart and authenticity that they can only be admired. And illustrated here is a great strength of the modern Cambridge Folk Festival - by bringing together acts that are on the fringes of folk music (or perhaps even beyond the fringes) with those that are at its core - different people are exposed to different sounds. And from this, I believe the biggest winner is the more traditional folk.

It's always nice to be surprised at festivals - some of the most memorable moments are to be found far from the well-advertised events of the main stages - away from the big crowds and the TV cameras. Just one of those moments was finding the name of the lead singer of one of my favourite bands scribbled on a whiteboard outside a small tent. Roddy Woomble, lead singer of once rather loud Scottish band, Idlewild, was promoting his new folk album, My Secret Is My Silence.

So, for 15 minutes or so, I was sat cross-legged in front of Roddy and a few of the album's other musicians - including, for one song, Kate Rusby, as they played without any amplification to a small, but growing crowd.

Over the course of the band's last few albums they have mellowed considerably - both losing and winning fans. Only a few months ago, the band announced that they would be steering back to their earlier edgier sound, but that Roddy Woomble would be pursuing his growing love of folk in solo albums. So fans of the loud, punky Idlewild should not be alarmed at Roddy being accompanied by violin and Kate Rusby - it's most likely the calm before the storm.

On Sunday, Capercaillie continued with inspiring Celtic songs and the fine Gaelic singing of Karen Matheson lent them a warm, yet mournful feel, an other-worldly sound. Eddi Reader followed later with an earthier sound.

Previously I have seen some appalling acts onto whom the most lavish praise has been heaped, but Teddy Thompson saved my faith in the word-of-mouth buzz.

He has a wonderful, strong, warm voice that never sounds showy - his guitar playing is bouncy and bright. There was a strong element of Crowded House to his sparse songs, but with an insightful and romantic singer-songwriter's vision.

Sunday's headliner was country legend Emmylou Harris, who played to a clearly adoring crowd. I first saw her live just weeks ago at her Wembley Arena show with Mark Knopfler - and it was great to see her play a full festival set of her own - without being 'interrupted' by the Geordie guitar-god.

A Love That Will Never Grow Old from Brokeback Mountain was beautiful and it was interesting to hear how she sat down and "really learnt it" - after recording it for the film - and after it had won a Golden Globe Award.

Harris and her band sang Neil Young's breathtaking After The Gold Rush a cappella - and when the first dreamy words brought gasps and cheers of recognition from the crowd I couldn't help asking myself why it had taken me so long to go to this incredible festival. I felt I belonged in the middle of that crowd and it was a great feeling. I cannot wait until next year.

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