Magnificent, compelling, brilliant - the first night of Cambridge Folk Festival 2018, Thursday, August 2
- Credit: Celia Bartlett
Thursday nights, the first night of Cambridge Folk Festival used to be just the night you stomped round the ground, set up your tent, got your wristband and saw a couple of low-key acts with a beer.
There was always a wonderful air of expectation. This is the start of a big weekend that people wait all year for. Kick off your shoes, put flowers in your hair and just enjoy knowing you are about to have a good time.
But for the past couple of years, Thursday has meant all of that - with the added kick of some seriously good musicians on stage, right from the very first note sounded. No need to wait. The show starts now.
This year, a weekend later that usual, as the tents in Cherry Hinton Park sheltered us from the sun, the dazzling highlights for me were two five pieces,
Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra, all men, and the Kinnaris Quintet, all women, were both in the Club Tent - which was cooler than Stage 2 (in the original meaning of the word) and had the advantage of the bar at the end.
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Looking like a group from the 1950s, in matching white shirts and wearing grey trousers up to the waist with belts, the Tea Pad Orchestra is rockabilly. It’s very fast music and some of it is very funny. Frontman Rob Heron has the look of the young Elvis, fresh faced with slicked back hair.
The audience were sitting down at first, but not for long, soon the whole tent was on its feet to numbers played at lightning speed on electric guitar, rhythm guitar, mandolin and keyboard.
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Introducing a protest song about HS2, which had the rapid rhythm of a train, Heron said the railway was a waste of money and wasn’t going to reach Newcastle on Tyne where they came from. “Why not spend the money on the NHS or on making trains free for everyone.”
An intriguing number called One Letter Away from Lonely (Lovely) began with a tuneful whistle before it went into the melody. A a rock number which began “Wedding Dress for Sale” and went on “Something Blue, like my heart without you” had heart-leaping big guitar sounds. This group is magnificent and unmissable.
Equally impressive with a completely different style was the Kinnaris Quintet from Glasgow, which ended the night in the Club Tent. The five women, three on fiddles and the other two playing mandolin and guitar were luninescent, literally and figuratively, in their glittering tops. They played original reels, some of which began slowly and melodically but all ended up impossibly fast. Their performance was full of joy and a privilege to hear.
Meanwhile, Whiskey Shivers (bluegrass) at the beginning of the night and Swamptruck (country rock - and winners of the 30th Cambridge Band Competition) at the end, both packed out Stage 2 and Swamptruck had people jiving.
Not sure how strictly some of this was folk but am quite sure it was all utterly brilliant.