Cambridge Folk Festival Saturday: “Have mercy, son have mercy”

Cash Box Kings Oscar Wilson and Joel Nosek

Cash Box Kings Oscar Wilson and Joel Nosek - Credit: Archant

What distinguishes Cambridge Folk Festival is that all the musicians are virtuoso.

Folk Festival artists

Folk Festival artists - Credit: Archant

The Cash Box Kings from Chicago create blues so rich and deep you could swim in them. Joel Nosek seems to be able to sing and play the harmonica at the same time.

Looking cool on Stage Two on Saturday afternoon in a pale blue linen suit, Nosek was impressive enough with his patter and songs, and then on comes the big frontman, Oscar “43 Street” Wilson.

Six foot three and weighing over three hundred pounds and with a voice to match, Wilson is melow melody. His is a beautiful, beautiful voice.

When he started singing Gona Git Ma Baby, he’d certainly got me. “C’mon ‘y’all” he said: “Y’all love the blues” and we did.

Folk Festival Saturday

Folk Festival Saturday - Credit: Archant


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He said: “I’m gonna bring it to ya, dirty and nasty.”

It’s music you listen to with your eyes shut to savour it.

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When Joel Paterson wowed us with his slide guitar, Wilson said: “Have mercy son, have mercy.”

Also American but resting firmly on their Irish roots were Solas (the name is Irish for light).

Founded 20 years ago by multi-instrumentalist and fiddle-player Seamus Egan and Winifred Horan and with accordionist, Mick McAuley and guitarist Eamon McElholm, they played a magnificent and exciting set of jigs and reels. With vocalist Moira Smiley, they had Stage Two rocking in the afternoon.

The Mike and Ruthy band, another American couple, from Woodstock, New York had already won the hearts of Stage One on Friday.

They played a completely different set on Saturday on Stage Two, she on violin and he on guitar, and both harmonising on vocals.

Ruthy sang a song inspired by their two-year-old. He’s eight now but one midday when he was too grumpy to settle for his nap, she decided to sing back to him all the noises he made till eventually he fell asleep.

People should take more naps, she said. It would be a more peaceful world.

Their finale, an instrumental, was magnificent and is now making me wish I hadn’t already used up all my superlatives. It just built and built and took your spirit soaring with it.

Now Christy Moore, as Irish as the green grass that grows there is definitely grass roots.

Closing the festival on Saturday night, with a set that lasted over an hour, it was like going to church really. We do worship him and every song is a hymn or a sermon.

If any crowd is going to agree with him, it’s going to be Cambridge. One woman’s t-shirt read: “NHS not Trident” another said: “I’ve never kissed a Tory”.

Christy’s first song reminded us: “Think of the money spent on weapons of destruction they tell us we need, the millions of mouths that money could feed.”

As the set went on, the guilt and awareness piled up: Euan McCall’s song “Go, Move, Shift” about the treatment of Gypsies and Travellers, the song about the cockle-pickers who died in Morecambe Bay (their families receiving the last phone call….and mourning their one lost child) Ordinary Man, about Thatcher’s Britain and unemployment, I did start to wonder if he knew we were here to enjoy ourselves.

He took us back to the Spanish Civil War. I do know, my mother’s cousin Joe fought in it. He was the pride of the family – but there really isn’t much we can do about it now.

But then, he also sang the beautiful ballads, Bee’s Wing and Ride On and, after the audience had made a noise you could probably hear back where he was born in County Kildare, his encore was Nancy Spain. You could forgive him anything for that.

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