REVIEW: Cambridge Folk Festival

THE quote of the weekend came from the American singer, Gretchen Peters.

From the main stage on Saturday afternoon she paid tribute to Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony: “It was so ... it was so ... everything!”

Cambridge Folk Festival is also always “so everything”.

There will always be some acts that make it great to be alive – that make you feel this is the reason you are alive ... and others that make you lose the will to live.

The Mighty Doonans were a great opening show on Stage one on Friday afternoon. They are an intoxicating and exhilarating mix of pipes, flute, saxophone, fiddle and bass, mandolin and guitar. To hear the voice of Rosie Doonan reminds you that you are glad that you were born.

Springing from what was the Doonan Family Band, formed by the late John Doonan over 30 years ago, they have re-grouped as a nine-piece with two generations.

They hail from the north east and Goodbye Johnny Miner should be enough to start the next revolution.

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The north east was superbly represented this year. Northumbrian sisters The Unthanks were accompanied by The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band (the National Champions of Great Britain with their giant silver trophy glistening on the stage) in a magnificent collaboration that was pure tingle factor.

The beautiful voices of The Unthanks were complemented by the talented Niopha Keegan on vocals and violin and the sublime musicality of Chris Price who sang Queen of Hearts as band manager, Adrian McNally said: “In the style of Manhattan Transfer”. That was really “so everything”.

And a Hartlepool trio called The Young‘uns because they were once the youngest musicians in their folk club, sang a capella in the Club Tent on Sunday afternoon just as a storm broke.

Without anyone saying a word, everyone sitting on rugs on the ground got up and moved forward so that the people outside the tent could get inside. “We always wanted percussion,” said Sean Cooney as the thunder clapped.

The trio were the guests of Ely Folk Club.

The whoops and applause for their exquisite harmonies outdid the viscous pelting of rain on the tent. From a number about the Peasant’s Revolt to the Banana Boat Song, the trio with Sean Cooney, Dave Eagle (vocals and accordion) and Michael Hughes were a festival highlight with plenty of laughs among their musical gorgeousness.

As well as the big names and old hands, like the redoubtable Joan Armatrading this year, Clannad, The Proclaimers, The Treacherous Orchestra, the Keb Mo Band and The Destroyers, all wonderful, Cambridge is always memorable for introducing the stars of tomorrow.

This year’s unheralded gems included Ioscaid (pronounced Isskidge) a traditional Irish six-piece with accordion, guitar, bodhran, double bass, bouzouki, fiddle, concertina, whistles, flutes and piano, rhythm and humour.

They looked a bit young to be offering advice about transvestites who took your money and scarpered in the night leaving only a blonde wig and a razor but they knew how to sing about it.

Billy Bragg launched the whole show on Thursday evening with a tribute to Woodie Guthrie marking Guthrie’s 100th birthday. The biggest cheer (possibly of the festival) was when Bragg said he had refused Sky Arts permission to film him.

In 1992, Billy was invited by Woody’s daughter, Nora, to write music for some of Woody’s lyrics for a tribute concert.

“Why did they ask me? Not because he wrote This Land is my Land – it isn’t my land. It was because his guitar had the slogan on it: This machine kills fascists.”

Well yes in the wrong hands, it could even push some left-wingers close to the edge....