Review: Cambridge Folk Festival - All Female Friday - music with a heart

Louisa Roach

Louisa Roach - Credit: Archant

It was a case of Sisters are Singing It for Themselves at Cambridge Folk Festival. The schedulers for the event’s 53rd year decided to present All Female Friday for the main stage.

Worry Dolls, Zoe Nichol and Rosie Jones

Worry Dolls, Zoe Nichol and Rosie Jones - Credit: Archant

And it was unforgetable.

The act with the most verve had to be She Drew the Gun, a four-piece from Liverpool with singer-songwriter and guitarist Louisa Roach, Sian Monaghan on drums, Jenni Kickhefer on keyboards and Jack Turner on bass.

Described as spiked indie with biting lyrics, they won Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition last year. This is political rock, edgy stuff and spine tingling. Just when you thought we had all given up and shut up. (“I picked up my pen, she drew the gun”.)

Between songs, Roach starts to tell you a story, so naturally that you think she’s just chatting like artists do between numbers, then you realise it’s a poem, and it’s clever, and punches out and it hits the spot.

Roach’s song, called Poem, (about everything that’s wrong with the world really) the homeless turned off the streets because they make the place look untidy, people having to be grateful for working 40 hours a week, and the state giving away what belongs to us, can’t really be done justice to unless you hear it, so it’s good that it’s there on YouTube, sung clearly so you can hear every word.

She sings it live from the heart with her powerful, yet gentle and lyrical voice. She introduced it saying it was about the bad things that were happening in our society today “and when are we going to kick off about it”.

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Their music is exciting with nostalgic guitar pieces reminiscent of The Shadows mixed up in fast-paced compostions. They are a stand-out act who entranced Cambridge’s Stage Two on Friday afternoon.

Worry Dolls, duo Zoe Nicol and Rosie Jones met in Liverpool. One is fron Devon and one from Kent but they got together at university. Their exquisite harmonies had the Main Stage audience holding its breath. With a fiddler borrowed from another band, they sang their own wistful and tuneful compositions from their debut album Go Get Gone.

Later, in the early evening, the engaging sound of a choir drew people to stand at the entrance of The Hub, a small colourful tent in a different, quieter part of Cherry Hinton Park. It was the Worry Dolls, Zoe and Rosie leading a group of children in singing. They had taught them one of their songs.

Back on Stage One, the Main Stage, The Rachel Newton Band, including a souzaphone and Newton herself on the harp, sang traditional songs in Gaelic as well as a folksy version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene.

Amythyst Kiah, from Tennessee, a singer of a completely different style, gave spellbinding, soulful versions of songs including Another Man Done Gone and then her own version of Jolene - the song in contrasting interpretations had become a motif for the afternoon.

Friday was all singing and dancing. Twice during the day, The Urban Folk Theory Ceilidh filled the Stage Two tent with delighted dancers of all ages, playing music you couldn’t hear and keep your feet still.

As it grew dark, traditional Irish singer Cara Dillon’s crystal clear diction, the Indigo Girls’ protest songs and Creole vocalist Malika Tirolien’s lively rhythm with the band Bokante crowned a celebration of the female voice.

Of course, it wasn’t completely All Female Friday, there were male musicians in the bands - but the women were the stars and they sparkled.