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Cambridge Folk festival 2014 - Friday | FESTIVALPHOTO

Cambridge Folk festival 2014 - Friday



When heading to an outdoor festival, nice weather is a real plus. It's one of the few things organisers can't arrange, and can have a big impact on the overall atmosphere and how much people enjoy the festival. Happily this years forecast was good, and I arrived on site on Friday morning to find lovely hot sunny weather. It's a lovely site - right in the heart of the city, but surrounded by trees so you don't feel like you're in a city. In a clearing in the park is the main arena with it's stages, food stall, bar and stalls. Outside the arena you can walk down paths and find more small stages tucked away in pleasant spots as well as a cafe for food and drink, and some of the camping area (the main camp site is further away and has a shuttle bus to get people to/fromn the site). It's certainly one of the most pleasant places I've been to for a festival.

There's a good mix of ages of people attending. If you've never attended a folk festival you probably have the idea that it's going to be full of old men with beards, and to be fair there are some people like that here, but there are a lot of families, teenagers, young women - in fact it's a very wide range of people.
The area in front of the main stage was a sea of camping chairs - something you dont see much of at the rock festivals I usually frequent, but which seems to be standard at Cambridge Folk as people pick out a spot where they can watch the main stage acts and then stay there most of the day - and why not - after all its only a few yards to the excellent bar or to the food stalls, so it's a very relaxing way to spend a weekend.
It's certainly worth getting up and visiting the smaller stages though as there were some really excellent acts playing on stages other than the main one.

One of the most important things at a festival (apart from the music obviously) is the food and drink arrangements, and in that area Cambridge Folk Festival certainly does well. The main bar is a good size and was well staffed and more importantly sold an excellentselection of beer and cider with real ales and proper cider available - unlike the big music festivals where you get one choice of mass produced cider and one average lager, no, here you get real drinks. Needless to say, with Crabbies sponsoring the festival then their alcoholic ginger beers were also on sale, including a couple of rather delicious fruit versions. Sadly having to drive home that night meant being responsible and only having one drink in the early afternoon. Now I see why most people seem to camp at this festival!

In terms of food, I was expecting the same selection of catering vans as you get at most festivals, so again I was pleasantly surprised - there was actually a much more interesting selection of food, and the quality was good. The burger van was from a proper farm that sells quality meat, and the burgers were really good - a lamb and mint burger with the mint in the burger, a pork and stilton one, again with the stilton being part of the burger, and a quality beef burger meant they were doing a roaring trade - not surprising as these proper quality burgers tasted so much better than typical mass catering burgers. Other food stalls included fish and chips, pizza, Greek food, Mexican food, Indian food, Oriental food, and vegetarian & Vegan food, so there was a good range, and I noticed all the stalls being kept busy by hungry festival-goers. In fact it's definitely worth trying to avoid the peak times for food if you want to avoid a long queue.

So finally, on to the bands...

Friday started with Calan on the main stage. Calan are a Welsh folk band that plays a mix of instruments including harp, accordion, fiddle, pipes and guitar. Musically it's quite a mix too - all Welsh songs, but ranging from beautiful sad love songs to far more lively reels.

Next up were Hazmat Modine, an American band from New York. They're a perfect example of the diversity of music that you find at the festival as they aren't a folk band - yes they include Gypsy folk in their sound but that sits alongside Blues, calypso and maybe a bit of rock. The use of a Sousaphone on stage gives a lot of extra bass to the sound. Throw in instruments such as the claviola, harmonica, saxophone, banjo, guitar and accordion and you've got an interesting and unique sound. Hazmat Modine were definitely a really enjoyable band to watch and listen to - definitely worth checking out if you haven't heard them before.

Next up was the group Fisherman's Friends. Most of the members are fishermen with a couple of them being farmers. They perform songs including sea shanties mainly in an A Capella style (ie vocals only, no instruments), but do use instruments in a couple of songs (but in a fairly minimal way). While they are undoubtably good, I personally found more than a few A Capella songs was too much, so skipped part of their set to go and check out "My darling Clementine" on stage 2.

My darling clementine play Country songs but a bit of a rock and roll feel. Fronted by a husband and wife duo they also joke quite a bit between songs. It's a good performance and they were well worth watching.

Pokey LaFarge were next on the main stage, another act with a distinctive sound. Visually they look like they've stepped out of the past (probably the 1920'sor 1930's), but there's nothing dated about their sound which blends Jazz, Blues, Country and more

Next up on the main stage was Irish singer Cara Dillon. She's got a beautiful voice, and sings beautiful folk songs. Occasionally she plays a tin whistle, but mainly the focus is on her voice. A lovely performance.

Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker & John Doyle made their first appearance of the weekend over on the second stage. They sat and played flute and guitar and sang. All are great musicians and this was a relaxed and friendly performance with an intimate feel.

On the main stage, Richard Thompson did an acoustic set which is what I'd expected since his latest album (Acoustic classics) had been released a week earlier. While I prefer his electric guitar work, he's a superb guitar player whether he's on electric guitar or acoustic, and it was a real pleasure to watch and listen to his performance.

Sinead o'Connor was the big draw tonight, and never having seen her perform live before I was really looking forward to it. She's a distinctive person with her trademark cropped hair, and her tattoos, and when she starts to sing it's a spellbinding sight as it's not often you see someone singing with such passion and intensity. Just looking at her you can see she's pouring everything she has into her vocal performance, and what a performance it was - simply incredible. I was expecting her 1990 mega-hit "Nothing compares 2 U" to be the final song of her set, but surprisingly it came just over halfway through. Often after an artist performs their biggest hit, the rest of the set can feel like an anticlimax, but that wasn't the case here - she just went from strength to strength. I'd definitely rate her as the top performance of the weekend, hands down.

Sinead O'Connor setlist:
Queen of Denmark
4th and Vine
Take Me to Church
Reason with Me
8 Good Reasons
The Wolf Is Getting Married
In This Heart
Nothing Compares 2 U
Thank You for Hearing Me
The Voice of My Doctor
The Emperor's New Clothes
The Last Day of Our Acquaintance

After Sinead O'Connor any act would struggle to live up to that standard, and sadly for me, Afro Celt Sound System just didn't impress at all. After 10 minutes of some impressive drum playing, it quickly became tedious - there's only so much drum playing without vocals that you can cope with, so I headed over to see Molotov Jukebox on stage two. That's the challenge bands face at a festival with multiple stages - if you don't impress in the first few minutes people will wander off to see whether there is anything better on the other stages.

Happily Molotov Jukebox were a far more interesting proposition. The band's singer, Natalia Tena is an actress who has appeared in Game of Thrones and also Harry Potter, but tonight she's not acting but clearly having a lot of fun playing accordion and singing. I have no idea how to describe their sound other than to say that it's a blend of musical styles, is lively and is something I definitely want to hear more of - it's really enjoyable stuff, and is a great way to end my first full day at the festival.

Photos of the bands:


Skribent: Anthony May
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