Gig review: Cambridge Folk Festival

Share this article

CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL **** CHERRY HINTON HALL, CAMBRIDGE

YOU know you are getting old when folk musicians start to look younger. But the joy of the Cambridge Folk Festival is that love for the traditions it enshrines spans the generations in the most natural way, with both an audience and performers of all ages converging for a four-day hootenanny.

There were surprises along the way, such as a headline slot for Scouse indie rockers the Zutons (apparently they've been wanting to play Cambridge for years) and the decision to entrust the Thursday night warm-up set to a comedian fronting a folk band who play punk covers – an even greater surprise being that Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds made credible work of PiL's Rise and the predictable Clash numbers.

This year the Festival was lacking its usual complement of world music artists, although Mali's Oumou Sangare stood with her rich voice, elegant authority and flamboyant yet disciplined band.

Other strong female voices included Irish rockabilly belter Imelda May and the remarkable Buffy Sainte-Marie, who managed to compress her exceptionally varied 45-year career – including Oscar-winning ballads, protest anthems, cathartic drug odes and a couple of less engaging modern rock numbers – into one hour of music.

She was considerably more gracious than Lucinda Williams, who was just about the only act all weekend who did not thank the soundman, and whose grudging demeanour and perfunctory performance struck a sour note at such a friendly festival. Williams was arguably the biggest name in a strong Stateside contingent, but Chicano rockers Los Lobos were the act to command respect, and Hammond organ legend Booker T the man to get the crowd grooving to supercool Stax anthems Green Onions and Soul Limbo.

Closer to home, the Waterson Family made absorbing subjects for a Q&A session before delivering an a capella set which could not beaten for sheer passion and integrity.

While they cleave nobly to their traditional roots, some of the most dynamic sounds of the festival came from those who like to blur the boundaries between genres.

The Demon Barbers mashed up folk, reggae and rave with clog dancing to mixed effect, while consummate big band Bellowhead presented such an intoxicating shake-up of English folk traditions that one young man was moved to streak through the crowd in nothing but a lime green mankini.

Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden also played a brooding and atmospheric mid-afternoon set with backing band the Remnant Kings, and Hot Club Of Cowtown offered a chipper concoction of jazz, bluegrass and country swing.

However, the most audacious stylists of all were Glasgow's Treacherous Orchestra, an exciting new ensemble comprising members of Salsa Celtica, the Peatbog Faeries and Croft No 5, whose progressive folk riffs packed the power to satisfy both the dancers and the headbangers in the audience.

They mustered the wildest crowd of the weekend when every teenager on site suddenly materialised in the moshpit for their climactic festival-closing set on Sunday.