Cherry Hinton Park, Cambs
I think this was the nicest festival I have been to, including my first visit here, 5 years ago. A belated report, the time needed to collect my thoughts eaten by too abrupt a return to work, and I know ‘nice’ verges now on a code for twee, but, skip that thought, nice it was. Civilised, good music, good food ‘n’ fluids, good company. Good weather, even, missing the downpours besetting the midlands on the day of arrival.
Tent duly up, off I plodded to explore, swiftly finding @jorrox and losing my programme, in that order. My thursday order was kicked off well by the Rails, a lively electric set by Kami Thompson and James Walbourne, in demand guitarist for the Pretenders and Edwyn Collins amongst others, and their band. I had time for a bit of Sam Sweeney and his WW1 fiddle, aided by a number of familiar folkie friends, like Jack Rutter. But my dance card was already marked for Rura, the scottish band of the moment: bagpipes, fiddle, guitar and bodhran, the latter doubling on flute, with the piper equally adept on atmospheric keyboard. I like ’em and loved this, their first big showpiece after losing vocals and songs from their repertoire, and no harm done thereby. Skipping Ralph McTell for a tactical early doors, I heard the waft of the crowd singing the inevitable hit, but I am told he pulled a blinder.
After a constitutional down into the village for a shower, Friday kicked off with, yes gain, Rura, the benefit of the larger stage being taken full advantage of. Karine Polwart, nominally debuting her Great Scottish Songbook, released this day, came next, in a trio with her brother and the remarkable Inge Thomson, on keys, electronic percussion and accordion. Karine reckoned the trio weren’t sufficient to play much from the new album, so it was a set largely of older. I had forgotten how silky a singer she can be, and the set was a highpoint, even with audience 3 part harmonies being invoked. (And the record is fabulous!) Tootling around in the pm I caught varied acts, but the next high was someone I was trying to avoid, Graham Nash. I like neither his voice nor his songs. But, as the sound from the main stage bled into where I was sitting, I gave in. He was absolutely terrific. With the same duo on (superb) guitar and keys as in @Carl s recent night out, Nash captivated all, his dippy hippy reminisces and, in the time and place, wonderful songs. Even the shite and soppy ones. His voice was in top form. Glad I changed my intentions. A short break and Calexico with Iron&Wine (Sam Beam) were next, another belter of a set. I have never seen Calexico and they, and this combination, were a delight. Sole criticism might be I prefer my trumpet a little higher in the mix, but the organist more than made up. (And another excellent CD, my purchasing reserves falling by the minute.
A thing I recalled fro my earlier visit was the joy of the Saturday showcase session, presented by ex-Battlefield Band fiddler Brian McNeill, where a roster of artists appear for brief sets, often with appearances from the scottish FeisRos ensemble, a sort of summer school for young highland and island
prodigies, and which has given the folk world a few names already over the years, Josie Duncan, the Lewis singer, being one. (And who performed with the Tweed Project yesterday.) A rogue tear or 2 forming, my next essential was Lisa O’Neill, the irish singer with a voice like cardboard. In a good way. Probably an acquired taste, I wanted that immerse, and it was a marvellous set, coming me yet another CD. Stretching any definition of folk, arguably even of world, Fofoulah came next, a mix of african sabar drums, dub bass, propulsive drums and electronica, fronted by 2 Wolof singers/rappers. A joyous onslaught, better live than on record, yes, another discovery. As a folkie, you would think Kathryn Tickell would be catnip to me, and she was, in the past. Here she was the worst of all cliches, with a band of young musicians, no doubt exemplary, this was lumpen folk-rock, ruining both genres. What happened to her last project, the wonderful ‘& the Side’? Needing the taste taken away, thank the lord for Lucinda. As part of the Car Wheels tour, she and her band, Buick 6, rather than recreating that album, gave us a career long selection of songs known and half-forgotten, all with a heavy blues-rock dimension, the guitarist majoring on slide. Despite the never less clear slur of her voice between songs, singing she hit most of her notes, after a slightly dodgy start. In good mood, she was full of bonhomie, even shedding guitar and dancing for a few numbers, evoking comparisons with Chrissie Hynde or Dolly Parton. (Or, rather, the picture in Dolly Parton’s attic) A little more rock than country-rock for my liking, nonetheless a cracking set, as good as the any I have seen previously. That was it for me, the hurly burly of Talisk being too frenzied for me, even if the sight of a marquee of under 30s hurling themselves around to concertina, fiddle and guitar was a delight to see.
Comparing notes with @steveT and Mrs @steveT at numerous bar stops in the days earlier, saturday looked to be the day ticking most mutual boxes. But sunday looked promising. On paper, McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle looks a given, the first 2 being amongst my favourite instrumentalists. And the boy Doyle can certainly sing and strum. However, the preponderance of diddly-di-o type songs fair spoilt it for me, the crowd seeming to differ. Hey ho, the desert rock of Imarhan cast all of that aside, a scorching set, making Tinariwen look positively middle of the road. This was the set of the festival for me and I was entranced. I had high hopes for the Unthanks, I having given their orchestra show a good kicking a while back. And they started gloriously, the sisters, with 2 other female singers, a dream from heaven. Sadly all the extra gloss was then added, destroying it all with an arts council sheen of marshmallow blandness. Back again to the early stuff go I. So, how would RT restore my pleasure. Well, not by anything unexpected, and he did more or less cut and paste of his usual solo favourites, songs beginning to wilt from exposure. Yet, on this occasion, somehow they just gelled. An especially brutal Crocodile Tears had me wincing, feeling it a version of Adieu Sweet Nancy I hadn’t heard before, before he brought out new squeeze, Zara Phillips (not that one) to sing BVs. Probably an autopilot show for him, but still plenty good enough for me. Finally into the home strait, it was the combination of the Blind Boys of Alabama with the similarly sightless Malian duo, Amadou and Mariam. Actually this was more a bit of the Boys, followed by A&M, followed by the Boys and then back to A&M, only occasionally actually playing fully together. The link was more the band, an excellent rhythm section, I think the one for A&M, and the guitarist for the Boys. The mix of r’n’b guitar with that rhythm section, especially when Amadou’s virtuoso african fretwork joined in, was superlative. Of course the vocals were remarkable and life-affirming, those of Jimmy Carter, the de facto leader and last standing (near) original of the 1939 iteration of the band, especially great, the nonagenarian still showing he has life aplenty in his soul. Awesome performance and what a way to close the show.( OK, Daoiri Farrell’s All Star celtic Session followed, but, even with the mighty Donal Lunny, again too much diddley-di-o.)
All ages, tiny tots, their parents of the hipster variety, their grandparents of a hippier vibe, and possibly generations above. OK, very middle class, the oldies in better condition than the Cropredy variety. The Tesco in the village had suddenly to ship in a whole lot more Guardians than usual. Good natured, no shouting or rampant drunkeness, if a few mellowed souls gently zoning out at the peripheries. Good bars and decent food stalls, a special shout for Vice Burgers, whose vegan fare was remarkable. Lord knows what was in ’em, and I am no vegan, but they had me back for seconds.
It made me think..
I think I’ll be back next year, any thoughts of hanging up my tent decidedly premature.