Sunday, 28 August 2011

Holiday, Part 1: Cambridge Folk Festival.

I love live music of all kinds, but I have a special little place for folk. It somehow makes me react in a happy way, every time. Thats what its all about, surely. I studied folk as often as possible during my degree and A Level, when there was free rein to prepare your own projects, and even where there wasn't but the essay title could be interpreted towards it! I soon became obsessed with the collection of it, by classical composers, (Vaughan Williams and Bela Bartok are the main ones) and how these 'songs of the people' (a middle class observation if ever I heard one... but true enough) spoke for the land from which they came, and became integral to their physical work (think sailors and shanties, and spirituals in America). Fascinating, rich stuff.
Events and day tickets to folk festivals were one of the highlights of my holidays when I was little. My Uncle is an avid fan, and he always seemed to be just back from, or just off-to somewhere. I used to love the names: Chippenham, Cropredy, Sidmouth (I remember going to this one with him). His bedroom at my Grandparent's house was full of LPs and tapes, and he would get in trouble for playing it all too loudly. I loved the diversity, and the energy of it all, and I really liked the atmosphere to the gigs I went to. It was time, this year, to return to the scene!

You know the wonderful thing about folk lovers, is that they are friendly, and laid back, and smiley. One of the performers remarked in a Sky Arts interview that I saw, that this was possibly the only festival where the crowd maintained their manners enough to stay within the white lines. So that transfers to the kinda people you end up striking up a conversation with, or camping next to. All of the staff were lovely too, and the main site was fab- there was a main stage, and two secondary ones (one for local bands and workshops) and just a 5 minute walk from all the billed stuff was a beautiful huge pond, and in a smallish tent was a little intimate venue where you could feel part of amazing busking-type stuff that you'd never come across. I was called The Den, and it was a lovely teepee, complete with living room features on stage, and rugs and cushions on the floor.

The Den

 Stage 2- Fiddle Workshop. This was early on in the festival- most people 
didn't arrive till the weekend. None of the site was this empty again!

 The Spooky Men's Chorale. As bizarre as it their name, but quite entertaining.

And the program was brilliant. I watched, amazed, as new acts were announced on the website, having conversations with said Uncle about all the things that he wanted me to see on his behalf, and looking everybody up on youtube. Traditional folky stuff galore, with some mainstream greats too, and acts you've probably heard of, on Jools Holland, and thought you might come across again, and recent successes in the folk arena who have managed to get mainstream recognition. Just a small taster:

The Secret Sisters,
Chris Wood,
Bellowhead, (Spiers and Boden also performed as a duo- fantastic!)
Kate Rusby,
Richard Thompson,
Peatbog Faeries,
Mary Chapin Carpenter,
Laura Marling,
Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends.

Whoa! I think I saw all of those, or remained nearby with a Greek salad and an Old Rosie, so that I could diligently say to my Uncle that I'd 'heard them', even if it wasn't something that could drag me away from a well deserved and well-queued-for meal. So this is an interesting thing- the elements of traditional 'folk' up against more household names. The hardcore folkies who have been going for years (and they all tell me that this is something I will really want to return to), have quite a bit to choose from, and those who just want it all (um, like me) have all of the above, and the new unsigned or newly signed performers to dip into.

 lovely flags at our colourful campsite

The performance tent at our site- open mics each evening. We camped away from 
the main festival and took a short bus ride in each day. It was nice to be able to retreat a little from it all, but the idea of staying on the main site is very appealing.

Then there were the announcements on the bill that made me jump up and down. So inspirational and wonderful was their music on CD and on Radio 1s Live Lounge (an avid fan here, of that programme), that I couldn't wait to get there. I also felt the need to get to these gigs 90 minutes early or so, so that I could find a space near the stage: Frank Turner and Newton Faulkner were the headliners.

Folk? Actually, not strictly... but there is something about this type of singer-songwriter, and story teller, that has firm roots in a folky idea- strong rhythms, personal feelings and stories, stuff that communicates so well, and is original sounding. Frank Turner (who is flibbing fantastic), has a new (beautiful) album out to promote, and is described as more of a punk-folk performer, but he was there for all of the above reasons, and he looked humbled by our reception. He was almost apologetic in interview, concerned about the reaction he might get from people who had come to see folk, and he sang his unaccompanied song to try and get some votes, and even had a guy on a recorder for us, but he was great. We went to the festival with my fella's sister, and two of her work colleagues, one of whom was in his 60s, and 'here for the banjos and Morris Dancers'. He thought Frank was superb.

Newton Faulkner is a feat of multi-tasking, and every single part of him is about the music-making. He has mastered a particular style of rhythmic guitar playing which includes drumming on the side of the instrument, with hammer-ons, harmonics and regular melodic and chordal playing. Its much funner to listen to than the clnical description sounds! His hit single 'Dream Catch Me'  may be familiar, and it is hauntingly beautiful, but its only half of what he can do. I haven't included links so far- I highly reccomend you check Mr Frank, Laura Marling, and the Fishermen out, but you must listen to this:

I'm a bit of a fan, and there was a signing tent where I got my programme, and my Fella got his 
guitar signed. Other musicians were there too, but the queues were long, and you ended up missing 
great music standing there, so Newton's was the only one we collected. 

We were lucky enough to go to a guitar workshop with him, which was  informal and relaxed, and not heaving to begin with, so we had the pleasure of being able to sit near the stage. A big part of this festival is giving people a chance to see or become involved. (Its a fantastic place for children- willow weaving, flower garland making, traditional story telling, and so it goes on...) We stumbled upon a fiddle workshop too, but I was too much of a chicken to take my violin. I will next year... I think! Anywhoo, we all sat there, struck a little dum by all that we were seeing. Its not the sort of skills you can grab in a day or a few weeks, but its just really interesting to be given a tour of his guitar and set-up, and shown what happens where and how to put it together. He tunes his strings very differently to the traditional way, which is an interesting idea, and gives an insight into just how much thought and prep goes into his style. And he's hillarious! So at ease with a crowd, and spontaneous and fun. What a nice guy.

We went to a vocal workshop with the Fishermen too- fantastic! You may have come across this traditional Cornish singing group- the BBC did a programme recently, with that Gareth chap from The Choir, investigating shanties, and they were featured. I think they have commercials and bits in the offing too. Good on them. They're highly entertaining- fantastic banter, wonderful accents, ofcourse (made me miss my Cornish relatives, although I do still see my dad regularly... but you know what I mean...) and beautiful harmonies and performances. Their album is good, Little Guy loves it, but you lose a little tiny 10% of something in the recorded article- they're just superb live, with minimal accompaniament , and if you ever get a chance to go to Port Isaac, I do believe they have carried on their tradition of singing by the sea on a Friday evening, for the locals. I know of a lovely fellow blogger who may have been to one of their performances on their home turf recently- we'll have to see what she says about it!

Port Isaac's Fishermen's Friends.

Oh, its been so lovely to sit and reminisce, and go through my photos once more. It really is the type of festival you'd want to return to, especially if there is somebody on the bill you need to see, (Stornaway and Joan Armatrading have previously played) because its a great venue.

Willow-sculptures: chinese lanterns decorating the camp.

Street artists. We saw a few of these- you couldn't escape. Best to move along 
otherwise they approached you! A beautiful fox in the background.

Returning to my little ones and their cousin, who they were staying with. I came bearing gifts! 
Little Miss L is modelling her new watch, Little Guy has his bumblebee sun hat, and Pickle Missy, as she is the eldest,  is sporting the folk festival essential- a flower garland.

And the camping? I survived- hurrah!  The weather was very kind to us, and the camp-showers have been updated from the ones I was told about- no solar power for us! Just regular over-used get-them-while-they're-hot ones that can sustain a lovely temperature when they are largely un-used in the mid-afternoon. Oh I must just post these links, if you get a chance, and you like your traditional folk,  The Willows and Feis Rois Musicians were my favourite little discoveries of the weekend.



  1. I know absolutely zip about folk music. I've heard of a few of the more household names you mention but that's it - I've heard their names, not their music. I shall go and investigate some of the ones you mention.

    Glad you had such a good time there. It sounds much more civilised than a lot of festivals!

  2. I was going to say what Alex said - I don't know much about folk but I do have singer-songwritery leanings. Also that it looks like such a nice festival to go to - no drunken rowdy teens! x

  3. I'm a massive folk fan - I go to Cropredy a lot. I wanted to go to this festival but didn't have enough cash this year - would have loved to have seen Richard Thompson again. Did you see him? xxx

  4. It sounds so lovely and so civilised. I WILL be there next year! x