Kevin Bourke sampled all the musical delicacies on offer at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival. Photos by Jordan Harris
One of the great things about the Cambridge Folk Festival is that it’s perfectly possible to chart any number of different paths through the weekend’s festivities. You could simply opt, for instance, to see the seasoned folk festival campaigners like Christy Moore (pictured above), who cannily conjured up a version of ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ about local hero Syd Barrett in the midst of a commandingly-delivered set of old favourites, or Kate Rusby, who has virtually grown up in front of these people. So too has Eliza Carthy whose new Wayward Band obviously has an eye on that Bellowhead-shaped hole on the touring circuit. Speaking of that fiendish ensemble, Jon Boden chose to refloat his solo career with a Thursday night headliner that demonstrated he’s lost none of his slightly bonkers flamboyance.
Then you have the dance-friendly crowd-pleasers in early evening slots, like the sinuous Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal, the sunny Caribbean rhythms-meets-industrial Manchester Ballads of Edward II, or the harder-edged Afro Celt Sound System. The new wave of English folk was strong not only in the Club Tent, The Den and the other fringe stages, but with high-profile slots for the ferociously committed but hilarious Stick in the Wheel, as well as Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and Sam Lee & Friends.
As ever, American music was also well represented. Mary Chapin Carpenter closed out her UK tour with confidence and cool style, while the distinctly earthier The Cash Box Kings determinedly brought a ferocious jolt of genuine Chicago blues to the party. More laidback but just as arresting in her own way, Leyla McCalla undoubtedly won over a whole host of new fans, just as her former Carolina Chocolate Drops colleague Rhiannon Giddens had done in a similar spot last year.
But the ‘I was there’ stories were those of Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton and Darlingside (pictured below). Something extraordinary was obviously going on from the minute Paxton took to Stage 2 on Friday evening. Accomplished way beyond his years and with a droll delivery that belies the way he so fully inhabits the blues tradition, the news of his triumph spread so fast that when he appeared in the Club Tent only a couple of hours later you could barely get near the place. Meanwhile, so popular had the bracing harmonies, free-spirited musical experimentation and jocular stage presence of Darlingside proved with the early evening Stage 2 audience on Saturday that, when Charles Bradley was unexpectedly taken ill, they took over his Stage 1 slot only an hour later. Their appearance there was such a triumph that not only did the on-site CD stall prove unable to keep up with demand for their ‘Birds Say’ debut album but their Sunday signing and busking sessions turned into major events!