Despite limited stages at Cambridge Folk Festival, with stage times arranged to allow you to catch a part of most sets, this year still sees long deliberations about who to watch. With the likes of Gogol Bordello, Le Vent Du Nord and Lisa O’Neil all having slots there’s a lot to choose from. For me however it’s some of the festivals favourites, returning for another year, who capture my attention.
Nancy Kerr and the Whispering Band start things off with a gentle tone. Whilst Farewell Stony Ground fuses a more pop-rock sound, it’s Crows Wings, which is dedicated to Jo Cox and explores being positive in hard times, and shows the strength of new album Instar. Political undertones run throughout the set, with Written on my Skin exploring women’s safety, and Fragile Water examining the race relations’ act. Yet it’s Gingerbread that perhaps displays Kerr’s real strength, focusing on “food banks and love and sweetness” it combines a powerful message with powerful melodies.
Elsewhere festival stalwarts Megson merge their up-tempo numbers with equal measures of humour and cynicism. Whilst many older members of the crowd may not connect with Generation Rent you can see the nods of the 20 and 30 something’s confirm every word of the song. For the northerners like me The Longshot effortlessly captures the analogy between life and football. Whilst the Boro might have gained promotion this season the song feels a relevant as ever. Most of the set is centred around their most recent album Good Things Will Come Again, which seems to verge towards more downbeat number such as Patterns and Burn Away, but for the committed fans the set is rounded off with The Smoke of Home, which serves to confirm Megson’s numbers have longevity.
Over in the flower garden O’Hooley and Tidow delight a packed out crowd. Made in England, from their latest offering Shadows, fuses their vocal harmonies whilst following a similar political vein to Nancy Kerr. Meanwhile Colne Valley Hearts pays homage to their hometown of Huddersfield, and merges poignant lyrics with a rhythmic beat. For me it’s Gentleman Jack from The Fragile which always highlights the duo’s ability to create a sense of time and place, and judging by the reaction from the crowd I’m not the only one delighted with it’s addition. Having never watched a set in the flower garden, at times the acoustics seem to disperse the sound, but the pair ride it through and ensure it doesn’t detract from the set.
KT Tunstall on the other hand fills her set with more sparkle than her silver trousers. With an amusing rendition of Walk Like an Egyptian centred between a mix of new and old classics, she knows how to entertain the crowd. Maybe It’s a Good Thing shows her more rocky style from her forthcoming album KIN, whilst her ode to Patti Smith in Suddenly I See brings her back to her acoustic routes. What’s refreshing however is KT’s willingness to add a new lease of life on older numbers, with Seven Nation Army being shoehorned into Black Horse and the Cherry Tree to great effect.
It’s this that leads the way for Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk style to delight the crowd at the end of the night and although I call it an early one, knowing Saturday will be filled with more sounds to explore, they round off day one with what seems to have become Cambridge’s success story, pushing the boundaries of what some would class as ‘folk music’.