Americana UK 2009 Report of the Cambridge Folk Festival
Report by Jeremy Searle
In the forty-five years since it started the Cambridge Folk Festival has grown enormously in both size and status. One of the results of this is that you can read reviews in pretty much every major publication, not to mention blogs galore and more forum threads than is healthy for anyone to follow. This year therefore, for a change, instead of a 2000 word chronological article the Americana UK report will be a series of awards. Not voted for, not democratic and not entirely serious but hopefully giving a different flavour of proceedings. So…are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin.
Most Creative Use of Space:
Cambridge City Council. for selling so many tickets that if you had two square feet to stand in you could consider yourself lucky.
Most creative explanation for the overcrowding problems:
Cambridge City Council for saying that they had doubled the space in the main arena and sold less tickets and it was all our fault for bringing too much stuff. It might be true (though as a twenty year plus veteran I’m not convinced) but figures, we need figures.
Best unnecessary item brought to the festival:
The table tennis table solemnly carried in (and used) by the couple camping next to me.
Worst use of new technology:
The “official unofficial” website run by Fatea. Trust me, AUK people, this site may not be perfect but it could be much worse, you could be reading about Cambridge here. Amateur doesn’t have to mean amateurish.
Best use of new technology:
Winner: Cambridge City Council and Jon Boden for the text organised flash mob that appeared in the Main Stage tent at 11am on Sunday to play half a dozen unrehearsed and impromptu songs.
Best Festival Food:
The all you can eat breakfasts at the Unicorn pub.
Worst Festival Food:
Joint winners: Every stall on the festival site. Cambridge food has never been great but now it’s just embarrassing when every other major festival is so much better. The same poor quality, high priced stalls year after year. So desperate were things that the on-site Co-op store sold out of cocktail pork pies.
Best Prima Donna:
Lucinda Williams, with a strop and non-performance that may never be bettered. Doesn’t like cameras, doesn’t like crowd barriers, doesn’t like looking at the crowd, doesn’t like being on tour, the poor dear just wasn’t happy. Oh how we felt for her. The very definition of a contractual obligation show.
Booker T, for confusing noise with passion and relying on his reputation to carry him through.
Buffy Sainte-Marie, a classic example of Joan Baez syndrome, where the person is admirable (campaigning, a Grammy, an Oscar etc. etc.) but the music is rubbish. Bombastic and boring.
Winner: Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds. Folk versions of punk classics may have seemed a good idea in the pub but too much respect and not enough passion make this a dull show. Shame really, as Edmondson can sing and play and clearly believes in what he’s doing. Special mention to Maartin Allcock for looking more bored and disinterested on stage than anyone else ever.
Best American performance:
Joint runners-up: Los Lobos, who struggled with rented gear and poor sound but engaged with the crowd and persevered to deliver a fiery set. Lucinda, watch and learn.
Hayes Carll, who did two almost completely different sets, was laugh out loud funny between songs and was just generally great, despite a bit of variation in song quality.
Winner: Diana Jones, whose nakedly honest and unadorned songs, delivered in a mighty voice that recalls Iris Dement, were a total triumph.
Best amateur performance:
Runner-up: Helen Mould, who, despite it being her first time on a stage and second time singing in public (the first being in Ely Folk Festival’s beer tent) sang three traditional songs in the Club Tent in an old style unaccompanied fashion with power and sensitivity.
Winner: Sam Walter, who also sang three songs unaccompanied in the Club Tent and is possessed of the finest and most powerful voice to appear for a long time.
Best professional performance:
The Hot Club Of Cowtown. Impossibly proficient Western swing meets Paris jazz to dance your socks off to. Was the crowd roar when they’d finished the loudest of the weekend? Yes, and rightly so.
Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings. A folk concept album about a post-oil apocalyptic world you say? Bring it on!
Pete Molinari. Bravely doing a downbeat set featuring lots of barely released songs (recorded with The Jordanaires), his presence and class triumphed.
Jim Moray. Three sets, of which the Club Tent was the pick, as folk’s most boundary pushing artist delivered and then some.
Bellowhead. The eleven piece folk big band expend more energy than can possibly be healthy in delivering a set long on passion and power. Who would bet against them getting an unprecedented fourth Best Live Act award at the next Folk Awards?
Bella Hardy. Patter a bit too chipper perhaps, but when she sings, oh when she sings, particularly with just fiddle or Chris Sherburn’s concertina accompanying, goose bumps have goose bumps.
Lau, whose furious, occasionally progg-ish largely instrumental folk finally made sense, not least because of good sound and an augmented line-up including (hurrah!) pedal steel.
Wild Willy Barrett. One of the great British eccentrics and surrealists was on fine form when he closed the Club Tent on Sunday.
Winners: The Waterson Family. Was there a dry eye in the house when Mike Waterson sang? Not around me there wasn’t. As Martin Carthy says, something different and special happens when blood sings with blood, and “The White Cockade” (and indeed everything else) was magical. Folk’s first family are as good as they’ve ever been.
So laydeez and gentleman, there you have it. The good, the bad and the ugly, but mostly the good, as the long list of Best Performance runners-up shows. Despite the dings above, Cambridge City Council deserve many plaudits for a great festival with some great music. Better food and a proper review of the overcrowding issue (providing it doesn’t include the possibility of moving to Coldhams Common) would make it even greater.