Come rain or shine, and there was certainly some rain, Cambridge Folk Festival lived up to its international reputation at the weekend, with an extraordinary bill of music steeped in both ancient tradition and the very newest interpretation of roots music from artists at the very start of their careers.
One of English folk’s most revered and influential singers, Shirley Collins, who played the first ever festival in 1965, made a triumphant return following the release of her album last year at the age of 80. In an interview for the Festival she said: ‘Folk music is like archaeology. Somebody’s dug up a bit of treasure that’s really important.’ Her opening song was one such treasure, heralding the arrival of spring when people visited each other taking branches of hawthorne, dated right back to the seventeenth century.
In a contrast typical of Cambridge, Stage 1 was then treated to a blistering set the next day from the newest star of the blues world, Fantastic Negrito – Prince and Jimmy Hendrix rolled into one - whose latest album was voted Best Contemporary Blues Album at this year’s Grammy Awards. Among the acts performing were graduates from the Festival’s emerging talent stage, The Den, including Sunday headliner, Jake Bugg, twin-sister Country sensations Ward Thomas and a scene stealing set from south London singer Jake Isaacs.
The Festival also featured rapturously-received sets from folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner; legendary Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon; captivating singer- songwriter Lisa Hannigan; CC Smugglers with a typically wild set; Daphne’s Flight featuring five of the finest folk, blues and soul singers back together after two decades;; The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians performing remarkable Arabic classical music; electronic and Scottish traditional fusion from Niteworks making their Festival debut; massively popular band She Drew The Gun and many others.
For the first time the Festival featured a guest curator, with Jon Boden taking the role this year. Heralded this weekend by The Guardian as ‘the Unofficial King of the Festival’, he programmed six acts, introducing them before they performed, as well as performing himself with the Remnant Kings.
Delighted at the experience, Jon said: ‘It's been an incredible honour and pleasure to be the first guest curator for Cambridge Folk Festival. The festival has always had its own special magic and to be able to immerse myself in that for the whole weekend and present some of my favourite artists to the audience has been an exhilarating and joyous experience from start to finish. I've particularly enjoyed playing some little pop up gigs in unusual places around the site, particularly a late night set at the campsite. It's been immense fun and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the new role of 'guest curator' evolves from here on.’