I first played at Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2003 with John Spiers. I was still fairly new to the folk scene at that point but I can remember clearly the exhilaration of pulling up to the legendary site, the two of us and all our instruments crammed into John’s Ford Fiesta.
It’s always had an aura, Cambridge Folk Festival. It’s a festival that exudes quality, is always looking outwards and upwards, is always bringing audience and artists together to make a particular kind of magic. Arriving on site back then I remember feeling that the history of the festival seemed to be palpable, coexisting with the present and bringing a warm, vibrant glow to the whole affair. Mind you I probably hadn’t had much sleep (we were both holding down day jobs at that point) so that may have had something to do with it.
But there is no question that Cambridge Folk Festival holds a very special place in the composition of the folk scene, and in the cultural pantheon of the nation as a whole. It brings folk musics from around the world into a tightly packed field and glories in their variety and difference, as well as celebrating the unity of all music.
I was therefore overwhelmed to be asked to be the first “guest-curator” of Cambridge Folk Festival this year.
Festival season can be a strange experience - bumping into the same artists week after week in a different field, or catching a fleeting ‘hello’ with someone you haven’t seen for a decade as you pass in the melee of a stage-swapover scrum. There are so many amazing artists around who I count as friends and with whom the “we should really do something” conversation has happened so many times it has become embarrassing. To be presented with the opportunity of not only recommending some artists for the festival but also to be given space and context to play together a bit, or to interview them on stage and ask them about their musical journeys, or to hang out around a campfire for an hour or so… is a fantastically exciting proposition and I am over-the-moon to be able do so with six such amazing acts.
I first met Martin Green of Lau in a pub session in Southampton in 1999 or thereabouts. I knew of him through his playing on Eliza Carthy’s ‘Red’ album, but at that point the idea that someone could feature in my CD collection and could also stroll nonchalantly into my local session was not a concept I could readily process. His playing electrified the session and I went home convinced that fiddle was for losers and that really the piano accordion was the only way forward. Fortunately that conviction wore off before I could trade in my fiddle but the energy of his playing that night has stayed with me ever since. When, in 2007, he teamed up with one of the finest fiddlers there is and one of the greatest guitarist / singers on the scene it was clear something special was in the offing.
Sure enough Lau have become a gold standard for experimental traditional music and continue to reach music lovers from way outside of the folk scene, as well as thrilling those of us within it with with their ever changing, ever challenging, ever so slightly-bonkers take on tradition-based music from Scotland and beyond.
I’m not sure exactly how many times I played “Heather Down the Moor” on repeat when I first came across it as a teenager, but the CD had certainly worn out within a week of me buying it. The intricacy and drive of Martin’s solo guitar on that track was like nothing else I’d ever heard. English folk music excels at ‘feel’ and ‘grunge’ and ‘swagger’, but ‘virtuosity’ can get often lost along the way. So it takes a genius like Martin to combine the groove and soul of English folk music with a virtuosity so singular, so extraordinary that really no-one else gets close. And as for his American trad stuff, it really is breathtaking. More recently he’s become one of the foremost songwriters on the scene as well. I have been lucky enough to count him as a friend since moving up to Sheffield in 2005 and our various musical collaborations have been a source of great joy to me.
Kate In The Kettle
Fiddle singers are ten-a-penny these days ;-) so it’s really exciting to meet someone who is taking the whole thing up another notch. Kate Young’s incredible talent as a singer and as a fiddle player is a wondrous thing to behold and as a writer she excels in finding incredibly exciting new musical spaces to explore.
Chris is a massively influential figure on the low-fi, acoustic punk scene. Frank Turner has performed a number of his songs and cites him as an inspirational figure. As a performer of his own political material he is uncompromising, aggressive, forensically deconstructive in his observations. So it was something of a surprise when a few years back he announced that he would be taking a one-man show of original settings of A. A. Milne’s children’s poems to the Edinburgh Festival.
It was an enormous success, not least because he managed to inject a fair amount of that punk vivacity into the settings whilst totally staying true the the melancholy, tender, drily humorous tone of the poems. I am so excited to see him perform these songs once more before he hangs up his plectrum - he announced in April this year that he would be retiring from live performance, so don’t miss him!
It’s incredibly exciting when a bunch of musicians who you admire individually, announce they are forming a group. The four members of the Furrow Collective are all at the top of their game and indeed they all lead busy, successful solo careers. The sound they make together is so refreshing because it has a sense of effortless style and authenticity. Listening to them reminds me a bit of listening obsessively to Planxty as a teenager - brilliant, inventive, fresh but also with a sense of timelessness that chimes beautifully with the antiquity of the material.
Jon Boden will be looking at the ways in which English instrumental music - a musical idiom in which the squeezebox is the dominant stylistic driving force - can be interpreted on the fiddle. He will look at the technical and stylist tools available and consider where English fiddle style comes from, where it is now and where it is headed in the future.
So you've discoverd all about Jon's curated acts but let's discover a bit more about the man himself...
Jon is a singer, composer and musician, best known as lead singer and main arranger of Bellowhead. His first instrument is the fiddle and he is a leading proponent of "English traditional fiddle style" and also of "fiddle singing", both of which he employed in Bellowhead, in the duo Spiers & Boden, and previously as a member of Eliza Carthy’s Ratcatchers. To date Jon has been the recipient of 11 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, more than any other musician. Jon also fronts his own band the Remnant Kings, put together in 2009 to perform his post-apocalyptic song cycle Songs From The Floodplain, he has also made contributions to many other albums as a fiddler, singer and guitarist, most notably two albums with Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party. In 2010 he launched an ambitious project to record and deliver A Folk Song A Day online, aiming to inspire others to build a repertoire of songs and engage in social singing. All 365 songs are now available on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube, as well as on the www.afolksongaday.com website. Jon holds a master's degree in Composing for the Theatre and has worked on numerous, prestigious theatrical productions, including two plays with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 2012 Jon was commissioned to create a staged classical piece based on The Ballad Of Little Musgrave And Lady Barnard as part of the Benjamin Britten centenary celebrations