Day 3, and the sun is high in the sky, drying out the mud and shining benignly upon us as we embark on the third and final day of the Cambridge Folk Festival. Today we are being wined and dined by the Scottish Arts Council, who have funded many of the Scottish artists on show this weekend as well as free booze.
The Scottish Arts Council reception is a slightly surreal affair. The festival is organised by Cambridge City Council’s Arts and Entertainment Department, and between the gold chain-wearing city councillors and the Scottish Arts Council officials (including a bagpiper) it feels more like a gentile garden party than a backstage piss-up, with violins and lovely dresses. Terribly pleasant, though.
The drinks and canapés are followed by an afternoon of Scottish talent on the main stage. This kicks off with the utterly superb Lau, who mix traditional Celtic folk with post-rock art noise to produce something so much better than it should be. To think we might have missed them if there hadn’t been free wine on offer!
Eddi Reader follows, resplendent with her Pre-Raphaelite locks and mixture of modern pop and Robert Burns. Many of the artists over this weekend have reached back across the centuries for their influences and the subtle mixing of ancient and modern works wonderfully. It’s at the very heart of what true folk music is about, taking new influences from each generation and evolving with them as time drifts by.
The weather has held today and in fact the sun is just about perfect for a festival, proving the icing on the cake of Oumou Sangaré‘s languidly hypnotic Malian beats. This is traditionally the prog slot at many festivals, when bands such as Yes, Caravan and Tunng are thrust upon us, but in future we vote that all open air gatherings should have obligatory African sessions at this time.
Blissed out, we head back to the Club Tent, where John Smith is playing a pared-down-to-the-bones acoustic set that includes a beautifully minimalist cover of Grace‘s It’s Not Over Yet. He deserves a medal for sheer audacity alone. From this, we head for the other extreme – the fast and furious Blazin’ Fiddles, who get the folk crowd as slippy as a folk crowd is ever going to be.
This juxtaposition of one man with an acoustic guitar and a stage full of lunatics with screaming violins is what makes folk both an acquired taste and an inextricable part of British heritage. Wander from stage to stage and it’s impossible not to hear influences from all corners of the globe – American blues, jazz and soul, Latino rhythms, Eastern spice and African percussion – and to know that some of it has seeped into the British folk we have heard throughout this weekend.
Such cultural mixing makes the music stronger rather than diluting it, while still leaving room for traditional fare that draws influences only from within our shores. In the peaceful grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall, beneath a warm summer sun, such music provides a welcome backdrop to a weekend that once signalled the beginning of the harvest season, when the first corn was cut as the summer starts to slip away. Some festivals may be edgier, some may claim to be trendier, but this weekend we are happy to forget it all and simply soak in tradition.