- 2012 -




Despite living just 13 miles from this famous university town, attending the Cambridge Folk Festival had eluded me for a number of years. With legendary Irish Celtic band Clannad headlining the 2012 event however, I simply couldn't resist. Whilst the core of the festival adheres strongly to traditional folk music, it embraces more modern cross-over Indie styles of the genre, as well as broadening the scope of the event by including blues and World Music. The Cambridge Folk Festival started in 1964, so that it is steeped in tradition, is without question. It's a different crowd to what you're likely to find at Glastonbury or the Prog rock festivals I have been accustomed to attending. As the Daily Telegraph put it: "Cambridge fans are a stoical lot. And well they might be. It’s not quite as old as the Olympics, but this venerable festival is something of an institution, maintaining its status as Britain’s most significant folk festival with a doggedly eclectic and fashion-free booking policy."

I arrived mid to late afternoon Saturday, just in time to catch Keb' Mo' (born Kevin Moore, October 3, 1951), an American blues musician who hails from Nashville, Tennessee. A singer, guitarist, and songwriter, his post-modern blues style is influenced by many eras and genres, including folk, rock, jazz and pop. I bought his album "Just Like You" more than a decade ago, which won a Grammy Award in 1997 for Best Contemporary Blues Album. At the conclusion of his set, I overheard one comment indicating that, musically speaking, Keb Mo had pushed their boundaries somewhat. It soon became apparent that the audience were primarily folk junkies, despite the addition of musical forms not necessarily following the folk tradition. The appearance of Texan singer Nanci Griifith, leaning more towards country-folk, seemed to go down well with the crowd and illustrate this point. I must confess I had never heard of her. I lasted approximately four songs before wandering off to see what the festival offered in terms of arts and crafts. Much has been written about the Northumbrian duo Rachel and Becky Unthank, recipients of numerous folk music awards, known for their eclectic approach in combining traditional English folk with other musical genres, on this occasion with the Brighouse and Rastrick brass band, having just recorded a new album with them. Their melancholy style of music is indeed an acquired taste however I found myself warming to them.

Roy Harper has been around since 1964, having recorded 21 studio albums. Having influenced the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pete Townsend of The Who and Pink Floyd, who invited him to sing guest lead vocals on their song "Have a Cigar", he moved towards rock. I vaguely recall reading of Harper being strongly opposed to organised religion. Based on his introductions to one or two songs at the festival, he clearly doesn't shy away from political ranting either. Indeed, the festival program notes that "Roy cemented his reputation as a truculent troubadour, exploring themes of social unrest with anger and sardonic humour". I did enjoy the rich tones and percussive acoustic guitar style.

Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart is an absolute gem. Introduced to her music via social media, I was immediately drawn to her thought-provoking lyrics and exquisite voice. She played Folk by the Oak in Hertfordshire in 2009. With a first-class degree in Philosophy, she spent six years working for the Scottish Women's Aid movement on issues such as domestic and child abuse and young people's rights, the experiences of which have influenced her songwriting. Unfortunately her session on Stage 2 overlapped with that of Clannad on Stage 1, which was a shame, as I was keen to her some of her new album.


Keb Mo



Keb Mo



The Unthanks featuring the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band



Rachel Unthanks



Becky Unthanks


The Rastrick Brass Band (accompanying The Unthanks)



Nancy Griffith



Maura and Pete Kennedy (The Kennedy's)



Roy Harper


Roy Harper



Karine Polwart



Karine Polwart



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