While there are some very familiar names on their roster (which are also appearing across many other folk festival rosters this summer), they have pulled some names out of the hat this year that suggest they are shaking things up some with a more diverse selection of artists scattered among the usual suspects that is sure to make the whole experience a more vibrant one.
Among the names that may be new to some, but have by no means been hiding in the shadows, are London octet Ibibio Sound Machine (main image) who, fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams, made their album debut back in 2014 on the highly respected Soundway Records. If you want an original sound, this will undoubtedly be up there among the highlights of this year’s festival with a sound that’s inspired by West-African funk & disco and modern post-punk & electro. Check out this KEXP Session they recently performed.
An equally enthralling performance is sure to come from LA vocalist and composer Marley Munroe, aka the captivating Lady Blackbird. The path to her widely acclaimed 2021 album Black Acid Soul may have been a slow burn, but she arrived in full glory with vocals often compared to that of Nina Simone…no where more apparent than on her cover of of the Simone classic ‘Blackbird’, on which she also displays an incredible smokey warmth all of her own.
Welsh Harpist Catrin Finch is re-united again with Cimarrón, the 6-piece Grammy-nominated joropo dance band from the cattle-rearing plains of the Orinoco. They have worked together for thirteen years and last toured the UK in 2020. The combination of harp and their wild untamed dance music make a great combination.
How could Angeline Morrison not be on the roster after the release of The Sorrow Songs: Folk Songs Of Black British Experience, which was voted No 1 in our Top 100 Folk Albums of 2022
In his review of the album, David Pratt described it as a ‘landmark release in the canon of British folk music.’ This is sure to be a unique and memorable performance.
One band, the description of which does not really do them justice is the multi-award-winning Oi Va Voi, described as a modern folk klezmer band from London. Formed in 2000, they have a great European fanbase, evidenced by their sold-out tours. However, it’s how they blend their Jewish heritage with modern pop that makes them so notable. Their music has an incredibly diverse breadth that spans indie rock, folk and urban dance music. There really is no one else that sounds quite like them:
The bio of the Four-time Grammy award winner Angélique Kidjo is staggering; the Beninese singer songwriter is also a widely acclaimed activist. Her music seems to know no boundaries, combining the influences of West African tradition with global popular music. On her 2021 album Mother Nature, she collaborated with a number of young artists, including Nigeria’s Afro-pop singer Yemi Alde on a resistance anthem. More recently, she collaborated with Ibrahim Maalouf on Queen of Sheba, a 7-part suite that fuses Middle Eastern and African Cultures inspired by the mythic tale of the African Queen.
Maybe one of the biggest name inclusions is the two-time Grammy Award-winning American hip-hop group Arrested Development. They formed in Atlanta, way back in 1988 and were very much an Afro-centric alternative to gangsta-rap. Last year they release For the FKN Love which featured a host of special guests including a number of newcomers…evidence of their trend to continue supporting up-and-coming talent.
From Ireland, Imelda May, alongside a number of headliners included here, is sure to attract new fans to the festival. The self-empowered singer has been evolving her sound over the past few years and her album 11 Past the Hour has been described as a bold move as she shifts away from her early rockabilly influences to the pop-rock that dominated her Life.Love.Flesh.Blood album.
Also appearing from Ireland are:
The Sharon Shannon Trio – Sharon will be accompanied by long-time sideman Jim Murray and Jack Maher (acoustic guitar and vocals).
Daoirí Farrell Trio – Irish traditional singer and bouzouki player Farrell will be joined by uilleann piper Mark Redmond and bodhran player Robbie Walsh. We recently shared his new single ‘Sonny’s Dream’ from his upcoming fourth album, ‘The Wedding Above In Glencree’. As I said then, I’ve never heard Farrell sound so good.
Closer to home we have: Eliza Carthy & The Restitution will be making a very welcome appearance. Lates last year, they treated us to Queen Of The Whirl – to quote from the opening of Danny Neill’s album review: It is high time I adjusted the place Eliza Carthy occupies in my head; as a long-time folk fan, she slightly inaccurately remains the daughter of folk royalty flying the flag for the new breed. And yet, here we are welcoming a celebration of Eliza’s thirty years working as a professional musician with a release that punches far beyond the ambition of a mere ‘best of’ collection. These are new recordings, for starters, re-imaginings of selected titles from across her many solo and collaborative releases. And far from curating a dry, predictable selection, she has instead reached out to her Twitter community whose song suggestions spanning the decades have resulted in a delightfully diverse collection, a mixture of the crowd-pleasing and the memorable curios. Reworking everything from scratch as a brand-new project gives the album a fine unified flow when experienced as a whole. This is the sound of the artist as she is now, capturing a bountiful snapshot of her relationship with her own work as she feels it today, and today Eliza sounds particularly switched on.
Last year, Kate Rusby celebrated three decades of incredible music with ’30: Happy Returns’. As with previous Anniversary releases, she was accompanied by a number of special guests, but some of her song revisits were quite exceptional, none more so than the album opener “We Will Sing” with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Canadian singer songwriter and Peguis First Nations artist William Prince is sure to deliver quite a performance. David Morrison, our Canadian-based reviewer, became an avid fan after seeing him open for Tanya Tagaq in 2017. He recalls: “The venue’s stage is large enough to comfortably accommodate a full orchestra, so one might think it could swallow a solo artist with an acoustic guitar, but for 30 spellbinding minutes, Prince made it his home, creating a situation of rare intimacy for a performance space of such a size. He projected as a sweet, humble man, and had the entire audience rapt from the first seconds of the set opener.” Read our reviews of his albums Reliever and Gospel First Nation – on the latter, Morrison said, “…regardless of the fact that as an atheist I cannot emotionally plug into much of the album’s lyrical content, speaking simply as a human being William Prince’s “Gospel First Nation” is probably the most relatable record I’ve heard all year.”
Lovers of the hurdy-gurdy will not be disappointed by the Swedish duo Symbio featuring Johannes Geworkian Hellman (hurdy-gurdy) and LarsEmil Öjeberget (accordion, kickbox). While the likes of Orcadian eight-piece The Chair and Quebeciosfolk band Le Vent du Nord are sure to please those that like to stay on their feet.
If you love the blues, then Jinda Biant should be on your list. The UK-based singer songwriter and slide guitarist released his debut album “Restless” last year and has featured on BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephen’s Show. His journey to the blues is an interesting one, as his first musical experiences were in Indian Classical Music and he performed on the Tabala before being introduced to the guitar.
Anyone that’s a regular visitor to these pages will be very familiar with Scottish singer James Yorkston. For his 2021 album The Wide Wide River, Yorkston collaborated with The Second Hand Orchestra, a Swedish collective led by Karl-Jonas Winqvist that includes Peter Morén from Peter, Bjorn and John, nyckelharpa player Cecilia Österholm. This year, they were reunited again on The Great White Sea Eagle, and they were also joined by Swedish vocalist Nina Persson, perhaps best known as the singer with 90s indie-poppers The Cardigans. It’s great to see them joining the lineup at Cambridge. In his review of the album, Thomas Blake concludes, “While The Great White Sea Eagle shares much with Yorkston’s previous album, it somehow manages to hit harder on an emotional and visceral level. This may be in part down to Persson’s involvement or Yorkston’s constant evolution and maturation as a songwriter. A new Yorkston album is always a bracing experience, this one more so than most. It’s the musical equivalent of standing in an abandoned cottage, its doors open to the elements, as the benevolent and curious ghosts of ancient birds offer advice from the rafters.” This is a festival slot I wouldn’t want to miss.
There are a fair few fellow Scots in the first lineup announcement –
The Isle of Skye’s Niteworks have forged a blazing path when it comes to folk-electronica. Their latest album, A’ Ghrian, provided plenty of evidence of how deep and wide their roots truly are as they called on a series of special guests to add to their exhilarating sound. This included stunning guest vocals from long-time collaborators Sian (Eilidh Cormack, Ceitlin Lilidh and Ellen MacDonald), including a solo vocal from Ellen. The inimitable tones of celebrated Scottish singers Kathleen MacInnes, Beth Malcolm, Alasdair Whyte and Hannah Rarity (see below). Also featured are Fiona MacAskill, Aileen Reid and Laura Wilkie of Kinnaris Quintet alongside Susan Appelbe on strings. There’s even an all-star backing choir of Pedro Cameron (Man of the Minch), Deirdre Graham, Donald Macdonald (The Islands), Seonaidh MacIntyre (Trail West), Robert Robertson (Tide Lines) and Sian on Thèid mi lem Dheòin Feat. Alasdair Whyte.
Cambridge have also booked Scotland’s indie folkers Elephant Sessions which is sure to keep things nice and lively if their latest album For the Night is anything to by. Peter Shaw concluded his review by describing it as a “unique, vibrant musical mash-up of funk, trad and electronica. A captivating brew from start to finish.” Here they are performing at Glasgow’s Barrowlands last year:
Scotland’s Breabach recently delivered another thoroughly satisfying album in the form of Fàs (reviewed here by Johnny Whalley) which saw them introducing significant new elements to their music while never losing sight of their roots. Johnny called it “a fascinating blend of familiarity and innovation.”
Scottish singer Siobhan Miller will also be there with her band. I love how Siobhan has followed her heart regarding her music, which has been rewarded with multiple Best Singer awards at the Scots Trad Music Awards. Her 2018 Mercury album was highly praised by Folk Radio – it was the first of Siobhan’s albums to feature all her own songs and Neil McFadyen summarised it perfectly when he said: Mercury has a clear, vibrant sound that holds a wide appeal; a rich and perfectly balanced blend of traditional and contemporary sounds. It could be said that Siobhan Miller has found a winning formula with her music, but that would be doing her a disservice. There’s nothing formulaic about Siobhan’s music; it’s as natural and honest as any album that finds a contemporary voice for traditional roots. Mercury builds on the strength of its two thoroughly impressive predecessors, in an album of outstanding quality that delights with its music, and enthrals with its song. Her 2020 album All Is Not Forgotten found a perfect antidote for those unsettled times while the spark and spontaneity of her latest album Bloom seemed to win her new fans.
Also from Scotland comes Ross Wilson aka Blue Rose Code whose 2020 album With Healings Of The Deepest Kind. To quote from Paul Woodgate’s Folk Radio review: “His new album, the first since 2017s ‘The Water of Leith’ bears all the signs of having been made through necessity, from the clue in the title to the naked, sometimes brutally introspective honesty of the lyrics. Thomas Blake, writing about Blue Rose Code’s debut ‘North Ten’ on this very site in 2013, alluded to how Ross’s pain was held at a distance. Seven years later, another four studio long-players and what must feel like several lifetimes later, that pain is clutched tightly enough that we feel every wound as if it was inflicted yesterday. Hard-won experience and bottom-of-the-barrel despair are just a key change away throughout the album, though if that sounds a little on the maudlin side, fear not, there’s plenty here to raise the spirits too. In fact, this is a largely positive offering.” He concludes: “Every new album has been a progression from the last, and ‘With Healings…’ is no different. It should be on everybody’s end-of-year list without fail.”
As well as those above, also performing are:
Protest folk singer, LGBTQ+ activist, Grace Petrie whose last album ‘Connectivity’ offered crowd-friendly, hook-laden, anthemic singalong choruses of folk-rock and country-tinged songs about love and life.
Scotland’s sing-along crowd-pleasers The Proclaimers. American actor and Americana singer Kiefer Sutherland.
Despite a 2017 farewell tour, Indie folkers Stornoway return once again
The Wainwright family has a long history with Cambridge Folk Festival and this year Rufus Wainwright headlines. He has released a number of live albums in recent years from the symphonic to a celebration of Judy Garland although his last proper album, Unfollow the Rules (his tenth), marked his return to pop.
Bristol’s The Longest Johns and Cornwall’s Fisherman’s Friends will fulfil your every shanty need. While Scottish/Egyptian instrumentalists and composers The Ayoub Sisters will provide a taste of the classical – their debut album topped the Official Classical Charts.
On the last weekend of July, as they have every year since 1965, when an enlightened city council decided that Cambridge – like Newport, Rhode Island – would have a folk festival, thousands of people trekked to Cherry Hinton to enjoy what is now Britain’s premier folk event. One of the biggest in Europe and celebrated throughout the world, Cambridge is a calendar fixture and its return after the inevitable Covid absence was clearly very welcome.
Some 1,400 people came to that first festival, which featured the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Shirley Collins, Bob Davenport, Peggy Seeger, Hedy West, Isla Cameron, the Watersons and Paul Simon, a late addition to the bill. Now around ten times that number gather in the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall, drawn this year by a rich and diverse programme that brought together performers from around the world, newbies and established artists, festival debuts and returnees, soloists and bands, each of whom find a place on one of the two big-tent stages, or in the Hub or the Den. It was in the Den that Angeline Morrison made her Cambridge debut, telling stories about brown people in folk music and singing to autoharp and Appalachian dulcimer. Remember her name.
The music-making spills out into the vast campsites, and of course there’s singing workshops and much besides (knitting, for example) at this vast family-friendly festival. It’s also possible to buy an exquisite hand-crafted guitar or fiddle. While many people are constantly on the move, checking out events hither and yon, many more – perhaps the majority – settle themselves for the long weekend on folding chairs and rugs, reading the papers, doing a crossword, or snoozing in the sun as they watch Stage 1 on the big screen, stirring themselves only to recharge their glasses or partake of some high-quality festival food – or, of course, for a comfort break. Everything these days is thankfully more sophisticated but there’s no escaping the lines!
By early evening Friday, everyone was happily ensconced, many having enjoyed the traditional sounds of the Copper Family earlier in the day, or those perennial festival crowd-pleasers, Show of Hands, who popped up across the site throughout the weekend. But Friday belonged to Suzanne Vega, part of New York’s so-called Fast Folk movement in the 1980s . She and guitarist Gerry Leonard played an hour-long set that featured new and old songs, including the hits “Marlene On the Wall” (the top hat was in evidence, of course), “Luka”, her extraordinary song about child abuse, and “Tom’s Diner”. Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side” also got an outing – it was a 1979 concert by Reed that helped Vega find her voice and the two played a special concert in Prague for Vaclav Havel, Joan Baez and soprano Renee Fleming completing that extraordinary line-up.
Seasick Steve – his long white beard threatening to tangle in his guitar strings – ploughed his unique furrow, previewing tracks from his forthcoming album Only On Vinyl: “That’s its title and that’s how it is. You have to go to the record store.” Sadly “events” have delayed pressing and shipping and for Seasick Steve and others we will have to wait. Not good for artists who badly need to boost their post-Covid revenue in the merch tent.
On Saturday, the sweet harmonies of Roswell were among the day’s gentle reveille in the Club Tent while, on the main stage, Welsh band VRi provided a more energetic awakening. They were followed by The Young ‘Uns, a very splendid trio from County Durham who mix sea shanties, narrative ballads, and topical songs – great harmonies and a big and exhilarating sound that, without looking, suggested a choir. They also had terrific stage presence. “Dark Water”, Sean Cooney’s song about the journey of Syrian refugee Hesham Modamani, was a highlight – sad, profound, beautifully sung. “The Day We Drank the Nazis Out of Town” was a witty and clever crowd-pleaser.
This Is the Kit’s jazz-folk fusion was not a success, though perhaps the problem lay in the sound. Spell Songs, something of a folk supergroup drawing on some very skilled instrumentalists, made an altogether more beautiful noise with their settings of Robert Macfarlane’s words. They were joined onstage by “our glorious leader”, Jackie Morris, the illustrator who worked with Macfarlane. The whole thing, nature at its heart, was perfect for Cambridge.
They were followed by Afro Celt Sound System , who’ve been creating world music for three decades now. The combination of bodhran and African drum, and the sheer energy and exuberance captivated everyone. However many Otter beers you’d downed, such a hi-octane performance was impossible to sleep through. Passenger, aka Michael David Rosenberg, received a big welcome and he certainly knows how to work a crowd. I’m just not sure I understand his success. Then again, there are many singer-songwriters who seem pretty unremarkable yet who still find a place on the stage.
Sunday afternoon was another exercise in contrasts: On the one hand Sam Lee’s studious research and masterly singing, complete with quarter tones and tasteful portamento. On the other, in-your-face Billy Bragg (pictured above), demanding the audience cheer the Lionesses and sing “Jerusalem” in their honour while rapping about transgender rights, anti-maskers (“We have to think about the common good”) and unions. The Tory-bashing went down well, of course, and it’s always comforting to be among like-minds – but we’re still awaiting “the great leap forward” and right now, as the Union fragments, appeals to English patriotism feel very uncomfortable, even though Bragg’s vision is a wholly benign one.
The Gipsy Kings, whose own roots are no less political, were a welcome release and, long before “Bamboleo”, midway through their set, the audience was clapping and dancing – a little girl in front of me in her flamenco-style dress, much to the delight of those around her. Rumba-flamenco is endlessly infectious, the big sound of those unison rhythm guitars and Tonino Baliardo’s lead, the compás and clapping, the grainy, inflected vocals of Nicolas Reyes (pictured above) – no matter that, like the blues they are mostly sad – are irresistible. So too their arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Beyond he scores of acts, Cambridge is about the power of community, albeit one which still attracts a very white audience. It is gentle, kindly, eco and unflash and while the flower-bedecked hats and long straggly beards can seem somewhat de trop, folkies are a welcoming and well-meaning bunch. Cambridge is a reminder of a kinder gentler time and, just for a weekend, we all returned to it.
The Cambridge Folk Festival at Home 2020 will be a celebration of all things Cambridge that you can enjoy from your garden or living room.
It’s the next best thing to the popular annual Folk Festival event, which was sadly cancelled because of the pandemic.
Taking place over the festival weekend, 30 July-2 August, it will feature exclusive video content from artists, talks and workshops, Cambridge-curated playlists, and plenty of ways to join in on social media.
BBC Folk Singer of the Year Bella Hardywill lead a virtual choir workshop on Saturday 11 July, teaching you to sing The Parting Glass in three-part harmony. You’ll then have the opportunity to make a video of yourself singing and be included in the Virtual Choir, which will debut over the Festival weekend! Find more details about how you can participate HERE.
A highlight of the weekend will be the Songlines Interview, featuring Songlines Magazine editor Jo Frost in conversation with Fatoumata Diawara, which will be available to watch on Facebook.
Further talks and workshops will include a talk about environmentalism from folk singer Sam Lee, a storytelling workshop with Alex Ultradish, a movement workshop created by The Sisters of Elva Hill choreographer Debbie Norris, yoga sessions for you to join, and more.