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Cambridge folk festival 2001

David Granville and Derek Kotz report on some of the old favourites and new talent on show at this year's Cambridge folk festival

It was very, very hot at this year's Cambridge folk festival -- and the weather was stunning too.

As is to be expected for one of the country's premier folk, blues and roots events, music with a Celtic flavour was much in evidence.

Undoubtedly the best combination of progressive politics and music on display was provided by Scotsman Brian McNeil -- though English folk legend John Tams must go down as very close second.

A founder member of the Battlefield band and Scottish folk supergroup Clan Alba, McNeil kicked off with an a cappella version of Join the Union, a rousing song extolling the necessity of working-class organisation.

Displaying multi-instrumental virtuosity on fiddle, guitars and bouzouki, McNeil's finely-crafted songs take no prisoners.

No Gods and Precious Few Heroes will have left no one in any doubt as to his low opinion of 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie and romantic nationalism.

However, the highlight was the powerful anti-racist song Any Mick'll Do. Inspired by miscarriages of justice, and specifically the cases of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, McNeil castigates all forms of racism and "...the sheer bloody gall of a system that never thinks twice about furthering a grudge with a jury and a judge".

Switching effortlessly between accordion and fiddle, Sharon Shannon, accompanied by The Woodchoppers, treated the crowd to an upbeat set of Irish reels, jigs and traditional songs -- with a tune by Galician piper Carlos Núñez thrown in for good measure.

Her upbeat set was a splendid exposition of why traditional Irish music is now so popular throughout the world.

In a different vein, Belfast singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy won over any doubters with his soulful treatment of traditional and non-traditional songs alike.

His performance, which featured several of his best-known songs, including Put the Message in a Box and a version of The Wild Mountain Thyme, proved a definite crowd-pleaser.

The contemporary traditional feel was kept up by Mancunian Irishman Michael McGoldrick and his eleven-piece band, for whom the accolade "one of the hottest properties around" (Irish Music magazine), is not a PR puff.

While firmly rooted in traditional Irish music, the band successfully manage to produce delightful jazz-tinged folk, solidly based on fine tunes, collective understanding and awesome musicianship.

For Belfast-born guitarist, songwriter and composer Colin Reid, the festival was an opportunity to confirm his reputation as a musician of outstanding talent. He let no one down.

However, any attempt to slot Reid into a specific musical category is futile. A true original, his music includes elements of jazz, classical, gypsy, folk, blues and even pop.

Accompanied throughout by Neil Martin (cello) and Oleg Ponomarev (violin), Reid set included a number of instrumental compositions, such as Rocket, from his most recent album., Tilt.

Scottish band Capercaille, undoubtedly pleased their many fans at Cambridge, though as a band, rather than as individual musicians, they leave these reviewer cold.

Among Cambridge debutees, Cork-based North Cregg and Cara Dillon, from Dungiven in Co. Derry, both look destined for greater things.

North Cregg successfully fuse traditional Irish dance music -- in particular that of the Sliabh Luachra region of Cork and Kerry -- with music from Scotland, Shetland, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

Their enthusiasm and musical skill, ably demonstrated on material ranging from polkas and jigs to a rendition of the English the traditional English folk song Lord Franklin and the fine songs of guitarist John Neville, won them many new admirers.

Much the same can be said of Cara Dillon's showcase performance in the Club Tent. Although catching only a part of the set, this was long enough to realise that she has the voice of an angel and it won't be any surprise to see her elevated to the main stage at next year's festival.

As if to prove that folk festivals these days are not dominated by chunky hand-knitted sweaters and singers with a finger in their ear, Skye's Peatbog Faeries roared into town with their exciting mix of traditional tunes overlaid with modern electric dance music.

Featuring electric keyboard, synthesiser, twin fiddles, electric bass, guitar, drums and Scottish pipes/whistle, the band make a foot-stamping success of their particular version the 'crossover' genre.

Likewise, Cape Breton-based band Sláinte Mhath demonstrated their suitability as the festival's closing act with another rollicking set of traditional and contemporary dance tunes, this time interspersed with funk and soul rhythms, all of which had the crowd dancing joyously from the off.

In short, there was something for everyone -- and that's before you even got to the blues, gospel, bluegrass and quality pop acts which also grace this most inspiring of publicly-run summer festivals.

October/November 2001

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This document was last modified by Mick Carty on 2002-10-02 14:48:25.
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