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Rag’n’Bone Man sets up Cambridge Club festival weekend thrills

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Rag’n’Bone Man sent the crowd wild as the Cambridge Club festival weekend got under way at Childerley Orchard on Friday evening.

Beverley Knight at Cambridge Club festival
Beverley Knight at Cambridge Club festival

Brighton’s biggest export was top of the bill for an evening which began with Queen of British soul Beverley Knight and ’70s styled pop, rock and soul creators Young Gun Silver Fox – and the return of funk and soul tastemaker Craig Charles with The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club bringing the scene’s greatest hits to the festival dance floor.

The music got under way at 5pm and by 7.30pm Beverley Knight appeared on-stage and her upbeat R’n’B provided a backdrop as the sun set and the fairground attractions at the Childerley Orchard site – accessed by shuttle bus from the giant car park that is Bourn Airfield – were at their busiest. Hits from her 14 Top 40 singles included Middle of Love, Gold, One More Try, and a great rendition of the Janis Joplin classic Take A Piece of My Heart which she sung with a lot of guts – she’s in great voice. Pity the same couldn’t be said of the audience, but then again your Cambridge audience can be hard to crack.

As someone who pays a lot of attention to between-songs banter – even more so since the live musical drought ushered in by Covid-19 – I found Beverley’s articulations optimistic enough. The intro to the final song – a beautiful a capella version of Everything’s Gonna Be All Right – showcased this.

All the fun of the fair at Cambridge Club festival
All the fun of the fair at Cambridge Club festival

“I have one message for you,” she told the swelling crowd of around 3,000 people. “No matter what’s going on, no matter how crazy it is, everything’s gonna be alright, do you believe me, it’s gonna be alright?”

The folks in the fields – bussed in on a bus filled with a bunch of other folks in masks, and obliged to provide evidence of a negative Covid test at the gate – didn’t seem fully convinced. Is everything gonna be alright? I dunno, but hearing the singers sing like a gospel choir into the night, it felt like maybe it would, at least for an hour or two.

And so it proved. Rag’n’Bone Man had a lot to do with that: since Human in 2016, Rag’n’Bone Man’s incredible voice has rendered audiences around the world awestruck. He’s a phenomenon, and the huge instrument that is his voice shifted the night’s entertainment up a gear or more. His distinctive and original material is matched by enthusiastic between-songs banter.

“Wow, this is amazing man,” says Rag’n’Bone Man (birth name Rory Charles Graham) after Fall In Love Again from his 2021 album, Life By Misadventure. “I don’t think we’ve done a festival in Cambridge before.... This is our last festival gig this year, so it ends with you guys. This is an old one, well it’s not that old, it’s from the first album.”

It’s a nice way to introduce Skin, after which Rory becomes unexpectedly intimate with the crowd.

Rag’n’Bone Man at Cambridge Club Festival. Pictures: Mike Scialom
Rag’n’Bone Man at Cambridge Club Festival. Pictures: Mike Scialom

“I said to my manager ‘I hope you don’t mind, I’m a bit nervous, I’d like a shot of tequila’, and he poured me about half a pint of tequila, so I don’t know what to do about that...”

The audience knew exactly what to do. “DOWN IT, DOWN IT” they chanted.

“Here we go then,” said Rory, having a swig. “Anything could happen now.”

After the next song he said: “Anyone want some tequila? I’ve had a bit too much now... I’ve been playing music for about ten years now, people know me from Human, but there’s a lot of songs from before that and sometimes I try and slip one in, and this one’s called Perfume.”

After Grace he said quasi-apologetically “I’ve got a lot of sad songs, I’m sorry” and launched into Talking To Myself. “This is my last ballad, I promise.”

That was Crossfire. By now Rag’n’Bone Man had properly asserted his legend and he seemed more relaxed – up to a point.

“My missus is over there,” he says. “She’s had a a couple of gins....”

Cambridge Club festival fire truck – the event is extremely well organised
Cambridge Club festival fire truck – the event is extremely well organised

Someone in the audience interrupts to ask him a question.

Rory replies: “Do I want a threesome? No thanks...”

It’s great to be at a festival again. Even the food offerings are appetising. There’s a platform not too far back from the stage which is called ‘The Best Seat in the House’. For a premium you can mount this platform and sit in the comfiest reclining seat I’ve ever sat in. I felt like a complete imposter for about ten minutes, then realised my mosh pit days are over and I’d always want this sort of creature comfort. But it does accelerate the Netflix-isation of live music. Is that good? If you think it is, you’ll love the glamping arrangements. Spoiler: luxury encampments available.

The three-day music extravaganza – centred around an ancient orchard – continues today with acoustic singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti’s soothing tones and mesmerising storytelling while dance-pop favourite Sophie Ellis-Bextor will step out of her Kitchen Disco for a blend of noughties anthems and up-tempo magic. Also on the bill is R’n’B and soul supremo Trevor Nelson, disco’s funkiest dance group Heatwave, and the enigmatic The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir. All-time favourites ABBA Disco Wonderland will keep crowds swaying long after the sun goes down at the inaugural ‘Party Time Continuum: After Dark’ stage.

Cambridge Club festival site map
Cambridge Club festival site map

Sunday will see a funky close to the festival, with Soul II Soul bringing their 80s dance and R&B sounds to the party whilst Shalamar ensure those attending have A Night To Remember. Sara Cox will take everyone on a trip down memory lane by holding the ultimate 80s disco, while Dancing In The Moonlight Toploader will deliver a special performance. Bringing the night to a close, blues band Heavy Soul and resident DJs Intergalactic Rhythm Society will take to the stage after dark to ensure that everyone at Childerley Orchard has an unforgettable end to a fun-filled weekend.

Festival managing director William Young said: “This festival has been two years in the making, and we are more excited than ever to share the magical experience that is the hallmark of The Cambridge Club. We are back bigger and better, ready to welcome our loyal fans and new audiences to a spectacular new venue with stellar artists, a diverse non-musical entertainment offering, and a brand-new theme that reflects our rootedness within the Cambridgeshire community. After a long period of uncertainty for everyone in the industry, this is a chance for us to get back to doing what we do best – creating an incredible arena for visitors to dance, disco, and discover.”

Day tickets (from £39.50) and VIP options are available. Details here.

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