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In pictures: Music fans up and dancing on final day of Cambridge Folk Festival 2022



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The Cambridge Folk Festival 2022 drew to a close on Sunday (July 31) with the Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes and St Paul and the Broken Bones emphatically getting the audience up on their feet. This came after long-standing Irish band Clannad had played the event for the last time as part of their In a Lifetime Farewell Tour.

The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons
The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons

Arriving at Cherry Hinton Hall at around 3pm for the first Folk Festival since 2019, everything seemed reassuringly familiar. Walking past the packed Stage 2 tent, I heard the electronica-infused folk of Wales-based singer-songwriter, The Honest Poet - a reminder that the festival continues to welcome music from outside the traditional folk sound.

When it comes to country music, I’m all for tradition, but as far as folk music is concerned, I have to say I do like it when they push the boundaries. Keeps things interesting.

Cambridge Folk Festival 2022. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Cambridge Folk Festival 2022. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Cambridge Folk Festival 2022. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Cambridge Folk Festival 2022. Picture: Aaron Parsons

Anyway, making our way through the crowds - it certainly seemed as rammed as ever - we reached the main stage. After a short wait, the announcer welcomed N’famady Kouyaté to the stage, adding that the Cambridge Folk Festival has a proud tradition of showcasing world music acts, particularly from Africa.

N’famady Kouyaté. Picture: Aaron Parsons
N’famady Kouyaté. Picture: Aaron Parsons
N’famady Kouyaté. Picture: Aaron Parsons
N’famady Kouyaté. Picture: Aaron Parsons

Kouyaté, a young musician from Guinea who now lives in Cardiff, came out and introduced us to the balafon - a traditional wooden xylophone, sacred to West African culture.

He went on to demonstrate his mastery of said instrument, while backed by a solid band comprising a saxophonist, guitarist, bass player, drummer and keyboard player. The tent seemed to gradually fill up more as his set continued - his enthusiasm and skilled musicianship were infectious. Indeed, by the end, there were people clapping, dancing and jumping up and down - and some were doing all three.

Not all of the songs were ‘top-drawer’ but there were some groovy basslines and overall this was a pretty enjoyable first main-stage act for me at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2022. “Thank you for being such a wonderful audience,” said N’famady.

Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons

Next up, and slightly later than billed, came the legendary Clannad. It took a while for the technicians to get the sound right as we were unable to hear band member Pól Brennan speaking into the microphone at first (a cheer went up when we finally could), and then the sound of his flute. Fortunately, these problems were resolved.

Despite being a member short (guitarist Noel Duggan had tested positive for Covid), Moya, Ciarán and Pól Brennan turned in a soulful and memorable performance, ably assisted by a stand-in guitarist, keyboard player and drummer.

Newgrange, a song from 1983, was beautifully ethereal, highlighting the vocal talents of Moya in particular, while a newer song (from 2020), Celtic Dream, slotted in perfectly alongside the older material. The band got the crowd singing along on the jaunty Two Sisters.

Níl Sé'n Lá, a track from their very first, self-titled album, was a welcome addition but the moment I had been waiting for came when Ciarán Brennan recalled “writing songs for a TV series in the 80s called Robin of Sherwood”.

There followed a medley of three songs from it: Robin (The Hooded Man), Lady Marian, and Strange Land. Ahead of In a Lifetime, Moya explained that they had originally recorded the song with “a singer from Dublin, but he couldn’t be here today”. She was of course referring to Bono. However, the aforementioned guitar player stepped in to sing and did an admirable job.

Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Clannad. Picture: Aaron Parsons

It had been something of a dream come true for me to finally hear the Robin of Sherwood theme song performed by Clannad in person, and another of their most famous hits, also from a television series - Theme from Harry’s Game - was also given an airing.

“I wish I could say we’ll see you again,” said Pól Brennan at the end, a stark reminder that this will be the last time the band will ever grace the Cambridge Folk Festival (it was their fourth appearance at Cherry Hinton Hall).

Earlier he had joked that because of the pandemic it had seemed that their farewell tour had been going on for three years. “I promise it will be over by next year!” he said. Goodbye Clannad and thank you for the music and the memories.

Billy Bragg. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Billy Bragg. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Billy Bragg. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Billy Bragg. Picture: Aaron Parsons

After the soothing stylings of Clannad, Folk Festival favourite Billy Bragg, backed by two other musicians, offered up something completely different. One knows to expect social commentary and straightforward political opinions when attending a Billy Bragg gig (I’d seen him twice before, though never at the Cambridge Folk Festival) and so it proved.

I imagine the singer-songwriter-activist is well aware that he’s mainly among friends at the Cambridge Folk Festival and is, for the most part, basically preaching to the converted! Indeed, unsurprisingly, most of his political statements, such as the Tory leadership debates being the best incentive for Scottish independence, drew large-scale applause.

Addressing the trans issue, the musician said he recognises that it has a complicated relationship with women’s rights and suggested that male violence is the main threat to both. He noted that it’s easy for people of his age (Bragg is in his 60s) to say, “It’s nothing to do with me, mate” when talking about trans rights, adding, “What if we’d said that about Rock Against Racism?”

His song Mid-Century Modern sensitively addressed that very theme. He also spoke about subjects such as Covid, trade unions and climate change, and asked for updates on the Women’s Euro final, which was taking place at the same time, leading the crowd in a sing-along of the first verse of Jerusalem.

A short while later, a huge cheer went up during one of his songs, signalling that the match was over and that England had won. Bragg led another sing-along, this time of the second verse of Jerusalem. “I will never forget where I was when England’s women won the European Championship,” he announced.

Music-wise, there were some good tunes - pleasingly augmented at times by a pedal steel guitar, one of my very favourite instruments and a key element of traditional country music. Handyman Blues, Sexuality and Milkman of Human Kindness were probably the standouts for me.

Billy Bragg. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Billy Bragg. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Billy Bragg backstage at Cambridge Folk Festival. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Billy Bragg backstage at Cambridge Folk Festival. Picture: Aaron Parsons

Again, and highlighting the impressive variety of acts at this year’s festival, an act that couldn’t be further removed from angst-ridden English protest songs followed - the mighty Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes! Listening to political opinions is all very well, but personally when I go to a concert I want to sing and, if possible, dance!

And dance we did - and how - as the band, which included five acoustic guitarists (six when singer Reyes played), a bass player and a drummer ran through timeless classics, including Djobi Djoba, Baila Me, Bamboléo, and Volaré. A Spanish language take on Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah was a surprise inclusion and passionately sung by the crowd.

The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons
The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons
The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons
The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons

I have to say I preferred it when Reyes sang, as opposed to the instrumentals. I thought this may have been to give his voice a rest, but when he did sing his voice sounded amazing. The bandleader closed the set alone on stage with an a cappella version of A Mi Manera, the Spanish language version of My Way. “Vous êtes formidable!” declared the musician, addressing the crowd.

I did wonder whether the tent might empty a little after Billy Bragg, as I wasn’t sure whether the Gipsy Kings might be everyone’s cup of tea. It was definitely the fullest I’d seen it since I arrived, however, so it shows how wrong I was! Personally, I can’t remember ever dancing - and working up a sweat - as much as this while attending this particular annual event.

Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons
The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons
The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes. Picture: Aaron Parsons

And there was still more to come! The soulful swagger that Alabama collective St Paul and the Broken Bones have ensured that the energy level - and the dancing - continued. Again, not all of their songs hit the heights of early numbers like The Last Dance, but one could only stand back open-mouthed and marvel at singer Paul Janeway's stunning voice.

St Paul and the Broken Bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons
St Paul and the Broken Bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons
St Paul and the Broken bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons
St Paul and the Broken bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons
St Paul and the Broken bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons
St Paul and the Broken bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons
St Paul and the Broken bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons
St Paul and the Broken bones. Picture: Aaron Parsons

[Read more: Interview: Award-winning Cambridge folk singer Nick Hart]

Ahead of St Paul and the Broken Bones, the winner of this year’s Christian Raphael Prize (last year it was won by Nick Hart) was announced. It went to Angeline Morrison, who will be appearing at next year’s festival.

Angeline Morrison. Picture: Aaron Parsons
Angeline Morrison. Picture: Aaron Parsons

While we’re on that subject, my suggestions/wish-list for the main stage next year would be any of the following: David Crosby (long shot), Neil Young (another long shot), Alison Krauss & Union Station, Marty Stuart, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris. After this year’s fun and games, I for one will be looking forward to it!

For more on the Cambridge Folk Festival, go to cambridgelive.org.uk/folk-festival.



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