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Highlights from the Cambridge Folk Festival 2022

I go to the Cambridge Folk Festival every year with my dad, uncles, and various other family and friends. It's been cancelled for two years on the bounce due to the pandemic, and it was an absolute joy to return this year! I got back yesterday, and wanted to share a few musical finds with my fellow Tilderen :)

Afro Celt Sound System

These guys put on an absolutely fantastic live show. It's a great fusion of African, Celtic, and electronic music, although leaning more into the Celtic and electronic sides of things if truth be told. There were a lot of very cool percussion elements, and each performer took a brilliant solo. Fully enjoyable, although potentially better live than in recording. Have a listen to When You're Falling.

Show of Hands

Much more what you might think of when someone says "folk music," Show of Hands did two stunning sets. They're normally a three-piece, but their third member wasn't present for the festival. Even as a duo, they sang a load of incredibly heartfelt music, with wonderful harmonies and great stories. Have a listen to Roots and Cousin Jack.

Julie Fowlis

Julie did the soundtrack for the Pixar movie Brave, and while she didn't perform any of the tracks from the film in her set at the festival, she was still a really engaging performer, singing in Gaelic and playing some incredibly cool whistle and bagpipe tunes. Hùg Air A' Bhonaid Mhòir is worth listening to to get a feel for what she does.

Spiers and Boden

My daughter described these two as "giants of folk," a description which she may have stolen from the festival programme, but is very accurate all the same. The two founding members of the iconic modern folk band Bellowhead, their two-piece performance is as high energy and exciting as a Bellowhead live show. Old Maui is a great ear-worm, and Rochdale Coconut Dance is one of my favourite traditional tunes. I attended a tunes workshop with John Spiers (the melodion player) and picked up a couple of fun new tunes as well.

Chico Trujillo

My best friend and I danced for an hour straight to this set. Absolute 10/10 party music. They're a Chilean cumbia band drawing on all sorts of South American influences, as well as sprinklings reggae, ska, and punk. They're incredibly high energy, and definitely one to see live if you can. I didn't catch the names of any of their songs (they just played for an hour straight, and didn't waste any time chatting to the audience!), but have a skim through this live video to get an idea of just how excellent they are. My highlight of the weekend for sure.

The Young'Uns

I've seen these guys perform a couple of times before, and am always blown away by them. They were doing sea shanties before TikTok discovered their joys, and have absolutely top notch stage banter. One of their number is blind, but no less talented a pianist for it. Their vocal harmonies are crisp and clear, and all of the songs have a rich story to go with them. When I'm Cleaning Windows is a top tier parody, but also check out Tom Payne's Bones and Be The Man for some of their more serious stuff.

Elephant Sessions

All the way from the Scottish highlands, I only caught a couple of the songs from their set (my daughter wanted to see Passenger who was on at the same time), but they're astonishingly good. Real foot-stomping stuff. They play their tunes almost aggressively, and have an incredible light show to match. Sadly another band that aren't quite as exciting in recording as they are live. But check out Search Party all the same.

The Spooky Men's Chorale

They are men. They are a group. But They Are Not a Men's Group. Hailing from Australia and wearing an array of hats, they sing a mixture of silly songs and beautiful Georgian chants. More excellent harmonies, and a wonderful stage presence, they wowed particularly with Crossing the Bar and a pair of Ukranian traditional songs which I sadly cannot find links to.

The Trials of Cato

I'm still undecided on these guys. I was very excited to see them, but felt their set lacked a bit of energy (penultimate slot on the last day of the festival is always tricky, I suppose!). They have a new singer, and I'm not a huge fan of her singing voice either. With all that said, they had a whacking great sound, and added some fabulous electronic elements to their set. Fortunately, I think their recordings do do them justice, so give Difrrwch, Tom Paine's Bones, and Gloria your attention!