of the extraordinary success of the Cambridge Folk Festival over the past 39
years is based on its attachment to the most
liberal outlook on what can be passed off
as folk music but
the variety appeals hugely to thousands
festival-goers, who sit poised each May to
fire off their ticket applications before the Sold
Out notices go up.
will easily forget the energy and excitement
of two of this year's triumphs:
Carthy juggling fiddle and vocals to glorious
effect, and Quebec's La
Bottine Souriante racing through a muscular,
brassy set that owed no less to
jazz, rock and salsa than to the dance tunes of the Old World settlers. The
Canadians also caused the liveliest debate
of the weekend, sharply dividing onlookers
on whether Sandy Silva's percussive dance gyrations presented a new, even more
or a slightly tacky distraction. The
route to approval, I felt, involved looking beyond the frequent costume
changes and flailing limbs to see what she was doing with her feet.
their disparate ways, Silva and Carthy helped
to illustrate the growing female dominance
of these events.
Women have always seemed to have the edge as singers, if
only because men were allowed to get away with
mediocre-to-rotten voices provided they were
brilliant musicians or raconteurs.
folk is now awash with accomplished female fiddlers, squeezebox players and rounded
the festival site women were making
the running. The Waifs, sassy Australians
fronted by the Simpson sisters
and Donna, were instant crowd-pleasers, while Danu capped a rousing traditional
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh's searing delivery of Richard Thompson's Farewell,Farewell.
the instrumental mastery of John McCusker and Phil Cunningham was briefly overshadowed when Kate Rusby, once a TV soap extra, was handed a walk-on part and stunned a tentful
of people with
a solitary ballad, The Bold Privateer. From
the bittersweet tale of two comebacks came
Cambridge's other talking point.
Cash celebrated a strong recovery from
the temporary loss of her voice after childbirth, while poor
Linda Thompson was forced to withdraw altogether by a recurrence of
a different medical condition that previously
silenced her for almost 20