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19 août 2008

Imagine there's a village...

By Stuart Thompson, Dewsbury reporter Published Date: 05 August 2008

Cambridge Folk Festival 2008

Martha Wainwright clearly isn't up to speed with the right apparel for a folk festival. Instead of the seemingly ubiquitous open-toed sandals, boots or flowered wellies beloved of just about everyone – on or off-stage – at the 44th Cambridge festival, she's opted for a fetching pair of silver stack slingbacks allied to garish pink stockings.

Of course, the crowd loves her dress sense – and loves too her splendid set which showcases her melodically memorable, and rockier than anticipated, songs. Strikingly beautiful was her cover of Pink Floyd's See Emily Play extra touching for the fact that its late composer, Syd Barrett, lived for many years as a recluse a mile from the festival site. Wainwright's Saturday night spot was just one of the highlights at an event whose line-up this year arguably bordered on the conservative, but was ultimately no less successful for that.

'Legendary' is a much over-used term in contemporary music, but it begs to be applied to New Orleans's Allen Toussaint. In a career of over 50 years as performer, producer and songwriter he has worked with just about everyone, and his languorous piano work shines on his own compositions, including a splendid 'Brickyard Blues', a song which should have helped to make a superstar of the great Frankie Miller in the mid-70s, but somehow didn't.

Saturday also saw excellent sets from American bluesman Eric Bibb, Canada's k.d. lang and, most impressively, from The Imagined Village, a multi-media project featuring, among many others, Billy Bragg, Martin and Eliza Carthy, and dhol drummer Johnny Kalsi. It's a celebration of the multi-ethnic pot-pourri that is contemporary English roots music, and it works – gloriously.

After 25 years, you know exactly what you're getting from Billy Bragg, but his solo spot still enthuses a crowd more than willing to accept his personal brand of power-pop polemic and humour, while on the Friday his Imagined Village cohort Eliza Carthy showed why she has been at the top of the English folk tree for well over a decade.

Also beloved of the Cambridge audience is flautist and piper Michael McGoldrick, who has appeared here over the years in countless bands. Now leading his own group, it's their superb playing which helps McGoldrick to truly soar into the 'world class' category.

Flying the flag for the southern hemisphere were Australia's The Waifs, the unexpected hit of this event in 2003 and back this year to show they have lost none of their winning ways with top tunes, beautifully played and sung.

Among the other stand-outs were Quebec's Mauvais Sort, a four-piece whose accordion-driven songs prove highly infectious, Dublin's Kila, who succeed in melding all sorts of world music influences into a glorious, danceable whole, and the quirkily memorable 6 Day Riot, a young band clearly going places.

Add on Sunday sets from the evergreen Joan Armatrading and Sheffield songster Richard Hawley, and it's clear that Cambridge is still getting it well and truly right.

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