Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2003 11:03 UK

Cambridge Folk fresh as ever

by Nic Rigby
BBC News Online

Julian Cope
One of the headline acts at the festival was Julian Cope

Cambridge Folk Festival celebrated its 39th birthday at the weekend.

As the festival approaches 40, are there any signs of a midlife crisis? Not a bit of it.

With its motto "Cool as Folk" displayed on T-shirts across the Cherry Hinton grounds, the festival is as eclectic and fresh as ever.

It is about five years since I last came to the festival, but apart from a major increase in the number of collapsible chairs, nothing much has changed.

It still has a great atmosphere, a great crowd and the Friday rain turning to glorious sunshine over Saturday and Sunday.

Apart from the headliner acts - this year Steve Earle, the Saw Doctors and Julian Cope - what has made Cambridge special to me is the number of fantastic acts I've "discovered" at the festival.

Cambridge Folk Festival
Thousands came to the festival at Cherry Hinton, Cambridge

This year the top band for me were The Waifs, an Australian band making their first major appearance in the UK on the back of their new album Up All Night.

They came on to the main stage just as I had finished eating two of the tastiest vegetable samosas I have had the pleasure to eat.

And their spicy, zesty singing and guitar playing matched the food perfectly.

The band is fronted by sisters Donna and Vikki Simpson and Josh Cunningham and all three sing and write their songs.

Simpson also plays a mean harmonica.

Speaking as someone who spent two years failing to learn the same instrument, I should hate her, but she made such a gorgeous sound, I had to forgive her.

The crowd loved every moment of their joyous performance.

The Waifs
The Waifs have had a huge amount of success in Australia

Another performer who raised the tempo and got the audience on their feet was steel guitarist Robert Randolph.

Playing with The Family Band he combined the sounds of his guitar heroes, such as Jimi Hendrix, with blues, funk and even hip-hop.

Seated at his steel guitar the music was so infectious and raucous that you knew the seat could not hold him and he was soon jumping around the stage.

Next came the Stomp Your Feet song which got parents and children alike jumping up and down.

"Wow, wow," he shouted to the audience and they replied in kind.

Eliza Carthy
Eliza Carthy also appeared at the folk festival

Later on, Moby took old blue tracks and updated them with a dance beat.

But it took Senegal band Orchestra Baobab on Sunday to get me on my feet - well, less dancing than stumbling with attitude.

The band included saxophones, guitars and great singing.

And as a bonus on the final night we also had folk heroes Fairport Convention appearing for the first time at the festival as a last minute replacement for Linda Thompson.

What more can we ask for?

Bring on next year's 40th anniversary celebrations.

In pictures: Cambridge Folk Festival
04 Aug 03 |  Photo Gallery
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