CAMBRIDGE CITY ROOTS FESTIVAL – Various artists/venues, 22 February – 6 March 2018

Cambridge City Roots Festival
Matt Hammond photographed by Su O’Brien

The City Roots Festival shakes open its umbrella (and hauls on its snow boots) for a second year of folk and roots events. As before, a loose collection of venues and artists are brought under the festival banner, from the already-scheduled to the specially commissioned.

New this year is an extended, two-week timespan. With something happening just about every evening and a few of the daytimes too, is there enough to keep fans busy? Well, it is hard to imagine it being a destination for the whole festival fortnight. But for those within travelling distance (admittedly a pretty wide area) – or those who don’t enjoy the whole festival experience – coming along to individual events seems to work well enough. The potential downside of this is that it tends to favour bigger names who might be touring here anyway. The challenge remains, as ever, to expose upcoming acts to wider audiences.

Inevitably, it’s also harder to keep up continuity across a multi-venue, multiple day festival. Branding is generally more visible this year, which is a definite plus. Some of the artists, though, seem barely aware that they are part of the festival – at least they don’t mention it. In fact, one act, busy lamenting a lack of inclusion (so far) in the summer Cambridge Folk Festival schedule, seems blissfully unaware that they are part of the winter one!

Last year’s closing acts, Sona Jobarteh and Muntu Valdo open the festival this time, bringing welcome African warmth. Haitian voudou from Chouk Bwa Libète goes head to head with a live interview at the University Union with Wilko Johnson. Other acts featuring in the main line-up include Megson, Tom Robinson, Rich Hall, Wildwood Kin and Ward Thomas. As with traditional festivals, there are overlaps, forcing a decision about which act to see!

Although headline acts have been flagged up for some time, a lot more, smaller, ‘fringe’ gigs are still being announced right up to the last minute. This means keeping in constant contact with the website is essential, to pick up on late changes. A lot of the smaller events are admirably free of charge too, cementing the impression of a confident local music-making community.

A family fun day at the Guildhall hosts live acts, children’s activities and a well-attended ukulele workshop. It’s heartening to see so many youngsters taking up their brightly coloured ukes. The downside is that they missed out on a superbly intimate follow-up gig by Muntu Valdo in the hall next door.

In this vast space, his tiny colourfully-dressed figure is surrounded by pedals, coaxing unexpected sounds from his guitars and building up intricate loops. He delivers an impeccable slide blues with an unmistakeably African slant – oh, and he plays a mean harmonica, too. It’s like watching Jimi Hendrix play a Sunday afternoon tea dance: thrilling and strange. As the sun streams in through the civic stained glass, it’s tempting to run out and drag the shoppers in from the streets outside to make them listen to this highly original talent.

Barbara Wibbelmann delivers some fine a capella Gaelic songs and finishes, accompanied by Quentin Rea on guitar, with a delightful ‘La Vie En Rose’. Martin Baxter’s Alternative Arrangements lend some mid-afternoon Americana as well as an upbeat ‘John Barleycorn’. The miles of empty space between seating and stage finally makes sense as ceilidh band Frog On A Bike whip up the dancers to wrap up the afternoon.

Buskers too, are apparently abroad on this cold and sunny day but, despite several slogs around town, they remain stubbornly invisible. Only stalwart singer-songwriter Matt Hammond can be found chilling his fingers, engaging passers-by with his percussive guitar style and promoting his new single, ‘Skylines’.

One of the hazards of a winter festival is always going to be inclement weather and, as with most of the rest of the country, the big hit of snow takes its toll on players and audiences alike. Still with a few line-up tweaks, it seems that all the shows go ahead, which is very impressive.

Following an afternoon masterclass in Miller’s Music shop, CC Smugglers (currently crowdfunding their new album), squash themselves into a tiny corner of the 1815 bar on a snowy evening. Playing a relaxed, mainly acoustic set, this cheery crew deliver their own bluesy, skiffly songs with some great join-in choruses, alongside lounge standards. The keyboard player in particular brings a distinct jazz style to the set, as a small crowd of Lindy Hoppers push back the chairs to whirl around the floor.

SJ Mortimer (now also performing with Morganway) And Her Flying Pigs bring lashings of country, the monthly New Routes night at the Junction features several Americana artists, and traditional music goes on in pubs and clubs across the city. Even the serious business of making a living is once again the subject of a workshop day to encourage musicians to focus further than the next creative impulse.

With such diversity of music to choose from, with venues from snug to cavernous, seated or standing, the organisers have plainly tried to cater for many tastes within the broad spectrum of folk and roots. There is something for everyone here and, as well as the national/international artists, it’s a valuable reminder of what incredible home-grow talents exist across the Eastern region at the moment. See you in 2019!

Su O’Brien

Festival website:


She doesn’t seem amused.

Cambridge City Roots Festival – the line-up

Cambridge City

The spirit of the world-famous Cambridge Folk Festival will inject the city with winter cheer in February and March, when Cambridge’s second city-wide winter folk and roots festival opens for two weeks of exceptional music and events.

An all-encompassing Corn Exchange line-up includes: the soaring, Gambian sun-drenched chords of stunning Kora virtuoso and opening Festival headliner, Sona Jobarteh performing alongside Cameroon’s blues and jazz artist Muntu Valdo; the Americana-tinged sound of Wildwood Kin – crowned this year as legendary broadcaster Bob Harris’s ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ –  supporting Cambridge Folk Festival summer headliner, Ward Thomas; award-winning comic Rich Hall performing Hoedown – a withering dissection of Trump’s America which finishes as a celebration of Americana with stand-up, improvised ballads, and amazing musicianship…’Blissfully funny’ (The Guardian) and Cambridge born Tom Robinson with the 2-4-6-8 Motorway 40th Anniversary show. Tom is one of the founding team for BBC Radio 6, where he hosts three shows a week and has become known as a champion of new emerging artists via BBC Introducing.

At Cambridge Junction, an array of City Roots music is on offer: Chouk Bwa Libète bring drums, poetry and trance from Haiti’s vodou heartland; BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards winners Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys rediscover and renew the music of Sam’s gaelic heritage, transcending boundaries of trad and popular music; Cambridge Folk Festival favourites and three of the world’s finest folk musicians, Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle set the stage alight playing material from their latest album, The Wishing Tree and legendary ex-Steeleye Span fiddle player, Peter Knight joins forces with John Spiers, one of the leading melodeon players of his generation for an unmissable gig. Cambridge Junction also presents a very special evening at St Barnabas Church featuring BBC 2 Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Megson.

Appearing at renowned city music venue, The Portland Arms will be folk festival Club Tent sensation, Darren Eedens & The Slim Pickin’s – whether they’re held spellbound by a poignant ballad or jumping up and down as one to a stomping groove, Darren’s command of an audience is absolute!

Following the success of last year’s Creative Roots, the festival’s valuable professional development day will be held at The Portland Arms. Music industry professionals will once again gather to offer a career development day of workshops, talks and sessions, offering gems of advice and a wealth of experience.

Drop-in music sessions around the city; a special City Roots Family Day with free attractions including craft workshops, face-painting, storytelling, Come And Try’ ukulele workshop and fun walkabout characters; plus what promises to be a sell-out City Roots highlight – a fascinating live interview, in association with the Cambridge Union Society, with charismatic Canvey Island rocker Wilko Johnson – and it’s safe to say City Roots will be one of the most anticipated events in Cambridge in 2018!

Festival website: click here

First names unveiled for Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2018

Shrewsbury Folk Festival

Shrewsbury Folk Festival has revealed the first acts in its 2018 line up as tickets go on sale for next year’s event.

American singer songwriter Gretchen Peters, Irish super group Usher’s Island, festival favourites Show of Hands and former Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden with his band The Remnant Kings will join Steeleye Span, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band, BBC Folk Award winner Daoirí Farrell and Scottish folk rockers Skerryvore at the festival next August.

Chinese flautist Guo Yue and Japanese drummer Joji Hirota will reunite for the festival with the London Taiko Drummers and one of the hit groups of the 2017 festival – Canadian band The Fitzgeralds – have been invited back due to popular demand.

Other performers already signed up include Welsh indie roots band Rusty Shackle, The Rails, State Of The Union – the duo of Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams, O’Hooley & Tidow, Megson, Blowzabella, Banter, Alden, Patterson & Dashwood, The Rogues Shanty Chorus, Emma Morton & The Graces, Midnight Skyracer, FOS Brothers, Inlay, and Foreign Affairs.

Dance bands will be Blowzabella, Bedlam, Committee Band, Vertical Expression, Kirkophany and Out of Hand.

The festival will take place at the West Mid Showground from August 24 to 27 with more artists to be revealed in 2018.

Director Sandra Surtees said: “The line up is shaping up to be as eclectic as ever with something for everyone. We pride ourselves on catering for a wide range of musical tastes from traditional folk music to more contemporary performers with some world music bringing a global element to the festival.

“There will be bands from all four corners of the UK, showcasing some of the best acts in today’s folk and acoustic scene, with some of the North American flavour for which the festival is renowned.

“We will be adding more great acts to our 2018 line up and will revealing more early next year.”

The festival is now one of the leading folk events in the UK with more than 7,000 people heading to Shrewsbury and has a reputation for its relaxed and friendly environment.

Sandra added: “Our committee works year round to plan and programme the festival, supported by an incredible army of 500 plus volunteers which creates the festival village each August.

“Shrewsbury has a reputation for its unique atmosphere and the majority of our visitors come back time and time again.”

The festival has four main music stages, a dance tent featuring ceilidhs, workshops and dance shows, children and youth festivals, more than 100 workshops, a craft fair, food village, real ale, prosecco and cocktail bars and on-site camping.

There are also fringe events at local pubs with dance displays across the town and a parade through the streets.

Weekend and day tickets are now on sale and can be booked at


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 17Having released their latest album, Good Times Will Come Again last year, MEGSON now lift the lead track, ‘Generation Rent’ (EDJ), as a single. A punchy protest against how today’s young generation find it impossible to get on to the property ladder, it comes as both album version and radio mix. Sandwiched in-between, there’s Morning Mist, a traditional-flavoured ballad that spotlights Debbie Hanna’s vocals, Stu providing harmony, set to a minimal acoustic guitar, and a live recording of Stu’s near six minute The Longshot, a football-themed song that celebrates striving against the odds rather than giving up, because when. there’s no hope, “ a longshot is better than none”.

Barbara DicksonAs a prelude to her spring tour with Troy Donockley BARBARA DICKSON releases an EP of Five Songs. The opening track is the traditional ‘Palace Grand’ – although it goes by several titles – accompanied initially by piano and acoustic guitar until the strings sweep in. Next is ‘Farewell To Fiunary’ starts with bodhran and drone building via multi-tracked vocals to a magnificent finish in which you can almost hear the creaking of oars on the Sound Of Mull. ‘The Hill’ is a Dickson/Donockley original with another lush arrangement while ‘The Laird Of The Dainty Dounby’ is an all-too familiar tale of the villainy of the aristocracy. Finally we have Robin Williamson’s ‘October Song’, a nicely thoughtful setting that honours the original and boasts a pipe solo from Donockley.

Singles Bar 17Born in Hampshire but based in East London, THOM ASHWORTH deals in the British folk tradition, his a stripped down approach played on bass. His self-released debut EP, Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture (available as a download from his website or as a limited edition CD) offers four examples of his work. Two traditional numbers load the front end with a sonorous reading of ‘Tyne Of Harrow’ and a moody drone-like treatment of familiar folk chestnut ‘Lord Bateman’. Not strictly traditional, the EP ends in striking style with a dark, minimal and spooked version of Sidney Carter’s ominous anti-war protest song ‘Crow On The Cradle’, the percussive heavy self-penned title track initially striking a kindred note, Named after a computer game apparently, it started out with a left over verse from a track on Interregum, the Marillion-like swansong album by Ashworth’s former band, Our Lost Infantry, and grew into a comment on how technology is taking away today’s livelihoods, as it did the weavers and miners before. A name to watch.

Whitney RoseWHITNEY ROSE may come from Canada, but her South Texas Suite (Six Shooter) EP celebrates her recent two month residency at Austin’s Continental Club with six songs of a Lone Star persuasion. It opens south of the border with the gorgeous Three Minute Love Affair, the sort of timeless Texicana ballad you could imagine either Marty Robbins or the Mavericks (Raul Malo produced 2016’s Heartbreak Of The Year album) doing. Four of the other tracks are also self-penned, ‘My Boots’ a playful twangy guitar Loretta Lynn-like tribute to her footwear, the steel-streaked ‘Bluebonnets For My Baby’ harking more to 60s doowop balladry, the reflective mid-tempo swayer ‘Looking Back On Luckenbach’ sounding pretty much as you might imagine from the title (Waylon’s spirit presumably hovering over the recording session) and the brief – and a touch pointless – guitars, steel, fiddle and honky tonk piano instrumental closer ‘How ‘Bout A Hand For The Band’,. The remaining number finds her in a laid back swing mood for a cover of Brennen Leigh’s ode to good old retro technology, ‘Analog’. She’s touring here in May and, on the evidence here, will be well worth catching.

Runaway HorseAnd while we’re musically in Austin, RUNAWAY HORSE are a trio from the same fronted by the breathily voiced Mari Tirsa, accompanied by guitarist Daniel Barrett with Rick Richards on drums. Their self-released five-track EP, Beautiful Blue, harks to cosmic Americana with songs rooted in the landscape her New Mexico raising. It’s all fairly sedate and dreamy (though closer ‘Arrive’ has a persistent percussive one foot marching beat underpinning its tinkling starry skies feel), with both opener Holy Water and the title having a gentle, hymnal quality. They’re a little bluesier on the five minute plus ‘The Well’ (the Fleetwood Mac to the Cowboy Junkies elsewhere) while the ticking rhythm of the slowly swelling ‘Once’ sees Tirsa stretching her keyboard wings to fine effect.

VARIOUS GUISES are the duo of Blanche Ellis and Maya McCourt and Tide Take Him marks their recording debut. They mix acapella vocals with guitar and cello and a little assistance from Tom Hyatt’s piano and vocalist Dana Immanuel. The title track is a reworking of ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ so that it’s no longer a shanty and instead is sung with a syncopated rhythm or slowed to a funereal pace. Tackling a song as hackneyed as this is always a risk but Various Guises really do something with it. With one more exception the songs are original ending with ‘The Sound And The Fury’ and the traditional ‘Bedlam Boys’ both of which are nicely nuts.

MEGSON – Good Times Will Come Again (EDJ Records EDJ021)

Good Times Will Come AgainFor the first time in the twelve years they’ve been making music together, Teeside husband and wife duo Stu and Debbie Hanna have, in response to fan demand, recorded an album of all original material, although, as you would imagine, these are, like previous self-penned numbers still influenced by the Tyneside folk tradition and sung in a distinctive regional accent. The songs that make up Good Times Will Come Again are not autobiographical, but rather a collection of observations of the life of your average working man and woman in contemporary Britain. As such, there’s plenty of political input as subjects span the plight of Teeside steelworkers (all the more pertinent in the light of the current Tata situation), refugees and zero-hour contracts.

The album kicks off with ‘Generation Rent’, a lively mandolin-driven number about the property ladder and how, with rising house prices and static wages, the younger generation is finding it increasingly hard to get a foot on the bottom rung, condemned to rent or live with their parents, even when they have families of their own. Yet even here, they find room for wit in the lines ‘on that glorious day my darling daughter comes to say I want to introduce gran to my fella. I say go down and tell her, she’s living in the cellar.’

The musical mood takes a more melancholic tone with ‘A Prayer For Hope’, a simple guitar strummed sketch of those risking their lives to cross oceans in search of a better life, the duo’s harmonies bearing testament to their early choir days. There’s an equally sorrowful air to the traditional colours of ‘The Bonny Lad’, a number inspired by the Northumbrian pipe and fiddle tune of the same name, as a mother lays to rest her son, another victim of ‘the worst of men and all they can destroy.’

Returning to their own backyard, featuring John Parker on double bass, ‘Burn Away’ is the first of two songs addressing the Teeside steel industry, a traditional flavoured, banjo-led snapshot of the daily routine in the steelwork furnaces in which you can almost feel the heat and taste the sweat, the line ‘the day there is no use for steel will be the day the world stops turning’ a prescient rallying cry to save the homegrown industry. Debbie also takes lead on the second of the two, ‘Patterns’, a gentle ballad laced with sorrowful fiddle inspired by last year’s closure of the Redcar steelworks sung in the voice of wife offering her support to a husband struggling to find work after being made redundant, but trying to keep up his family’s spirits by not showing his despair.

Unsurprisingly the effect of unemployment and poor wages on ordinary families plays a prominent part in the songs. Sawing fiddle drives the throbbing ‘Pushing On’, Stu taking lead on a song about families working all hours just to stay afloat and how “life is surely meant for living not just coping day by day”, while ‘Zero’ is a jaunty mandola and fiddle led morris-like counting song romp about being stuck with the uncertainty of a zero hours contract.

It’s not all so downbeat. Despite its mournful tune and the sparse guitar and fiddle accompaniment, ‘Rap’er Te Bank’, the lyrics derived from the industrial dialect of the 19th century Durham pit yards and the title from the cry miners would give for the cage to be sent down the shaft to bring them to the surface, is actually a love story about one of the pit workers and the lass he meets one July day. There’s love too in ‘The Bookkeeper’, a simple acoustic ballad with Patrick Duffin on percussion that tells of a Billingham bookkeeper’s undeclared love for the chief accountant’s clerk and features the uplifting chorus of “you can put a price on gold, on almost anything for I’ve been told, but the love that the true heart holds never can be sold”. Only when he learns she’s leaving does he summon up the courage to tell, her how he feels. Whether she returns his affections is never told, but given the album’s gospel country tinged duetted closing title track, Debbie on accordion, optimism rather than seems to be in the air. Of course, paying off your debts and every man and woman standing as equals may all be pipe dreams, but without hope what would be the point of getting out of bed. Megson know there are dark clouds in the sky, but they still set their alarm clock.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website:

‘Burn Away’ – official video:

Megson – new EP

Megson new EP live in the lounge

To celebrate their forthcoming tour Megson have released a “Pay What You Want” live compilation Megson – Live In The Lounge E.P. featuring songs from our In A Box, Longshot and On The Side albums… As the name suggests half of the EP is recorded live in their living room during the past summer, with the rest picked from live recordings over the years. Fans can pay whatever they want for the EP and is available from their BandCamp page at

Debbie and Stu say

We had a super busy summer of festivals but now its back to business! Our Autumn tour starts in 2 weeks and we’ll be traveling from Portsmouth to County Durham with plenty of dates in between…Full details at

Shows are selling out and we can’t wait to get back on the road…

‘Still I Love Him’ – official video: