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

CAMBRIDGE CITY ROOTS FESTIVAL – Various artists and venues, 3-11 February 2017

City Roots Festival
Photographs by Su O’Brien

The 2017 inaugural City Roots Festival is kind of like an expansion pack for the Cambridge Folk Festival: a winter top-up with lots of bonus features. Aiming to expand the relationship between folk/roots music and the city, the Folk Festival organisers lined up a diverse roster of artists over one week at assorted venues across the city.

Home-grown talent Steven James Adams opened the week with his new band The French Drops, providing witty and lively songs with a conscience. Then there was a choice between Mary Chapin Carpenter (with Edale’s finest, Bella Hardy, in support) with her classic country-infused songs or the edgier sounds of Jim Moray.

A day of workshops on working in the music industry, hosted by Anglia Ruskin University’s music department, was considered, by one attendee at least, to have been very useful. The evening could be rounded off in the evening by some folk club sessions in the Cambridge University Union Bar, or at The Transatlantic Sessions, a melting pot of Celtic and Americana sounds. Or, like me, you might choose to take in an entertaining evening in the company of singer-songwriters Amy Wadge and Luke Jackson.

Replicating the Folk Festival’s “up & coming” stage, The Den, at local venue CB2, was a two-night showcase including Janet Devlin, SJ Mortimer, Honey and the Bear, Mortal Tides, Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer, and Kerry Devine.

The riotous Mad Dog McCrea returned as headliners, following their support slot for New Model Army just a few months ago. Noble Jacks, their support act, look like being a band worth watching, too. On a completely different tack, skilful guitar playing with a twist was provided by Paolo Angelli & Derek Gripper.

On the final day, the bitter sleet was braved by a staunch group of great musicians who’d rashly agreed to busk around the city, including five-piece band Morganway, Pat Crilly & Greg Camburn, Ben Smith & Jimmy Brewer (whose delicious harmonies almost made it feel like summertime: almost) and guitarist Matt Hammond. And these were just the ones I managed to see, so my apologies to those I missed out. Luckily, there was a warm welcome from the folk clubs inside the Union Bar, a place to retreat and thaw out red-raw fingers to play some fine indoor sets, too.

Sadly, the headliner for the closing night, Salif Keita cancelled due to illness, but Sona Jobarteh stepped up, with Muntu Valdo in support.

There is no question about the quality and diversity of the artists taking part, and Cambridge has the range of venue sizes to manage internationally renowned stars and breakthrough acts. Just a bit of housekeeping needs attention, if – as the organisers hope – this is to become an annual event. Several gigs had no visible City Roots branding at all, leaving a lack of any feeling of cohesion that an umbrella, multi-venue festival like this really needs. In established Cambridge tradition, laminated posters were cable-tied to railings around town and local press published articles, but details of updates to the schedule were often only sketchily available online, like the re-organisation of some of the final day activities. Attention to small details like these would make big improvements to the overall experience, but there’s no doubt that City Roots will be a welcome addition to the festival calendar.

Su O’Brien

Festival website: https://www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk