The UK’s biggest annual celebration of folk music kicks off today, before the city’s favourite festival opens its gates to thousands of fiddle-loving folkies, Anna Millward catches up with Bev Burton who is the mastermind behind the line-up of this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival.
Let’s talk about Jon Boden. It is pretty cool that the former lead singer of Bellowhead is guest curator of the festival this year. What do you think of his chosen acts and how do they sit within your wider music programming choices?
I think he’s done a brilliant job, we started with quite a list and came out with some crackers, he’s done such a sterling job for us this year.
As usual you have an eclectic mix of British folk, Americana, country, bluegrass, indie folk rock and everything in between. For the uninitiated, who are your top five acts to watch out for?
Shirley Collins, just because she just a such a legend.
Loudon wainwright III
Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls.
Any hidden gems?
Hard-core folkies will be raving about the classic acts on offer this year – Martin Simpson, Loudon Wainwright, the Oysterband and Indigo Girls. But of all the trad folk artists of a certain generation, you must have been absolutely floored when one of folk music’s greats – Shirley Collins – re-appeared to perform her first record in 38 years?
I grew up listening to her and when I saw she was planning to come back out I was straight on the phone to her manager demanding we have her… well not demanding in a menacing way!
Younger audiences might not necessarily be familiar with the above (though they absolutely should be!). What does the folk festival offer for newbies? Where should they start?
I’m not a fan of ageist sectioning when it comes to music… music is personal, it’s emotive, it, for me, is a human chemical reaction when you hear something that sets you soul on fire! thus, music should NEVER be age, class or anything else specific, go see it all, immerse yourself!
Frank Turner is a festival favourite and he and his band The Sleeping Souls are always going to be a hit. What is it like welcoming back artists from previous years – is there a sense of ‘folk festival family?’
Yes there is, the festival is the wise old owl of the festival world, and we’ve built up quite a family over the year, our regular punters are fiercely loyal and we know they like to see some acts repeat booked regularly and especially those that have been ‘born’ here.
Can we talk about Mawkin. I love Mawkin. Mawkin are great. Aren’t Mawkin just great?
OK, calm down, no one likes a groupie! But yes, they are brillaint.
Lisa Hannigan and Cara Dillon are some of the better known contemporary female folk singers, but there are some real treats from the likes of Midnight Skyracer and Ward Thomas. Any rising female stars on the horizon we should look out for?
Yes, lots – Juanita Stein, Amythyst Kiah and were blown away by Amelia Coburn at this year’s Young Folk Awards, just amazing how talented she is.
The Den Stage is the epicentre of emerging young artists and has produced the likes of Jake Bugg over the years who is now headlining on the main stage. Who is on your list to watch out for this year?
Danni Nicholls, The Wandering Hearts…well all of them, its mighty fine bill of some of the finest new acts.
Rumour has it that the festival space has expanded to allow for more festival goers. What else is new this year and what is on offer beyond the main stages? Why do you think folk music and an annual celebration of all things folk is so important in this day and age?
Yes, the arena has been expanded for the first time this year so we could release more tickets so have already sold out last year’s capacity, which is great.
Folk, Americana, blues, country etc are super-hot right now, not just for the people that have been entrenched in the genres since they were in nappies but now a whole new generation are realising that folk acts are proper, bonifide ARTISTS that make the most beautiful and passionate music out there and not the middle of the road, beige bullshit that is being churned out by the mainstream music industry that’s feeding the oblivious folks out there. There is a massive imbalance in the industry and it’s our job to give these under represented genres and bands a platform. More needs to be done.