The Cambridge Folk Festival, and time in the archives too


On experiencing the 2018 Cambridge Folk Festival with a limited number of spoons, and hiding from the heatwave in an air-conditioned archive/library.

At the 2016 Cambridge Folk Festival two years ago, I made this video with a phone and a selfie stick.

It was slightly different this year because my music collective We. Are. Sound., which contains a large number of fans of the US folk band Darlingside (who were headlining) had organised to let us take over the vocals on one of their songs at an unannounced short set in one of the bars. It went something like this:

Those in the audience who were not part of our collective were pleasantly shocked and surprised to hear us all harmonising given that we’d not sung along with the few other tracks they had played. (We’d prepared for this and had sung it in a previous gig).

180805 Darlingside_2

Judging by the band’s reaction after they handed over to the audience after the first line, I think we did OK.

Following that, I slouched in a chair to listen to Kate Rusby and Eddie Reader and Friends.

…but unfortunately Reader didn’t sing the song that propelled her to Number 1 in the music charts in 1988. All together now: ***It’s got to beeeeyeeeeyeeeeyeeee….. Perrrrrrrrrrfect!***

The one artist who held the audience spellbound was Janis Ian

…and if the Folk Festival organisers and producers can do a deal, they’ll get a soundtrack to her song 1776 at the Folk Festival released online.

“…Because it could never happen here”

One woman and her guitar – who even had us all captivated with her monologues between songs. In particular the challenges of being in a same sex marriage in an era of Donald. [Standing on the US-CDN border: “The form says to state marital status – what should I put?” “Well, you’re married aren’t you?” “Well, over here I am, but fifteen metres over there, I’m not”]

Having to plan everything in advance in micro-detail

I can’t see myself ever having the health to manage a full festival anywhere. Hence only booking for this day. But it still meant having to think things through in a level of detail that most other people probably take for granted. This was the first year I took a chair with me because I knew I’d not cope on my feet all the time. That and feeling like a cheapskate borrowing other peoples as I did 2 years ago. As it turned out, the chair I bought and brought with me was used by others in and around my music collective, me crashed on someone else’s as we did a slow-motion merry-go-round picking up ice creams, beers and other things over the afternoon.

The sky did spoilt us at times though.

Organisers also opened a multi-tap water fountain on site given the heatwave. I sort of wonder how we all coped at previous festivals. I remember the 2004 festival being particularly warm and sunny with Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy headlining at an event that some more hardcore goers felt lacked ‘real’ folk music.

The band I’d like to have seen this year were First Aid Kit

…but the truth was I just didn’t have the stamina. That said, this year the music was incredibly loud – so loud that I could clearly hear Patti Smith banging out Because of the night from my bedroom window the night before Sunday’s fun and games.

Monday morning in the archives

I had the best sleep in ages – I hope this bodes well for when I have my wisdom teeth removed in 12 or so hours time from writing this. Impacted and one with more than deep roots, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but they want out.

Given the weather forecast, I chose to stay in the Cambridgeshire Collection all day – it took me about four hours to browse through six months of newspaper reports from 1936. Turns out local artist and author of St Trinians, the great Ronald Searle, had covered a previous heatwave in Cambridge.


From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, June 1936

You can find out more historical treasures in the collection on the 3rd Floor of Cambridge Central Library – or click here. I’m also hosting a group visit to the collection on Sat 11 August – see here for details. (I hope the worst effects of wisdom teeth removal will have worn off by then).

In part as a result of the heatwave, my broken laptop, the summer break from local democracy, and having a much clearer picture of the history of Cambridge the town compared to two years ago, I’ve increased the intensity of the research that I’m doing – this being the longest session I’ve managed thus far. Remember normally I can only function for a few hours a day.

One piece of [historical] bad news after another – it’s grinding

Because some headlines behind events from my GCSE in history in the mid-1990s read very very differently when you read the newspaper headline in an original newspaper of the day.

360307 Nazis occupy Rhineland headline CDN 1936

When I read through each front page minute-by-minute one after another, the sense I got was one of a government of the day absolutely floundering in the face of the aggression from the dictators. Not least because the one thing ministers knew, the people did not want another war – and the latter made sure MPs knew about it too.


This was one of many meetings in Cambridge at the time – remembering that in Cambridge at the 1935 general election, over 40% of voters had voted for the high profile pacifist Labour candidate Dr Alex Wood  in what was a safe Conservative seat at the time.

And remember that the writers and participants of the time did not know about the storm clouds ahead – though even as early as 1936 even the advertisers were predicting war.


From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, May 1936

Remember it’s not like you can go up to people and organisations and say:

“I don’t know why you’re doing all that now – World War 2 is going to break out in 1939!”

This also means remembering that it was hard for people to predict the technological advances even in the near future, as well as the social and cultural changes.

Cambridge town continues to progress

Even with the dark clouds looming in 1936, Cambridge still kept on progressing.

Motor traffic was becoming such a problem that we finally got a borough parking scheme.

360323 First Car Parking signs in Cambridge 1936

From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, March 1936

Below is the opening of Cambridge’s first animal clinic on Covent Garden off Mill Road – an address I walk past fairly regularly.

RSPCA Clinic Cambridge

From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, April 1936

Below – the approval of Cambridge Airport – which would also play a support role in the Second World War – and thus become a target for single plane raids hitting East Anglia.

360206 Cambridge Airport Approved

From the Cambridge Daily News, in the Cambs Collection, February 1936

Trying to differentiate between an item that’s an entry into a list of historical dates to one that is part of the story of our city

All of the above historical items were from a six month period in the Twentieth Century. Think of what the rest of the story of Cambridge the town holds.

Furthermore, the article on the funeral of Millicent Fawcett’s husband, Prof Henry Fawcett, who died in 1884 while Postmaster General always gets me thinking about historical ‘what ifs?’ For example if Prof Fawcett had been elected MP for Cambridge borough in 1863, and/or if he had lived for another 30 years instead of dying in his early 50s. Part of me likes to think we’d have got universal suffrage far earlier, and could have had the prospect of Eglantyne Jebb, MP for Cambridge in a 1910 general election. But Cambridge’s loss was the world’s gain.

Getting some old negatives developed.

These are thumbnail images I’ve created from a couple of stunning portrait photographs of the founder of Save the Children, Eglantyne Jebb.

These had been tucked away in the Cambridgeshire Collection where they hold the archives and stacks of undeveloped negatives that are waiting to be catalogued by the volunteers working their socks off on this. Note the list of photographers of times gone by here. Having recently discovered the existence of the card index and the archive of negatives, hopefully we’ll be able get some developed and put some on show.



One thought on “The Cambridge Folk Festival, and time in the archives too

  1. I totally endorse your remarks about the benefits to be had by visiting the Cambridgeshire Collection and reading through old newspapers. But if you can’t get there then check out the CambsNews albums on my Flickr account.
    You will find copies of actual articles from Cambridge newspapers between 1905 and 1990. They include 1914-1918 and 1930 to 1946 as well as papers from 1955 to 1969. They are on your computer and can be read for free, meaning when you do visit the Collection you can check out some of their other resources.

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