REVIEW: Few big names on the Saturday of Cambridge Folk Festival but plenty of big sounds
PUBLISHED: 00:31 04 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:12 05 August 2019
Copyright 2019 Celia Bartlett
Lisa O'Neill is unforgettable. You wonder if she realises how funny a storyteller she is.
Lisa O'Neill is unforgettable. You wonder if she realises how funny a storyteller she is. She has a perfect voice. She began her set on Saturday afternoon on stage two at Cambridge Folk Festival singing a capella with flawless notes and perfect diction.
The song was sad about a disgraced girl in old Ireland who sings: "A maid again, I never will be until an apple grows on an orange tree."
Later, O'Neill picked up her guitar, then her banjo and was joined by a fiddler and a pianist, but it is the well-observed detail in the stories that this fine musician tells between the songs and about the songs that are so entertaining.
"This is why we work," she said, "So we can come to Cambridge." Then unexpectedly, she added in her lilting Irish brogue, with her emphasis on the second half of the word: "That's no bull-shit."
The next song was about a blackbird. She said. "I wonder if they listen to us when we sing and they sense our emotions."
She is from County Cavan in Ulster: "I grew up right on the border - that used to be there.
"The soldiers always patrolled the border. It was ridiculous heartache. There was no need for it, like.
"We used to go across the border to buy petrol because it was cheaper in England. The soldiers would stop us and my father would say: 'We're out for a drive.'"
Her piece de resistance was a song about Violet Gibson.
Violet was born in the 1870s in Dublin to an aristocratic family and had a good education. She was interested in European politics, especially Italy, and when Mussolini came to power, she took against him.
"Have you heard of Mussolini?" Lisa asked the audience.
"He was a friend of Hitler. He was an awful fellow."
In 1926, Violet travelled to Rome armed with a rock and a riffle to rid the world of a bad man. Sadly, Violet's aim wasn't good, she merely managed to skim a bit of skin off his nose.
The dictator carried on with his parade and Violet was arrested. Her family did not want her home again so she was sent to an asylum in Northampton for the rest of her life, another 29 years.
The song is written from Violet's point of view: "I was a little bit mad but he's much madder...With a rock in my fist and a gun in my bag, I didn't mean to just shoot his snout, I thought I'd take a bad egg out."
Afterwards, having told us the fine detail of Violet's life story and sang so feelingly about it, she said: "An idea's a great thing. I hadn't heard of Violet Gibson. Someone told me to write a song about her. Done!"
Saturday was full of contrasts. Stage one had the melodic harp duo of Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita (she on the Welsh harp and he on the African). They played some smooth, some upbeat, jazzy pieces. Stage 2 had Amy Montgomery, a rocker with a rebellious wild touch. The audience were amazed by her energy.
Back on stage one, the crowd loved the celtic fiddle and guitar from Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and friends. The friends included Maddy Prior. Kerr and Fagan, long term festival favourites, they began as a shy couple in the Club Tent, performed a frenetic version of Dance for Your Daddy, which showed her vituoso violin playing.
The evening on the main stage ended with the big sound of Talisk, an award-winnning Scottish trio who blast the roof off.
On stage two, Mad Dog Mcrea lead a party with their Gypsy rock which had people dancing almost as far back as the exit.
Saturday had no big names but a lot of big sounds and massive spirit.