The Cambridge Folk Festival reaches its 50th year, sold out as usual and finishing the weekend with a headlining performance from Van Morrison. Like Bob Dylan he has attained the status of ‘living legend’ by continually recording and touring, yet retaining that special air of mystery by avoiding too much interaction with the media and his devoted audience.
He opened his set by leading an instrumental on sax, setting the jazz tone for many of the songs. The basic band was augmented by two brass players on a range of instruments, along with trumpet from the keyboard player. Van has a huge back catalogue of jazz, folk, gospel, blues and pop to draw from and it is clear that the choice of songs depends on the atmosphere and feeling of the night, the band are ready to go in whatever direction Van indicates from his central position in the semicircle of players. Suiting the festival audience, it was mainly up tempo with less of the extended quiet passages and vocal adventures of some of his performances.
‘Little Village’, ’Whenever God Shines His Light’ and ‘Someone Like You’ showed that the voice was as good as ever, duetting with the contrasting voice of his daughter Shana Morrison. An emotive version of ‘Queen of The Slipstream’ featured harmonica touches and great Hammond organ but it was the next song, the familiar ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ that really set the crowd going for the first time. The words ‘This is a folk festival so we will do a folk song’ introduced ‘Dead or Alive’ and turned out to be the main moment of speaking to the audience but we didn’t mind, we preferred the music…’Days Like This’, a mellow version of ‘Moondance’ with short solos from all the players, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Precious Time’, ‘Real Real Gone/You Send Me’, a cover of ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ then ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Back to the blues for ‘Help Me’ then ‘Gloria’ with lots of crowd singing, then before we knew it Van had left the building (tent) as the band let loose and played on….