Castaway folk (2): political song
The beauty of English

No Vin situation at Cambridge


Let it be said straight away that the line-up for the 2008 Cambridge Folk Festival is outstanding. But let it also be acknowledged that the name that perhaps stands out most prominently of all does so because it is once again missing. The name, of course, of Vin Garbutt.

The "will they, won't they?" question is duly answered. For all Vin's deserved reputation as one of the great performers in British folk music over the past four decades, they have chosen that Cambridge has no more need of his talents this year than in any of the past 17 years.

Salut! Live had jumped the gun a little, asking Eddie Barcan, the festival director, for an explanatory quote a couple of weeks ago - that is to say even before, officially at any rate, there was anything to explain. The programme had not been announced.

Well, now it is out in the open. As I said quite honestly to Eddie, it is such a terrific, mouth-watering bill that I regret the likelihood that from July 31 to Aug 3, I shall be toiling beneath the Arabian sun instead of soaking up the sounds at Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds. What I think of Vin's omission is a different matter.

This, then, is how they shape up:

k.d. lang Joan Armatrading Levellers The Imagined Village
Billy Bragg John Hiatt Judy Collins Allen Toussaint
Seth Lakeman Eric Bibb Eliza Carthy Martha Wainwright
The Waifs Altan Peatbog Faeries Tim O’Brien Karine Polwart
Michael McGoldrick Band Laura Marling Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba Tunng
Kíla Devon Sproule Chris Wood Cherryholmes Brian McNeill
Mauvais Sort Lisa Knapp Hot 8 Brass Band Beoga Grupo Fantasma
Frank Turner Whapweasel Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson Elizabeth Cook
The Chair 3 Daft Monkeys Noah & The Whale Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller 6 Day Riot
Kidsamonium Findlay Napier & The Bar Room Mountaineers Megson The Shivers

If the River Tees could sing, I wrote some years ago, the chances are that it would sound something like Vin Garbutt. His corner of the North East oozes from every pore of his skin, even when he sings of places or issues far away.

He has grit, passion and style, is funny and warm and writes some powerful songs of his own. There comes the problem, of course; to Vin and many of his fans, he is excluded year after year from Cambridge for the idiotic reason that a couple of those songs place him on the politcally incorrect side of arguments about abortion.

Eddie sees things differently and a full account of the differing viewpoints, and the discussions they inspire, can be found by following the links to and from these articles:

* Vin Garbutt & Cambridge: what's the real story? (1)

* Vin Garbutt & Cambridge: what's the real story? (2)

At the time those items appeared on Salut! Live, Eddie was understandably restrained on the prospects of Vin at last being invited back to the festival. But he insisted that he was not, and never would be, excluded because of his views.

The fact that Vin's name again appears nowhere on the bill will have different effects on different people. Conspiracy theorists will have their suspicions reinforced. "We always knew," they'll say, "that folk's thought police had him marked out as a banned man."

Militant - in the sense of feeling no one else's view should be heard - pro-Choice lobbyists will think and maybe say: "And a good job too."

I have no inside track on the thinking of Eddie and his colleagues. My own position is no secret: I disagree with Vin on abortion, but disagree a lot more strongly with anyone who would suppress his views, or deprive him of a stage purporting to showcase the best in folk music because he holds them.

But I prefer to believe Eddie when he says there is no censorship-based ban. So in my attempt to maintain some degree of balance, I shall merely await the announcement, a year from now, of the 2009 bill. And continue, for now, to wonder at the absence from one of folk's grandest stages of one of its finest servants.

From Eddie himself, I detect no great desire to prolong this debate. He expresses the hope that the matter may now be put to rest, while offering this appraisal of the line-up he has assembled:

"This year's Festival contains something for everyone and reflects the very best of the current folk and acoustic scene, whilst also embracing a diverse range music, from one of New Orlean's finest brass bands, Hot 8 Brass Band to probably the most talked about African artists of the moment Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba. As ever, I've made a priority of including the best emerging talent, including Laura Marling, Lisa Knapp, Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson and The Chair, to name but a few. We are pleased to welcome back artists such as Seth Lakeman, Eliza Carthy and Karine Polwart, who the Festival has supported throughout their careers and are now the amongst the most popular on the folk scene. Finally the bill includes outstanding artists, as k.d. lang, Joan Armatrading and the legendary Judy Collins. For my part, I'm particularly excited about The Imagined Village, as it represents so much of what Cambridge is about, taking the tradition forward whilst honouring the past, embracing new forms of music and cultures and involving both young and established artists. There are many artists that I was not able to include, including Vin Garbutt amongst others. It will always be the case that many more artists that want to perform than we can accommodate. What is important is to look at those selected and ask, is the bill balanced? Does it contain a range of styles that you'd expect at Cambridge? Does it reflect the traditional music scene? Does is contain classic names as well as the best up and coming artists? Does it contain some surprises? Does it contain names to reflect the stature of the event? Does is contain names you've not yet heard of but will be talking about next year? I think that it does this and more, and that people can look forward to another classic Cambridge."

The controversy, I predict, will not go away quite as quickly as Eddie would like.


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