Grown men dressed as wizards shuffle through the picnicking families and semi conscious figures lying in the sun. Small urchins are performing impromptu jigs in tie-dye shirts, whilst mum and dad knock back another pint of Badgers Ale or top-up their glasses from a cardboard box of wine. I hadn’t planned on coming to the Cambridge Folk Festival, but was glad that I had. The sun was glorious, and with a little planning I managed to get around some very fine music without overdosing on folkie-dokie accordions and over-enthusiastic fiddle players. Loudon Wainright III pulled off a repertoire of slightly melancholic songs along with anecdotes from the filming of ‘Big Fish’ with Steve Buscemi. A Spanish band, Amparanoia, belted out a lively Latin mix reminiscent of Manu Chao (beg, borrow, buy or burn a copy!) that even had the middle England real ale drinkers jumping in their sandals.
A familiar face pushed through the crowd in the (slightly implausibly named) Club Tent. “Katy Carr?” We’d been friends maybe ten years ago, before she’d vanished in the midst of a music course in London to rub shoulders with fellow muso’s and forward her career in angst-ridden Tori-Amos style warblings. Two albums later, and she hadn’t changed much. Still mad as a march-hare, breaking into spontaneous unaccompanied song, whilst waving her hands in the air, up and down to the pitch of the song.
“Raaaaaaaaaaamble my Rooooooooose,
The wall is just big enough for yooooooooooooooooooou,
One day the white wall will shatter,
And you'll be there to claw me out tooooooooo.”
A drunken applause erupted from the back of the tent where a few drinkers were propping up the bar. She might have been quite barking in a Kate Bush sort of way, interrupting conversations with random and enthusiastic exclamations such as “Fleetwood Mac! Fleetwood Mac!” but at least she wasn’t wearing one of those multi-coloured cloth top hats that plague every music festival.
Later, whilst waiting for the crowds to leave the festival, we sat enthusing about Jimmy Cliff’s performance, a man who helped Bob Marley get his first record deal, but still as lively as a teenager. A bald elderly man in a grubby t-shirt came staggering towards us in the darkness, lurching in every direction like a damaged aircraft coming into land, before crashing down next to us. His name was Pegg, you could tell because he had a big sticker on his chest, saying ‘Pegg’. “They threw me out the backstage baaaaaaaar, for being drunk, can ye fackin believe it!” Pegg tried to stand again, but his feet were unable to work out what where his legs were taking him, and so veered away in a drunken stagger for thirty feet, before arcing back towards us in an alcohol induced orbit. Pegg fell in a crumpled heap on top of a friend of ours, squashing his legs, much to our entertainment. Hauling Pegg upright, we asked our drunken visitor if he was enjoying the festival. “Blaady terrible, ya cant hear anything, and ya cant see anything, rubbish, its rubbish, not like OUR festival…I got nothing to look forward to now, but dying!” Oh dear, poor old Pegg, finding his feet again, he lurched off into the crowd. Later we discovered that Pegg was in-fact Dave Pegg, bass player for the last 30 years with Fairport Convention, the most enduring British folk-rock act in history, and now seemingly carving himself a new role as the Keith Richards of the folk world.
Soon enough, it was time to leave, and so I took the bus into Cambridge and laden up with a backpack and tent asked the coach driver for a ticket to London.
“Sorry mate, can’t sell you a ticket, the ticket desk is shut, and the machine on the bus is bust”
“But you’re not going to just leave us here?
The coach driver looked a little like an Asian Elvis impersonator from his chunky Vegas period with his slick black quiff.
“Ok, each of you give me a fiver, and don’t tell anyone” Our small group handed over the fivers, as the coach driver gave a knowing wink and stuffed the money into his back pocket.
“If we get pulled over by the coach company for a routine check, don’t tell them anything” and so I chucked my stuff in the coach and collapsed in a smelly unwashed heap. The journey flew by as I chatted up a Mexican English language student sitting next to me, who seemed impressed to have finally met someone whose first language was English.
Finally we arrived in Victoria having taken every back street since Finchley. “Which way you headed?” asked Asian Elvis. “Got to get the bloody central line to Ruislip” I said, preparing myself for the final leg of my journey. “I’m heading back to Southall, do you want a lift, I can take you as far as Perivale” That would be very handy, and so I threw my pack back on the coach, bid farewell to the senoritas and we started up towards Sheppard’s Bush.
“So what do you do mate?”
“Government Intranet sort of thing, its alright y’know”
“So I expect you take lots of Coke then?”
Coke? I don’t even drink the stuff, let along snort it. I explained that I was returning from a folk festival and seen the legendary reggae star Jimmy Cliff headline.
“Never heard of him!”
I persevere by singing the chorus from ‘They Harder They Come’.
“Na mate, don’t know it, but I done a bit of Djing, laying bhangra beats over Michael Jackson bass-lines, WICKED sounds!”
Asian Elvis continued with his life story “I’ve stopped all that now, no more Chang, given up the Coke, the pills, done some heroin – keeps you up all night! but I’m all clean now” Blimey that was a relief.. “Only see my family these days, most of my mates are on the heroin, bad business, but I’m doing two jobs now, best drivers on the road y’know, coach drivers, most people are looking only a few feet ahead, but I’m looking all the way down there”
“Mate, you’re not looking at the road at all, you’re eyeing up that bird we just passed!”
Asian Elvis gives a great roaring laugh. “Hahahaha! You’re right there!” and carries on with his story. If this is what he’s like without the drugs, I daren’t imagine what he’d been like with a few uppers rolling about in his system. He told me about the shops his family owned, why he’d never marry an Indian girl (they’re only after your passport) and never trust a blind man (one tried to shoot his house). “I went and got myself a PP9 with a silencer, protect my family after this fella run off with ten grand I’d earned from a bit of dealing, but I still managed to put 6 grand towards my sisters wedding.” He was a bit of a geezer, was Asian Elvis, but a sound fella, and pulling into Perivale tube station, I picked up my backpack and tent, and warmly shook his hand. Well, it beats the hell out of sitting on the tube for an hour.