Tag Archives: cambridge

On The Cambridge Folk Festival

I have just returned from the Cambridge Folk Festival, as those who follow me on Twitter will be all too aware.

I went with some reluctance and a few preconceptions. I don’t particularly like traditional folk. The event would be full of people with beards and sandals, chugging back real ale and singing “hey nonny nay”. And that’s just the women.

Daughter and the chief executive went with me, both being into folk. The Boy remained at home with his rap CDs.

I was quite wrong. I have written here before how folk has become fashionable among many young people. It has to do with its perceived authenticity, and how it seems set aside from a mainstream music industry that they know is greedy and manipulative. It is also cheap and easy to make.

Many of the performers, then, were staggeringly young, highly talented and energetic. You had to be moved by their enthusiasm, including one fiddle quartet who had come all the way from the Orkneys. Much of the actual folk was taking place at fringe venues, sometimes impromptu. On the main stage, the acts were pretty mainstream and would not look out of place at any other music festival.

Wilko Johnson, still mercifully with us, Frank Turner, Nick Mulvey, Joan Armatrading. Even Joan Baez, now 75 and a living legend. And a Northumbrian act called The Unthanks, who combined some ECM-style modal jazz with harmony vocals. And, er, a bit of clog dancing. And performed King Crimson’s “Starless And Bible Black”. Dad’s record collection, surely?

The audience were in the main middle class and middle aged. Nice people, with whom you could strike up a casual conversation without difficulty. An awful lot of drinking, mainly ale, but only one seriously out of order. A youngish girl being helped by solicitous security people.

The odd spliff, especially after dark. But virtually no one smoking cigarettes. Goes with the demographic, I suppose.

An annual event for us, then. As with other festivals, you have to book before you know who is on, but with the range available there you can safely buy unseen.


On Gaudier-Brzeska

Staying in Cambridge at the weekend, we visited a small exhibition of the works of the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. This is a fixture at Kettle’s Yard, home of Jim Ede, the art lover and collector who wrote Gaudier-Brzeska’s biography, Savage Messiah.

The sculptor, with his spindly, attenuated, vaguely primitive figures, is one of those artists who seem perched on the divide between the coming of modernism and When It All Went Wrong. When artworks ceased to be understandable, consumable by ordinary people and needed a priesthood of “critics” to interpret their meaning and intercede on their behalf. See Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word, to which I have referred here before.

One wonders what direction Gaudier-Brzeska would have taken had he survived into the 1920s and 1930s, rather than being killed on the Western Front in 1915. Would he have stayed a figurative artist or headed into the impenetrable avant-garde?

Ede bought a lot of works from the sculptor’s lover, Sophie Brzeska. The house, which is well worth a visit in its own right and has been preserved largely unchanged, was donated to the University when Ede retired.

Many will know Gaudier-Brzeska from the film of Savage Messiah made by Ken Russell, one of the latter’s four or five great works. He turned out a fair few turkeys as well. The actor who played the sculptor, Scott Anthony, was barely heard of again, though he had a subsequent career as a film maker.

The film, of course, features a scene with Helen Mirren that, if seen by males of a certain age, can  never be forgotten. If you’ve seen the film, you will know the one I mean.

On Regional Development Policy

One to get the pulses racing, I know. But I have spent the Bank Holiday weekend in Cambridge – Daughter is in her first year there.

One cannot but be astonished at the amount of new building going on, out by Addenbrooke’s Hospital and by the Science Park, and in the area around the station that is a way outside the historical centre. The building is to accommodate new companies, some perhaps not yet created, or flats for students, many from overseas. Property prices are up there with parts of London.

A don I was speaking to a while back said Cambridge had gone, in the quarter of a century he had known it, from being a country town with a large university attached to a centre for job and wealth creation.

We tend to talk lazily of London as being an economy entirely separate to the rest of the country. I have been guilty of this. It is like a medieval city state, where wealth, crime, overcrowding, poverty and entrepreneurship have coalesced together.

Actually, Britain has become a collection of centres of excellence, like Cambridge and parts of the capital, surrounded by large stretches where nothing much is happening, in terms of business or entrepreneurship. I have friends in Henley, at the other end of the south east. Much the same is true there, the wealth, the job creation, the feel of money in the air. There are plenty of others, in bits of Suffolk, Bath, other stretches of the corridor that runs from the capital westwards.
There are bits that have been left behind. Parts of Brighton, despite the tourism, are rough and deprived.

There is an odd multiplier effect here not often noticed. There are places, Henley, Cambridge, Bath, where people want to live. The transport is good, the area attractive. If you are setting up a business today, you want to be where well educated, motivated, bright people are. Such places attract them.

You no longer have, in today’s post-industrial economy, to be near a source of coal, or clay, or whatever. You go where people want to live, and that is where the jobs are created. The resulting wealth pulls in shops, restaurants, other amenities, which make such places even more attractive to live in. So more businesses want to locate or set up there, for that educated, motivated workforce. The effect multiplies, and in places like Cambridge, which had the additional advantage of a university turning out technical innovations, this process has been going on for decades.

It rather suggests that the billions that have been thrown at regional development over the years, to attract business and jobs to places that desperately need them, were wasted. If you want to set up a business in website design, IT services or any other technological hot spot, you will go where that workforce already exists and like-minded businesses are already established. You will not go to, say, Huddersfield. I have nothing against Huddersfield – I once spent a wet Saturday afternoon there, but I am not one to hold grudges.

I spent several years in Hull, a place that is never going to be able to rebrand itself as Silicon Estuary, I fear. There was an almost anti-Darwinian process going on there – anyone with anything to offer got out.

The rest stayed. What you do with the Hulls and Huddersfields of this country I do not know. But their antitheses, the Cambridges and Henleys, will go from strength to strength, and that inequality and imbalance of opportunity will accelerate.