Anne L Ryan reports on Bruce Cockburn – Cambridge Folk Festival, Cherry Hinton Hall, 27 July 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
My heart gave a little leap as I arrived on Friday evening to the Cambridge Folk Festival. Bruce Cockburn was in full swing. The tone of this man's voice is so beautiful, I could listen to it forever - and it wasn't only me. The crowd were enraptured as he talked, tuned his twelve-string, and touched another song.

He has ploughed his own furrow since leaving Berklee College of Music, Boston after 3 semesters in the mid-60s. He says he got a lot out of it, but it just wasn't for him. This independent-thinking man boycotted the US during the Regan/Thatcher era too. He wouldn't sing his songs there at that time.

Strangely, Cockburn was brought up an agnostic in Ottawa, Canada. Strange because in his late teens he became a traditional Christian. He is still committed, with his hope for world-peace bringing him to travel a lot - when not touring you'll probably find him in a war zone. To release or not to release Rocket Launcher, written when living in a refugee camp in Guatemala, caused him great anguish. It was written in anger against US patrolling helicopters over the camp. He dithered from a moral perspective about recording it at all. His intention was to highlight the issue but he was painfully aware that it could be interpreted otherwise - ‘If I had a rocket launcher some son-of-a-bitch would die...'

Cockburn writes from a deeply spiritual base, reflected in esoteric lyrics. He talks about eternity and ecstasy in Wondering Where The Lions Are, a song about the potential Russian/Chinese conflict which hasn't arrived - yet. These words appear in other songs too. It's a consistent theme - what's it all about? - each song a response in its own way but never giving the definitive answer to life's meaning.

Another song about travel and its importance to him is Lovers In A Dangerous Time; inspired by the frightening world his daughter would grow up in. He wrote Baghdad after a visit there. When he started to play that whirly-gurley dark ‘playground' feel accompaniment, we knew what he was thinking!

Carbombed and carjacked and kidnapped and shot
How do you like it, this freedom we brought
We packed all the ordnance but the thing we forgot
Was a plan in case it didn't turn out quite like we thought

Mystery, I would say, is the most profoundly spiritual song he has written to date. It was the final song of his Main Stage 1 set on Sunday; it took my breath away.

You can't tell me there's no mystery
It's everywhere I turn
Infinity always gives me vertigo
Fills me up with grace
I was built on a Friday and you can't fix me
Even so I've done okay.

Cockburn was, for me, the highlight of the festival. It was great to see him without the band, which I have enjoyed. I got closer hearing him solo. He touched the lonesome vibe, striking up an immediate rapport. He helps release the yearning we have to understand our world. You can see him thinking before he talks with detachment, some might even say reticence. But his music is not that way at all.

Writer: Anne L Ryan
© 2007 Moving Tone Promotions Ltd.