Anne L Ryan reports on Joan Baez – Cambridge Folk Festival, Cherry Hinton Hall, 28 July 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire

It was a moving performance from Joan Baez at the Cambridge Folk Festival, Saturday, 28 July 2007. She sang old and new songs with panache and charisma. Did you know that it's 40 years since she gave Bob Dylan some cuff-links for his birthday? Even today, if he were offering diamonds and rust, she'd take the diamonds. We were reminded once again of this long ago love affair - each has chartered their own course since, one more philosophical, the other more political.

Her commentary abounded throughout. People were residing with her at because she provides a safe haven for those in need of refuge during the current political climate. Speaking directly to her President, she said: ‘Bring the boys back, admit you lied'. She then sang Elvis Costello's Scarlet Tide. The mood went deep. At the end there was a lingering heavy silence. Then a supportive uproarious crowd burst!

She really loves singing all these songs. All the old ones that she used to sing - from a fundamentalist song without hate which she found on a Carter Family album 50 years ago to Pretty-Peggy-O, to My name is Murphy. The sad and bad news is that they are still relevant today, so she continues to repeat the message. A newer song written this year by Tom Waits was called Day after Tomorrow. It's a moving story of a soldier who is schedule to return home from active duty and the thoughts that fill his mind. It was the most poignant of the set.

As she sang through the 12-song set I couldn't help noticing how the tone of her voice changed according to the song she sang. Baez relayed the theme by inhabiting each song's story. This is one of the many things that makes her so different. She has a recognisable tone; there's a vibrato - operatic style - on the higher range. You either love or hate it. In the lower vocal range, her natural voice comes to the fore. It was here that she sang Carrickfergus, a traditional Irish love song written during the time of the famine emigrants to America. It was three minutes of ‘pin drop' silence by 6,000 people. The reverence was audible.

Over the years I've heard Baez sing live many times. Once in Vienna. Once in Dublin. Three times in Cambridge. Although this was an exquisite performance, her voice was a little tired. It may not be surprising really. It was the last night of a long European tour, and I can't help thinking that the passing-on of her father in March this year was resonating there too.

As she finished up she told the crowd 'you are absolutely fabulous' and launched into Lennon's Imagine. The audience went wild with delight, joining in immediately, young, middle-aged, elderly, all ages, united, mouthing every single word clearly - Baez left the stage triumphant.

Writer: Anne L Ryan