Review: k.d. lang dances for the crowd at Cambridge Folk Festival

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

This year’s Cambridge Folk Festival had perhaps the ultimate line-up.

Young guns such as Quebec’s traditional French folk outfit Mauvais Sort and madcap Cornish trio 3 Daft Monkeys rocked the crowds.

Granddady of folk Martin Carthy, protest singer Billy Bragg and Simon Emmerson of Afro Celt Sound System teamed up with a host of artists to create the weird and wonderful Imagined Village, a multicultural take on traditional folk songs and stories.

Slap-bang in the middle of all this was the delectable k.d. lang, performing on the main stage on Saturday night.

Friends of mine had been torn between Brighton Pride and the folk festival.

It soon became apparent that they needn’t have gone to Pride after all; as Saturday afternoon wore on, the festival site gradually filled up with more lesbians than you could shake a stick at.

I had the misfortune of watching the gig with two homophobic middle-aged men standing behind me.

‘k.d. lang the lesbian!’ they announced loudly, as if it were news to anyone.

‘What a horrible outfit!’ they cried in an ironically camp manner as lang strode onstage in a white waistcoat, suit trousers and men’s shirt.

As lang sang the first few lines of Helpless from 2004’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel, however, they were soon silenced.

True, in the pauses between songs, they continued their abuse with such intellectual gems as ‘She well looks like a bloke’ and ‘She still looks like a bloke’, but when she sang, they stood, mouths open, listening.

Homophobic or not, they couldn’t deny that lang has a voice that could melt rock and employs it skilfully, with a stage presence honed to perfection from years of performing.

A mixture of material followed. Yes, Grammy-award winning hit single Constant Craving had an outing at the end (well, you have to at a festival really), as well as Leonard Cohen’s haunting classic Hallelujah.

Mixed in amongst a selection of songs from the new album Watershed, other tracks such as Ingenue’s Wash Me Clean and Drag’s Smoke Rings went down a treat with a spellbound crowd.

Lang’s performance was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that the woman simply doesn’t take herself too seriously.

As has become tradition at her gigs, she sang 1992 hit Miss Chatelaine whilst flinging herself around the stage in a flurry of clumsy mock-ballet moves, and the occasional mild masturbatory mime.

Naturally, the poor chaps behind me were embarrassed, repulsed even.

The majority of the crowd got the joke, however, and a good few were probably a little aroused by it.

The song was rumoured to have been an ironic take on lang’s naming as Chatelaine magazine’s Woman of the Year in the early 1990s, hence the bizarre ballet-girl dance.

What was charming about this little episode was that Lang was aware she looked ridiculous, and with a grin at the crowd, you could almost see her thinking ‘I love the fact that I can get away with all this prancing about!’

The set concluded with a rousing encore, with lang and the band belting out Pay Dirt (Angel with a Lariat, 1987) among much over-excited cheering and throwing of pants (not mine, I hasten to add).

The two men behind me finally gave in and clapped along.

In short the gig was sensational. After twenty-five years in the business, k.d. lang is writing fresh and exciting material, and giving performances that are by turns humorous and emotionally-charged.

k.d. lang’s new album, Watershed, was released in February.