Where Cambridge Folk Festival
Venue: The Den
Woodpecker Wooliams looked like a fly on the wall when she showed up to Cambridge Folk Festival's smallest and most intimate stage wearing a similar dress to the marquee set. Gemma Williams took to the stage with her synthesizers, balloon, harp, and a can of Carlsberg. Woodpecker Wooliams was all alone after being asked to play a solo show, leaving her with a hard task of playing the harp and working through synthesizers.
The chair was out, the harp ready, and on came the despairing introducer who sucked the life out of the sitting audience, which by this time could have been inside the Tai Chi tent. These Cambridge City Council introducers have been plucking out every last note and unnecessary information all weekend; however this lost soul for Woodpecker Wooliams was just beyond awful. The awkward silence and pathetic introduction sent shivers down my spine as the audience also began to feel somewhat estranged from the upcoming set. An exciting 30 minutes was set to come, but little did the audience know how intense Woodpecker Wooliams performance would be.
She opened her set with "Red Kite", a song so personal and chilling that it actually evoked the pure essence of full-bodied emotion, something the folk festival was lacking all weekend. To some, it may seem like a facade, but this really is someone speaking from the heart. Her eyes, fixated on the ceiling, as if she's looking up to heaven for answers. At times during Woodpecker Wooliams set, it seemed as if she was swelling up continuously, on the verge of tears - though somehow she managed to continue under this emotional spell. It was a gripping opening to her set, and when she finished, pushing away the mic, she began tuning her harp to utter silence. There was no clap, no coughing, and an awkward silence that was finally met by applause as the singer-songwriter stood up.
A number of words could describe the look on the audience’s faces; I think the best descriptions would be: scared, confused, attentive, and mesmerised. Woodpecker Wooliams was one of the most interesting artists to play at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, and her short set witnessed by a good 50 people would say the same thing.
Wandering over to the synthesizer table from time to time, she played numerous songs with just ambience representing industrial noises of chaos and conflict to work alongside her soprano voice. "Gull" sounded fantastic, but one must wonder what it would sound like with the backing of a band. One of her best songs was met with destruction, "Sparrow". The sound of the synthesizers sounded fantastic, and as Woodpecker Wooliams excitement grew and her foot stomping percussion picked up, her can of Carlsberg fell on the floor shocking the audience. By this point, we were all in it together and fully gripped by her on stage emotion.
After playing more soulful songs from her debut album, such as the apocalyptic "Dove", Woodpecker Wooliams ended with a bang. There was no breakdown, no falling over, it was the stomping percussion and screaming lyrics in German, which finished with the reoccurrence of the word achtung. "Crow" was a spirited finale that captured the heart and soul of Woodpecker Wooliams' left field music.
Her apologies weren’t needed, and her set definitely stuck with the people that stayed long enough to witness a lucrative and special performance from an astounding singer-songwriter. People were reprising 'achtung, achtung' on the way to the toilets, others sat down, still unsure of what they just witnessed. This was a performance that will always be remembered at The Den. Cambridge have out done themselves with this tent, which attracted my attention more so than the main stages throughout the weekend. With her full band and a place holder for her beer, who knows, maybe we'll see Woodpecker Wooliams playing the bigger stages to the sit down festival goers in a few years time. I'd like to see it happen and I’m sure others in The Den that evening would agree.