The Cat Empire @ Woodford Folk Festival, 28th December

For anyone who hasn’t been to Woodford Folk Festival, picture a messy jumble of people, all ages, shapes, and sizes, some in costumes, many with odd facial hair, all mud-covered and generally filthy, some dreadlocked and red-eyed, many sweaty, covered in tassels and eating donuts. Add in an amazing group of multi-talented musicians, a festival site that oozes creativity from every corner, and an unparalleled array of food stalls, and you’d have a pretty good idea of what goes down.

The Cat Empire, entering their 16th year, are blowing up the Amphi stage, by far the biggest performance area, set in a sloping valley. The crowds stream in, some sitting on the grassy hill above the stage but most waiting in the four or five hundred person deep mosh-pit, ready to dance for their lives. After a quick announcement from the compare, the guys walk onstage, we hear the sexy bass riff of Brighter Than Gold, and the party begins.

I have never, ever, ever seen an audience have so much fun. The band members, sporting brass instruments, an array of drums and bongos, a mixing deck, and more, career wildly around the stage, veering from their characteristic Latin-funk style to ska and reggae to tribal sagas of songs (they last for at least ten minutes). Each band member happily tackles a three minute solo every so often, and the atmosphere is electric, spontaneous, purely joyous. A man dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow gryates next to me.

The guys play a healthy mix of tracks, some from their newest album, Steal The Light, but many from older albums, singles, crowd-pleasers. Fishies sends everyone wild, spinning and grabbing everyone around them as the unbelievably talented Felix and Harry share the vocals. DJ Jumps throws out a massively impressive solo that goes on and on as he scratches an actual record and remixes the track live.

In between songs, Felix and Harry chat to the audience, advertising their love for Woodford (they’ve been regulars for six years) and their passion for the bands who perform there. They say – as many bands at Woodford do – how amazing it is to feed from such energy, such a raging crowd that dances to anything and everything. This, of course, brings on more dancing. I see Captain Jack sneak a hip flask from behind his waistcoat.

The highlight of the performance is undoubtably The Wine Song, an obvious favourite of The Cat Empire, seeing as they play the old tune at most performances. It’s easy to see why. Rolling up and down in pace, the 7-minute track is the ultimate dance tune. The crowd sings every word, getting faster and faster, and as the song builds, Harry asks the audience to turn around to the people around them and spin in circles, which of course we do until everyone is slightly delirious, manically dancing and befriending total strangers.

The last track, The Chariot, dips back into a more chilled ska beat, as everyone croons and sways to the iconic trumpet riff. The show ends on a high (for many, quite literally) and we’re all left exhausted, sweaty, dehydrated, and sure that we’ve seen one of the best performances of our lives.

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