Miriam Balanescu meets the organiser behind Cambridge Ska Festival, whose fifth edition arrives this April
If you’re crazy for the likes of Madness and Bad Manners, the Cambridge Ska Festival on 29 April will be right up your street. Its fifth edition, held off by the pandemic and now finally unleashed, promises to be a blast from the past, with performances from returning local legends Big 10 and Frontline Sound System. A night of irresistible rhythms, wide-ranging genres and upbeat crowds on their feet, this year’s festival will present both classic Cambridge Ska artists and those from beyond the city gates.
Founded by The Alley Club’s Paul Sawtell in 2018, this Ska devotee curates music from across the ages, from its first early forms hailing from Jamaica in the 60s to the well-known two-tone sounds of the 70s and 80s – a sub-genre so named for promoting racial equality. “A lot of teenagers growing up at the time, myself included, would hear and love the music,” says Paul. “Whether it’s a black artist or a white artist, it makes no difference. It’s good-time music. Some groups have a message to convey but for me it’s more about the dancing.”
The event is one of few festivals in Cambridge dedicated to a specific genre, though spanning soul and reggae to boot. “Big 10 have been instrumental in keeping Ska music in Cambridge alive, well and happy,” Paul continues. “There seems to be interest from future generations coming through every year. It starts with the older fans, passed onto their children and then their friends. It does seem to carry on and on.” Big brass band The Marching SKAletons and Peterborough-based The Gangsters will also be in league. Head on down to The Junction and get ready to skank.
Cambridge Ska Festival will take place on 29 April at the Cambridge Junction.