|Beardy Folk Festival 2019|
21st - 23rd Jun 2019
Hopton Court, Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, DY14 0EF, United Kingdom
Tickets for adults (with camping) from £99.00
If Beardy 2019 taught us anything is was that this young usurper on the folk scene proved that the wonderful inaugural 2018 festival was no fluke, and that surely the organisers are Sun Gods. Our Reviewers thought last year was truly excellent (Read the FFA Beardy Folk Festival 2018 Review), but 2019 managed to surpass it. Quality, and frankly stunning value for money are the watchwords here. Every single aspect of this bash in the Shropshire fields exudes class; the location, the organisation, the facilities, the people, the artists.
Beardy is elegantly simple. Held in a stunning walled garden on a beautiful country house estate, easily swallowing a few thousand, with more spotless facilities than you could shake a stick at, the festival hosts a couple of stages; and at this point in its development it needs no more. They run alternately, so there is music all day, indeed this rotating stage approach leads to a pleasing dynamic in the arena as people move around. All human life will eventually pass you by! It’s a great atmosphere, amplified by a friendly crowd who were an absolute delight to spend the weekend with. The food stalls and bar quality were splendid. Outside the garden is another area hosting the trader village (hope you checked out the wonderful delights of Fiddlers Elbow Grease hemp products!), a covered area for workshops and sessions, and a very lively kid’s area. That’s pretty much it; and that’s a compliment. It’s all rather honed to perfection.
Quality is the name of the game here at this hyper-civilised, bijou little festival, but here’s the rub, it’s all at loss-leader pricing! Tickets for the three nights are less than £100 with camping. The excellent Hobsons Ales are twenty quid for six pints with their beer tokens. Yep you read that correctly. A double gin was £4 – including tonic, and that’s not a misprint. FFA took in one of the excellent Melodeon workshops and spent a brilliant hour making a right ‘ol racket, and yep, you’ve guessed it – free, ziltch, nothing. Even the festival programme is complementary for goodness sake! As we said at the top of this article, the quality of everything at Beardy is exceptional, we don’t know how they do it, but at these price points, Beady must represent one of the best value small festivals around. Many events can complete on price, many can compete on quality, very few can complete with Beardy on both.
Remember that the artists on the bill are transitory, it’s the festival itself that has the permanence. Now Beardy invited a few of last year’s favourites back for year two, but the entire line-up (as in 2018) was packed with real talent. Again, it’s that quality thang – their artist roster and stage scheduling are absolutely on the button whoever appears. You could book this festival in advance without a single artist being announced, and be virtually guaranteed a fabulous weekend.
…and so to the talented band of fine musicians that graced those Shropshire fields. This Reviewer struggles to recall an event of this size where every single act that we witnessed simply excelled; it’s a well-worn cliché, but there were no mid-afternoon fillers at Beardy, the universal quality and calibre on parade was splendid. Here’s just a handful of FFA’s highlights. Omission is no sin; if your favourites don’t get a mention, it’s simply down to space – or a vicious Gin / Hobsons chaser that temporarily did for us.
Sunshine. A fine outing from both the excellent Demi Marriner, and later Dan Webster really kick-started proceedings for FFA. An early indication of the top flight quality that would once again become the hallmark of the Beardy schedule. Martyn Joseph was one of the highlights of the day with every song ringing with a life affirming positivity. His eloquent tribute to Nye Bevan and the NHS rightly went down a storm.
3 Daft Monkeys! What a worthy headline set the mighty Daft’s delivered to end festival Friday on a high. Old Classics like ‘Social Vertigo’ and Faces’ had the place reeling, but it was new song ‘Look To The Stars’ that stole the show. Stunning. A wonderful set to close a wonderful day.
Sunshine. The Trials of Cato picked up the quality baton from Friday night, and really ran with it – some excellent musicianship and vocal harmonies to set the day up nicely. O’Hooley & Tidow had the main stage crowd in raptures with some lovely interplay between the artists, before Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar simply blew FFA away. Not many artists could perform a set based largely on the concept of ‘Large Industrial Projects That I Don’t Like’ but the guys delivered in excellent style with a particularly withering assessment of HS2. Two wonderful musicians, and Algar (seen recently with Sam Kelly) produced some of the best fiddle of the weekend.
Last year’s favourites Gary Stewart presents Graceland returned for another excellent outing. Never dismiss this crew as simply a Copy Band – their take on this classic album is both original and mesmerising. Cue community singing and dancing in the fields. Another worthy returnee, Chris Helme, won the sympathy vote by playing on a borrowed guitar as he’s left his baby on the train. [Now losing your instrument is like losing your daemon to a muso – help him find it HERE] Self-effacing banter and cracking songs ensued. Throw in a couple of Seahorses classics, and a wonderful take on the Dead’s ‘Friend Of The Devil’ and this set was full of absolute scorchers – not least his closing version of Simone’s ‘Be My Husband’. A Smashing performance given the circumstances.
Blimey! Skerryvore! Hauled back to Shropshire after last year’s stunner – these boys again excelled themselves. What is it about Celtic Folk-Rock that excites the senses so much? Once those twin bagpipes fired up in the maelstrom of soundscapes that this superb band produce, the spine tingled. In a completely fresh set for their current 360 Tour, ‘Hold On’ was good, but once they let rip with ‘The Angry Fiddler’ the joint was rocking. Let’s put this on repeat shall we: ‘A wonderful set to close a wonderful day’.
An occasional bit of rain. (Nobody Cared!). Arguably day of the festival for a fabulous array of talent across both stages. This review simply can’t cram them all in, but class from start to finish. Harri Endersby wowed us with some haunting a Capella before Radcliffe, Russell, & Lee graced the Main Stage. Now back from illness Radcliffe was at his laconic best with tales and songs focusing on his ‘Old Stomping Ground’ of Manchester. A few poignant moments interspersed a hugely enjoyable set and made it all the more memorable. Great guy.
Reg Meuross was also excellent, with his Dylan Thomas / Hank Williams fantasy ‘Leaving Alabama’ highlight of a great set. Virginia Kettle & The Dreamkeepers produced an ace half hour over on the acoustic stage. Always a fine singer-songwriter, this excursion away from Merry Hell (although some of the Dreamkeepers appeared a tad familiar), allowed the woman’s many talents to shine. ‘The House That Union Jack Built’ surely song of a great set. Holy Moly & The Crackers let rip a blistering set of good-time malarkey over on the main stage. A great hi-energy performance to an enthusiastic crowd.
Those leaving early missed an absolute peach of a closing night. Blair Dunlop is a wonderful talent and his thoughtful ballads entranced the early evening crowd. In their second outing of the weekend Fly Yeti Fly were simply outstanding. There is a whiff of Haight Ashbury in an English Country Garden about this outfit. Great songs, soft, haunting, fragile vocals, and a warmth and purity of spirit that radiates from the stage. Three fine musicians and an absolute joy to witness.
Then along came Merry Hell. This was brilliant last night scheduling and folk-rock par excellence. Best audience reaction by a country mile. The place was buzzing. The Kettle brothers and all their acolytes were on top form from the off. The band’s low key politics apply a soothing balm to a country torn apart by hatred and division; theirs is a dream of community – a shared human spirit which unites us all and transcends our differences. In their lyrics they face down the racists and the bigots, the sexists and those who challenge the right to be different in songs like the brilliant ‘Come On England’ and an euphoric crowd singalong to ‘We Need Each Other Now’. Amongst all the foot-stomping, this wizened old Reviewer almost came over all emotional – but that’s Merry Hell for you. Set of the weekend. Now THAT’S how to wrap up a festival. Bless you Beardy.
So, that was Beardy for you; absolute quality, terrific value, and a cracking weekend. What’s not to like?
Article and Snaps by Barrie Dimond