|Beardy Folk Festival 2020|
17th - 20th Sep 2020
Hopton Court, Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, DY14 0EF, United Kingdom
Tickets are SOLD OUT
Get that fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square ready for the statue of Beardy Folk Organiser Dave Spier; against all the odds, (Spoiler Alert), Beardy only went and did it! Surely the only established UK live music festival of this scale to be held successfully in 2020… and what an outstanding success. Our FFA Reviewers have raved about Beardy since its inception back in 2018, and for such a young festival this bash has it nailed. (Read our Beardy Folk Festival 2019 Review on last year’s shenanigans for just a flavour.). It would be churlish at the top of this review not to position Beardy 2020 in the context of the present dreadful state of humanity. Beardy’s excellent quality and first-class organisation provided the bedrock for the festival to safely and successfully navigate the traumas and restrictions of this awful year. The additional organisation regarding Social Distancing, and the dedication to exceptional cleanliness was exemplary. (Read the details of their measures HERE.) Not only was the festival compliant with the rules, but also compliant with the spirit of the rules. It really was exceptionally well done. Every single person played their part – and it all worked!
BUT, and here’s the rub: Originally scheduled for June, the rearranged Beardy Folk Festival 2020 may have been framed by Coronavirus, but categorically refused to be defined by it. This was a great festival. Period. Of course, the new rules and regulations shaped the event, they had to do for all the obvious reasons. But in all the right ways the festival transcended it all and simply got on with it. The enhanced measures, though strictly applied and willingly accepted, simply did not detract from the event itself. Nothing was spoiled. It was still Beardy. Same vibe. Same buzz. Just Socially Distanced. Full compliance across the board, and every single person in that excellent crowd adhered, stayed in their Socially Distanced ‘Beardy’ bubbles, and had a wonderful time. It’s a splendid atmosphere at Beardy anyway, and, as expected, the current situation only added to the sense of camaraderie. The Beardy community had not played or heard live music for six months, and Beardy 2020 proved to be very special indeed.
Beardy fielded around forty acts over the weekend, and, as to be expected given the history of this event, the standard was universally excellent. Virtually every artist on those stages excelled – they were caged birds finally flying free… and they soared. A Performer need an audience as an audience needs a performer. In all my days I have never witnessed the absolute truth of this with such clarity. The relief, the sheer unadulterated joy of performance and being performed to, created a bond between artist and crowd that made the very air crackle. Given global events, this empathy became a tangible thing at Beardy 2020 – you could almost reach out and touch it. Humanity on both sides of the footlights, in all its diverse and wonderful glory, lost in the collective bliss of sharing music. It had been a long time. This old cynic of a Reviewer was frankly overwhelmed with the giddiness and emotion of it all. Live music is truly a beautiful, beautiful, thing. We risk losing it at our peril. Our souls would never forgive us.
Back-to-back across its two stages, Beardy offers over eleven hours of continuous music a day; here is just a snapshot of FFA’s take on the best of the best. If you were blessed to attend the festival, you will surely have your own favourites, which may not be ours. So it goes. Life is subjective. If our omissions and additions simply get you talking, then this review has served its purpose!
Set up Thursday featured a fine performance from Glymjack to set the tone, and the scene, for the coming weekends’ malarkey. Virtually all the bands had struggled to even rehearse properly since March 2020, let alone play live. In those circumstances, the quality of musicianship on offer throughout the weekend was extraordinary.
Winter Wilson Really fed off the vibe with some great banter and merriment, interspersed with poignant songs of love, loss, and injustice. A great hour, with the haunting (sorry) ‘Ghosts’, mapping the troubled life of a young Big Issue seller, capturing the bands progressive world view perfectly. An excellent set. In the late afternoon sunshine Daria Kulesh & Marina Osman filled the air with some impressive Slavonic rhythms and neat keyboard / vocal interplays, whilst Banter wowed FFA with their brand of English folk, accomplished musicianship, and yes, some excellent audience engagement.
The Boxwood Chessmen brought their enjoyable mashup of folk genres to the party with a nicely paced set of intensity and near frivolity, before mainstage headliners Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys ripped up a storm. Beardy’s programming and scheduling had been excellent all day, and Kelly to close the night was simply the icing on the cake. Like all the previous artists, Kelly had not played live for months, and hit the stage wearing perhaps the biggest smile of his life. Astute enough to surround himself with excellent fellow musicians, this is a young talent at the top of his game. This reviewer thought the band absolutely splendid with ‘The Shining Ship’ a modern-day classic. For such a talented singer-songwriter it was however a cover that sent FFA buzzing into the night. An absolutely immense and extended ‘Sultans of Swing’ simply stole the show. A fabulous end to a fabulous day.
It was becoming increasingly obvious that The Weather Gods thought whatever was going down at Beardy was worthy of merit, because the sunshine poured down in little flakes of pure heaven all weekend. Ranagri’s alt-folk take on the world filled the arena with some wonderful lilting flute as Beardy settled into a wonderfully chilled, almost soporific vibe of contentment in the late summer heat. A lovely mellow start to the day.
’You were singing in a corner of a Tapas Bar, when I first met you’, or so the story goes about the Beardy Organisers first experience of Alex LLeo. What a discovery. A wonderfully accomplished singer-songwriter, with hints of Newton Faulkner (sans percussive guitar) to these old ears. Yet another act previously unknown to FFA, but Beardy continues to pull these gems out of the bag year on year. Smashing set. Granny’s Attic have that enviable knack of looking 12 years old but sounding like old stagers. They really are becoming mainstays of the folk circuit, and rightly so. This is old skool folk with a contemporary take; some blistering shanties and a superb version of ‘The Highwayman’ to top it all off.
The Luke Jackson Trio! Certainly find of the festival, if not set of the festival. Some wonderful folksy blues and bursts of funk bass, sung with Jacksons amazing vocal range. The long highs positively soared and a stonking version of ‘On The Road’ arguably song of the festival. Over on the Marquee stage Inlay were excellent with their experimental loops and effects. Shades of a latter-day Penguin Café Orchestra.
Calan headlined with the whole band a sea of smiles. Welsh Celtic mayhem. A fine band with some brilliant twin fiddle interplays, the excellent ‘Madame Fromage’, a song about a band members cheese making mother, and a virtuoso Clogging finale! Hugely entertaining and FFA loved it. An absolutely cracking day.
The splendid Magpies kicked off proceedings for an extremely happy FFA with a bout of Socially Distanced Psychic Singing (you needed to be there), before yet another unknown to FFA blew us away – Chris Fox. Where do you find this talent Beardy? Gritty urban folk and blues with wonderful use of loop pedals and percussive guitar. Smashing stuff.
Another singer-songwriter to hit the mark was Susie Dobson. A fragile, lilting experience of minimalist strings and thoughtful social commentary. She excelled with the emotive ‘The Border’, but it was the delicate, wistful cover of ‘Space Oddity’ which rocked our boat.
Quality performances came thick and fast, but India Electric Co caught the eye. Bursts of electro-folk shone in an eclectic mix of folk related influences with lusciously rich soundscapes for a two piece. All roads led to Sheenanagig to close the whole shebang. What a stunning extravaganza of a set to wrap up a brilliant weekend. If your vision of hell is three folk singers in a pub near Wells, then rest easy, for Sheenanagig deliver high octane, blistering fifteen minute long folk-rock opuses. A Chiaroscuro rollercoaster of light and dark, highs and lows, and with more influences than you could shake a stick at (safely socially distanced, of course). Slavonic dance, Klezmer, Celt, et al. it all came out in the mix. Catlow’s fiddle playing was arguably the best of the weekend – and that’s some company. The ‘Manc Monk’ totally did for us. Once again, inspired programming from Beardy. An absolute triumph of a closing headline set.
Soooo, there you have it all, save for one last thought… perhaps Beardy Folk Festival 2020s’ biggest achievement it that it proved, despite all the current restrictions, that festivals are still VIABLE, and that it is possible to provide a safe and compliant environment, whilst still delivering a true ‘festival' experience. Beardy 2020 did much more than that though – it excelled in adversity. Wonderful.
Article & Snaps by Barrie Dimond