|Beardy Folk Festival 2021
17th - 20th Jun 2021
Hopton Court, Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, DY14 0EF, United Kingdom
Tickets for adults (without camping) from £125.00
Back in September 2020, Beardy Folk Festival reserved its place in the annuls of British Music Festival Greats by achieving the seemingly impossible in the middle of a Pandemic; they were one of only a handful of events to proceed that year and successfully delivered a fully socially distanced and totally compliant festival… and what an excellent bash it was. Read the Festivals For All Beardy Folk Festival 2020 Review for just a taster of the magnitude of that achievement and what a cracking weekend they delivered. Well, building on that success, Beardy 2021 simply excelled. Forget the Pandemic, under any regime, Beardy would be something special. Excellent organisation and facilities, a truly magnificent and unique location in a Walled Garden estate in the heart of rural Shropshire, two stages offering back-to-back music all day long, a first-class artist roster and scheduling, a quality ethos that pervades every element, and, most importantly, lovely people. (Yep, those fellow creatures you’ve not seen for an age!). From the organisers, to the stewards and support teams, through to a first-class crowd, those Beardy folks are indeed a special breed.
The wheels were, of course, kept well oiled by a wonderful range of Hobson’s beers at a remarkable £3.33 equivalent! Bargain territory in Festival Land. Beardy has a great relaxed and civilised vibe, and an audience who were up for a good time. Yeah, the current constraints had an impact, but nothing too restrictive, and certainly nothing to prevent a brilliant weekend unfolding. The crowd just felt privileged to be, well, a crowd again. Friendliness abounded; it was a great atmosphere. Amidst all the merriment, if you looked a bit deeper, Beardy also provided a few encouraging pointers of what the future could hold for this crazy planet of ours.
Pandemic aside, a lot has happened to the world, and the UK in particular, in the last few years that many find unsettling, a disunity that makes us uncomfortable with society, and those we share it with… and yet. A couple of instances at Beardy proved rather life affirming. Nothing big, indeed trivial in the scheme of things… but small indications that the threads that bind us together are far stronger than those that would tear us apart. That a sense of true community and a coming together can overcome virtually any obstacle if people care enough. The festival itself – a triumph over adversity; Merry Hell’s passion for tolerance and equality getting such a warm reception from such a responsive crowd; Holy Moly’s joyous interaction with their audience – seated, cold and wet, in a sodden field approaching midnight; Being deeply moved by the raw emotion of the Sam Brookes performance. Human bonding at its very best. Artist and Audience as one, humanity transcending the everyday, proving that communication is king, and that we all, well, just need to listen to one another a little bit more. Beardy enabled all that, and under such challenging circumstances – they can be proud.
And so, to the artists. Their sheer unadulterated joy of performance was a pleasure to behold. It had been a long time. Fired up, certainly. Under-rehearsed, probably. It didn’t matter. Artists FFA had seen previously in The Before Times, who struggled to string a sentence together, have, post lockdown, became chatty raconteurs! Everyone in that arena craved interaction. Some great two-way banter simply added to the occasion. Entertainers and the Entertained doing their thing, and it was lovely. Now Beardy is rightly renowned for the quality of its line-up, and this year’s batch certainly lived up to the billing. FFA genuinely never witnessed an act, anywhere on the bill, that did not deserve the stage. Here are our savagely edited festival highlights, which may not be yours if you were blessed to attend! So it goes. What do I know? If your favourite does not even get a mention in this final cut, then more fool us.
Virginia Kettle’s solo spot over on the Garden Stage, a precursor to her excesses later in the evening with Merry Hell, was a stunning performance. The lady continues to blossom into an outstanding singer-songwriter. Confident, polished, and social conscience worn proudly on her sleeve; the set was a triumph. Featuring some neat percussive guitar, and joined in parts by elements of Merry Hell, the strength of character in her writing shone through. Opener ‘Union Jack House’ spoke volumes. Great stuff. The splendid super-subs Hope & Social delivered a typically fine set, with great chat, but the highlight was surely the excellent banter which ensued when they were heckled by a dog! Lauren Housley’s smooth Americana country blues were an absolute delight. Surrounded by some fine musicians, the lady simply shone. Playing her first gig in over a year, her delight in performance was simply infectious. Loved it.
Merry Hell closed the night in wonderful style. A cracking band on top of their game. In a set largely defined by their stunning new album ‘Emergency Lullabies’, this was a performance to savour. From social justice and ecology anthems like ‘Three Little Lions’ and ‘Sister Atlas’ to the Music Hall shenanigans of ‘Violet’ and ‘Bakers Daughter’, this perfectly rounded set had it all. Glorious stuff. Throw in a moving homage to the NHS and this performance was something very special indeed. Great headliners. Great audience. Great night. Great Beardy.
Jacob & Drinkwater’s guitar and double bass combo filled the Meadow Stage with some lovely, lilting, gentle soundscapes. The Latino edge and minimalist style suited the lazy afternoon vibe to a tee. Now then, Mark Radcliffe IS a raconteur, a one-man anecdote factory, wit, and all-round Good Guy. The boy can play, but The Stories are the thing. A splendid hour over on the Garden Stage. Edwina Hayes delivered a great set back at the Meadows. She is blessed with some superb original material, but it was her covers that excelled on this outing. Her take on Prine’s ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’, and Cohen’s (via Warne) ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ were superb, and all wrapped around some entertaining chatter, Saturday was turning out to be a great Beardy day.
The night was even better with Benji Kirkpatrick & The Excess the first of three sensational acts to grace the Beardy stages. An eclectic mix with Funk beats, Jazz riffs, and Rock bouzouki (no, really), their take on Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ was an absolute delight. Vying for Set Of The Festival, certainly on an emotional level, the brilliant Sam Brookes held the Garden Stage spellbound with a haunting, melancholy, but truly uplifting set of love, loss, and all points in-between. The passion, intensity, and raw emotion of this young man left this old Reviewer transfixed. Lyrically strong, and musically sound, the bombshell that Beardy was their first live performance together as a band, only served to emphasise the heights they reached that Saturday night. Excellent.
At this point, it should be noted that the weather turned truly dreadful, making the Holy Moly & The Crackers set all the more stunning. Social distancing measures meant most of the audience were huddled in camping chairs on a bitterly cold night as the heavens opened. For a band to rock up on stage and make this Reviewer forget it was raining is a rare gift, but the band managed it in fine style. The crowd were dancing in their chairs! There is just something about British stoicism in the face of adversity that you’ve just got to love. The band needlessly apologised for lack of lockdown rehearsal time, but such was the energy and sheer vibrancy of the set, that any frayed edges weren’t apparent … the band and audience too busy revelling in the collective Good Times moment. Another great headliner to close another great day.
A day when trad English Folk ruled the early roost. Top marks for Belshazzar’s Feast who brought said melodies to the atmospheric Walled Garden. Once again, great stories and laconic wit vied with the music for attention. Genuinely very funny and hugely entertaining. Kit Hawes & Aaron Catlow continued the classic English folk theme over on the Meadows with a lovely mellow set. Some great Beardy scheduling to deliver a hazy lazy Sunday afternoon vibe… this was sunny festival faire – and the sun, briefly, made the obligatory appearance. Faustus! Class act and their take on ‘Og’s Eye Man’ splendid – nuff said.
For sheer musical accomplishment and excellence, arguably Set Of The Day, if not the festival itself, had to go to Solana. They were outstanding. A heady fusion of world music influences, featuring everything from Celtic rhymes and Jamaican beats through Iberian soundscapes, to Slavonic Dance; it was all in this splendid mash up. Multi-instrumentalist Tamsin Elliott simply excelled. Absolutely riveting stuff. With a new album pending, this crew are destined for bigger things. Great find, Beardy.
Kit Hawes and Sam Brookes raised their pretty heads again as part of the headline John Martyn Project. This collective of half a dozen outstanding musicians brought their own individual interpretations to the wonderful body of work that one of the finest singer-songwriters of the 20th century bequeathed… and it was all magical stuff. Tight as a nut as a collective band, with some outstanding solo renditions, particularly the spine-tingling moments when Hawes sparked up the echoplex. You could hear a pin drop during Brookes’s absolutely beautiful rendition of ‘Couldn’t Love You More’. What a brilliant finale!
So there you go. Beardy Folk Festival 2021 – Wonderful.
Article and Snaps by Barrie Dimond