Beardy Folk (maybe reclaiming the stereotype with a large dose of irony) debuted as an early summer festival in 2018. It is set in the little village of Hopton Wafers, situated on the South Shropshire-North Worcestershire border, approximately twenty miles from the edge of the West Midlands conurbation. The ethos of the festival is to major on the UK folk scene and provide eleven hours of continuous music across two stages, with no overlaps to please the stamina-led junkies. The setting is a luscious walled garden, sloping quite prominently from the covered tent at the top of the hill (housing the bar and acoustic stage) to the suspended main stage at the foot. For the second successive year, the Saturday was blessed with fine weather; a key ingredient to a successful festival day.
If last summer was dominated by Skerryvore's EVO album release, twelve months on was another reminder of why 'Live Forever', 'At the End of the Line', 'Take My Hand', 'Waiting on the Sun' and 'Hold On' are ultimately great pop songs wrapped in that Scottish folk rock sheen. In line with an overall perception of a significant upsurge in attendance from last year, the front of the stage was packed for the headline performance, all animated in clapping, dancing and singing mode. Stirring stuff to close a memorable day.
The music of Katie Spencer and Kirsty Merryn came to me from opposing sides of the submission spectrum (Katie direct from artist: Kirsty via PR), but both met with full approval. After giving the albums' positive reviews, they were then ironically booked to play a joint bill at the Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry in late 2017. Since then, Katie was seen playing a short but impressive set at Cambridge Folk Festival and Kirsty made her debut in Birmingham at the Kitchen Garden. On the surface, both artists draw on differing skill sets, which meet at the satisfying alliance of marrying all qualities into fine music that resonates strongly. Their pair of sets at Beardy Folk may be have been scheduled five hours apart, but the results were hugely similar and re-enforced deserved acclaim which continues to accrue from multiple sources.
The focal point of any festival is the main stage and prior to Skerryvore closing matters late in the evening, a further six acts graced the lead performing space. Duos tended to be the order of the day with the aforementioned Gilmore & Roberts on first, before suitably followed by O'Hooley & Tidow and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar. All these are established acts on the UK folk circuit and set about imposing their individual styles. Katriona Gilmore frequently showed why she is a sought after fiddle player, while Belinda and Heidi proudly entertained in their own appealing forthright way buoyed by their hopefully 'more than fifteen minutes of fame' via the national focus on 'Gentleman Jack'. Greg and Ciaran are an acclaimed duo who I have never seen live before. This wrong was duly corrected and they were the artist leaping up the most on the appreciation scale.
|Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar|
Strong evidence rang around the site at Hopton Wafers that Beardy Folk is on a upward trajectory to becoming an established festival on the circuit. The more populous feel in 2019 still left plenty of relaxed breathing space. Hopefully the all important numbers are in the right column for the organisers. They have certainly got the scheduling and organisation right. Here's to 2020 and maybe the Saturday extended to the whole weekend in these quarters.