Are there any women here? Bearded Theory 2011 review

In the quest to experience something new every year, it was the turn of The Bearded Theory to fulfil this self-indulgence.

Situated in the picturesque grounds of Kedleston Hall, in my home county of Derbyshire, the Bearded Theory Festival took place from 13 -15th May this year.  An eclectic mix of music, entertainment, characters with never a dull moment.

It was the Festival’s third year, but it’s first year at Kedleston Hall.  An easy-to-reach venue that was easy on the eye but which was also a celebrity site, having been the key location for the Keira Knightley film “The Duchess”.    The site was well-proportioned, with many delights for old and young alike.  The weather decided to be surprisingly co-operative, but in the sparse times of rain, there was cover to take refuge under.

Why ‘Bearded Theory Festival’, I hear you ask?  Well, during the festival, there was a guiness book of record attempt for the “most amount of fancy dress Beards in one place and at one time”.  What an opportunity to achieve another first of being able to say that I was part of a record attempt and also to be able to wear a beard and enact a favourite Monty Python scene… “Are there any women here?”  Fantastic.

The main attraction of the Festival were ‘The Waterboys’ (officially) and what an act they were.  Absolutely brilliant, a stunning set.  The sheer understated showmanship of Mike Scott with his Jaggeresque arrogance and superb musicianship; the flamboyant fiddle skills of Steve Wickham; and the brilliance support of the other members of the band created a feast for the ears and the feet!

Why were they the main attraction officially?  Well, X-Factor reject, Wagner, was this year’s curiosity and faux-star feature and that is all the publicity I am going to give him in this review.

There were three main areas for the music.  The Main Stage; The Beard Top and the Magical Sounds Area with so many great acts playing across the weekend.  In no particular order; Dan Donnelly; 3 Daft Monkeys (The stalwart and honorary patrons of the Festival); Ferocious Dog (great name); The Whip; The Undertones; Justin Sullivan  of New Model Army fame; an awesome Swiss trio – Mama Rosin; Dub Pistols; The Bad Shepherds; Martha Tilston; Little Jonny England; Trans Global Underground; Athlete; Eddie and The Hot Rods.  Apologies to any one who I have missed out, but you were all excellent.

Whereas the Friday and Saturday were the opportunity for me to experience the Festival as a “grown-up”, I had the privilege to experience the Sunday as a “family day”.  Accompanied by my children, siblings and their younger children, we trooped along to the festival to see what else it offered for those not so enamoured by the music.  What a treat; – there was face-painting; craft activities; hula-hooping; hunt for the Gruffalo (found him and got a hug!); bouncy slide; bedtime fireside story;  Then there was the food; yum – something for all palates and not that pricey too – always a bonus!!!  For the retail therapy aficionados, then stalls to peruse and purchase from and of course, a variety of beards to deliberate over for the record attempt.  Then to wind down and relax, a calming massage that soothed the muscles and the mind.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and one that I hope to repeat next year and maybe even brave the camping!  I definitely recommend this festival.  There is entertainment galore and not just from the artists, but from members of the audience as well.  Book now for next year’s event (18th, 19th, 20th May 2012) peeps and wear your beards with pride!!

Sarah Burch 2011 

Festival weblink:

Folking Bearded Theory 2011 photo set:

Dillon hits the spot by Sarah Burch – artsdepot, North Finchley

After a hectic, stressful week, it was such a panacea to chill out at Cara Dillon’s gig at the artsdepot, North Finchley on March 5th.

Cara Dillon’s exquisite voice, coupled with the superb musical accompaniment of Sam Lakeman provided an evening of sheer joy and enjoyment. The couple provided the audience with a variety of experiences – the soulful, heart-rendering Irish folk ballads;; the richness of Cara’s beautiful voice – apparently slightly marred by a “tickle” but barely imperceptible by the audience; the marvellous support and arrangements provided by Sam’s keyboard and guitar skills; and the diversity and randomness of Sam Lakeman’s facts (did you know that giraffes don’t have any vocal chords? No, nor did I!). Cara performed songs not just from her award-winning album, Hill of Thieves, but reintroduced the audience to her past work.

The artsdepot was a fabulous venue; great acoustics, good facilities and a welcoming feel. It seemed slightly incongruent – the modern space contrasted by the traditional Irish folk songs, but there was a certain charm to this incongruity. The seating was comfortable and the ambience enhanced by the soft lighting.

A great evening, top notch performers, receptive audience and welcoming venue – perfect. For more info on Cara visit

Sarah Burch

Artist Website:

Fairport Convention Cropredy 2009 Festival Review

With the threat of hitting the big four O this year, it was time to try some new activities to try and prove to myself that I was still young and restless! Courtesy of “the one and only” ..Folkmaster.. (apologies Darren), I trotted along to Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival armed with cold weather gear (well, after 4½ years in ….Brisbane…., the ….UK…. is cold – and camping would be freezing!) and a very open mind – what had I got myself in to?

The day dawned fine and sunny as I arrived in Oxfordshire, the tent was erected with relatively little swearing and angst although it did take strategic and careful logistical planning to avoid the large lumps of cow dung! All sorted and unpacked and it was off to find out what all the fuss was about.

With no real prior knowledge of Fairport Convention (heresy, I hear!!) and my life obviously lacking, I was both enthusiastic and cautiously optimistic about the education that lay in store. Armed with vino, camping chair and souvenir programme, (note the priorities!), I set myself in amongst the other festival revellers eagerly awaiting the entertainment. We were not disappointed. What an array of talent, variety and sheer chutzpah! It was fantastic. There were acts for all – traditional folk; folk rock; folk punk (!) (or should that be punk folk?) and pop! It was three days of sheer delight!

Along with the music, there was the Cropredy atmosphere – an aura of comradeship, fun and don’t-care attitude prevailed. When they say that it is ….Britain….’s friendliest music festival, they weren’t kidding! Browsing around the many stalls, children’s entertainment and food vendors just added to the sense of ambience.

But back to the music and where to start. All the artists were excellent but my personal highlights included Richard Thompson and I was thrilled when he played Vincent Black Lightning 1952 as that was my introduction to his music; Dreadzone – energetic, crowd-pleasing and thumping good tunes!; Seth Lakeman – having danced to his set at Stokes Bay Festival, it was great to see him again and Cormac Byrne from Uiscedwr who joined him on Lady of the Sea; Nik Kershaw (my nostalgic return to the 80s and the heady days of youth.) Colvin Quarmby – with Gerry Colvin’s groovy hands – they deserved a set of their own!! And of course, the incomparable Fairport Convention who were joined by the lengendary Yusaf Islam aka Cat Stevens.

When Sunday morning came and it was time to dismantle the tent and begin the journey home, a sense of mild gloom came over me – my first Cropredy was over – never again would I be a Cropredy virgin but…. Although the first time is special, the next time I would be a veteran.. roll on Cropredy 2010!

Sarah Burch August 2009

Festival website: