The Burton Agnes Jazz Festival – 2016
My wife used to live in the village of Burton Agnes when she was a child, the place has some very happy memories for her. Recently we went to visit the hall, which dates back to 1173, and this is how we discovered that there was a Jazz Festival in July of this year.
I have to say that neither of us are experts on Jazz, it is a form of music that we seem to have drifted into over the years. I am not well enough informed to tell the difference between styles, I just know what I like to hear and usually I can only recognise it when the tune is a few bars in.
I am not much of a festival goer, to be honest, which is mainly due to being disabled. I am not very good in crowds as my body is ridiculously slow at responding to sudden movements. I also have a problem getting up from off the ground so sitting in a chair is definitely my preferred choice but in a normal festival setting that usually is not the norm. A quick trawl of the internet revealed that the Burton Agnes Jazz Festival is a little bit more civilised than Glastonbury, however. Chairs and tables actually seem to be what most people prefer, in one form or another anyway. My wife had little trouble in persuading me to join her for the three day festival then.
Of course Britain is famous for its contrary weather and it did not fail to disappoint. Although it was fine and even a little sunny when we arrived at Burton Agnes the clouds quickly moved in and the heaven’s opened. Fortunately we have managed to pitch our borrowed tent while it was still dry.
The rain continued but eased somewhat by the time the Simon Cunliffe-Lister, owner of the hall and organiser and main driving force behind the festival, introduced the first act, Octopus, an eight-piece classic swing outfit. The band leader, Mad-Dog, sang at my sister-in-law’s wedding; my claim to fame! Octopus were no more, however, and had reduced in size and changed their name, but no one seemed to mind. Mad-Dog is brilliant at opening events and getting the fun going, as he proved both here and at the wedding that I alluded to. We spent the first part of his set sat the in the beer tent but with the rain relenting we opted to grab our deckchairs and sit out on the grass.
Bugalu Foundation followed and they offered a much increased audience a Latin style performance with a very infectious dance beat. It certainly got the kids up and dancing. In fact there were plenty of youngsters at the festival, the age range was surprisingly and encouragingly diverse. As Bugalu Foundation got into their groove their fusion style worked its magic and had more and more people heading down to the front to boogie with the band. They closed the opening day of the festival in fine style.
Although the main stage was finished for the night the beer tent hosted a couple of more acts who were intent on playing into the early hours, one of the benefits of having a music festival in a stately home. We particularly enjoyed the Whiskey Dogs, an interesting ensemble of musicians who played 1920’s and 30’s blues, country and fold music with mostly acoustic instruments. Now I have to say that if I had read that first I might not have stayed for their act but I had a pint of beer in front of me and so stay I did; it was a good decision. Led by Pete Bolton, multi-talented and an evocative singer, the Whiskey Dogs play with genuine passion and a love for music that earned them an enthusiastic response from their late night audience. Their set introduced us to different types of music that I know I certainly would not normally go out of my way to experience, which seems somewhat sad in retrospect because they brought it all alive and I thoroughly enjoyed their performance.
Saturday brought us the likes of Manjula, another fusion band who blend Portuguese, African, and Latin melodies to create something new and unique. They were followed by Pan Jumby, who mixed Calypso and Jazz – I know, it sounds unlikely but it works! Blind Monk Trio took us towards the evening, by which time we had our picnic table out and a bottle of champagne opened. The trio like to present original arrangements to established classics, as well as some of their own music. Like all the acts that we had seen so far they were of an exceptional quality.
Elaine Delmar is billed as one of the great voices of British Jazz and it is an epithet richly deserved. Her voice is powerful, emotional, and perfectly suited to the songs of Gershwin and Cole Porter.
Although I acknowledge my ignorance of Jazz music there was one artist who I did know something about and that was PP Arnold. I am a long time Rolling Stones fan and it was Mick Jagger who convinced PP Arnold to pursue a solo career after she arrived in Britain with Ike and Tina Turner back in the early 1960’s. She has two particularly famous songs to her name, ‘Angel of the Morning’ and ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’. Her presence at the festival added a kind of gravitas that only such experienced performers can bring.
The weather unfortunately turned for the worst with the temperature dropping and the rain returning in intermittent showers. We retired to our less than comfortable but warmer tent and listened to the Alligators playing in the beer tent. I would like to have gone and watched them but this was July and I was just so cold!
Sunday morning was brighter and kicked off with the Django Reinhardt inspired Gypsy Jazz of Matt Holborn. Beautifully laid back music, perfect for the morning session and something to enjoy in the equally beautiful gardens of Burton Agnes Hall.
The afternoon’s entertainment continued with Lindsay Hannon, a singer who explores the more bluesy aspects of Jazz, improvising and sounding more experimental with a broad mix of songs. Her on stage personality had charisma and her enthusiasm for just being at the festival was infectious.
The improvisation theme continued with Graeme Wilson’s Quartet, finely crafted musicians who indulge in plenty of solo’s, every one of which drew a warm applause from an appreciative audience.
Finally we came to the end of the festival. Simon Cunliffe-Lister took to the stage to introduce Ben Beaties’s After Midnight Band at 5pm. Throughout the festival he had introduced all of the acts, mingled with the crowd, and been encouraged people to stop and talk to him. He is a great host, he’s also rather brave as he announced that he would be playing live with Ben Beatie! Fortunately Simon Cunliffe-Lister is a talented musician in his own right and he contributed to the closing set being a fun ending to a very enjoyable festival.
This was the ninth Jazz and Blues Festival to be held at Burton Agnes and work has already begun on preparing for 2017, my wife has indicated that we will be attending, which is fine with me.