Burton Agnes Jazz And Blues Festival

Venue: Burton Agnes
Town: East Yorks
Date: 27-29/6/14
Website: www.burtonagnes.com/Jazz_Festival.html

Burton Agnes is a small Yorkshire village which is home to Burton Agnes Hall.

This festival - now in its fifth year - is held in and around the hall - making full use of the wonderful lawned gardens.

The organiser, Simon Cunliffe-Lister, owns the Hall and is also a mean saxophone player.

So it was no surprise to see him blowing up a storm with Brothers Groove on the opening night.

The Birmingham four-piece, in the running for one of the best up and coming blues acts in the British Blues Awards, delivered a funky 90-minute set. Technically the band tick all the boxes, great rhythm and stunning twin guitars. At times it was like listening to the Allman Brothers!

But they need to work on their stagecraft. There was very little interaction with an enthusiastic audience, who kept dancing in spite of the light rain that began to fall.

Earlier we managed to catch Octopus, an eight-piece (naturally) jazz swing band who kicked off the Festival in fine style with their great versions of the classics.

Late on in the Bar tent, the floor was filled with dancers as a local band ripped through cover after cover and refused to pause for breath. Truly breathless stuff!

This is a very English festival, with a wonderful laid-back atmosphere.

There was a main outdoor stage, a very popular Bar Tent, and an equally popular Tea tent. The tents were both opened sides and lit with fairy lights to create a surreal ambience. And with a campsite next door it had all the ingredients for a great weekend.

Organisers must have kept a close eye on the weather as showers threatened to spoil the party. But during Saturday the rain kept away and we strolled through the magnificent walled gardens with jazz floating on the breeze.

The Great Hall was also used for concerts and proved a great success.

Bob Beattie wowed us with his consummate piano playing before he was joined by some of his band for some marvellous 12-bar workouts featuring great trumpet, sax and percussion.

We particularly enjoyed the Nick Rooke Band with their jigs and reels illuminating the room. It was great to see a band perform totally acoustic to great effect. Nick put the audience at ease with his tales between songs and was richly rewarded with warm applause throughout his hour-long set. Nick and several other artists were appearing as part of a link-up with the Beverley Arts Trust and it looked very profitable for all concerned.

Back on the main stage Polly and Billets Doux warmed up the hundreds of folks sitting on the lawn. This four piece used Polly Perry's vocals to great effect in a haunting set that encompassed rock'n'roll, folk, gospel and pop as young children did their best to hula hoop in front of the stage, with limited success!

As the evening beckoned, King Pleasure and The Biscuit Boys got the party swinging in a blistering 90-minute set. Toe-tapping r&b of the highest order with some great sax-playing had them all up and dancing and demanding - and getting - a well deserved encore.

The final main stage act on Saturday saw Yorkshire's answer to Jimi Hendrix - Chantel McGregor - who blasted her way into the Festival with some pyrotechnic guitar that drew a large crowd at the foot of the stage. The diminutive flaxen-hair guitarist has developed into a superb all-round act with her powerhouse trio.

While her guitar histrionics and assertive blues rock were not everyone's cup of Earl Grey there was no denying her prowess as she blasted through original material with a sprinkling of covers such as Prince's Purple Rain and the Hendrix classic Voodoo Chile. Very impressive.

Later in The Bar Tent there was a more relaxed feel as 18-year-old Lucy Marshall entertained a packed venue with her scratch band. It was left to Festival favourites The Alligators to wrap a superb day of music with their old school r'n'b which had the tent rocking into the wee small hours.

Sunday was largely given over to jazz. We caught a little bit of Simon Cunliffe-Lister playing his sax to great effect with Michael Nagasaka on guitar in the Great Hall. Later we listened to Bob Beattie's five-piece band After Midnight go through their paces with some extended workouts of recognisable tunes, including standout piano work from Mike Cunliffe but the entire band were so good, so talented and so young.

We also were lucky enough to catch 17-year-old Molly Curtis from Goole run through a few acoustic numbers in the Great Hall. She sang so crisply and confidently belying her age, all the more impressive as she was a last-minute stand-in.

Back on the Main stage we were pleased to catch Tipitina go through their paces. This four-piece band wowed the crowd with their up tempo bluesy numbers, borrowing from the back catalogues of Dr John and Randy Newman to brilliant affect. A real treat.

Next on stage we were taken back to the Thirties with some consummate musicianship from Djangologie. Boy can these cats swing. Even the youngsters with their hula hoops caught the bug. Simply superb playing.

It was quite fitting that Simon Cunliffe-Lister should bring the festival to a fitting conclusion by joining Ben Beattie's band for a sax-fuelled romp, which culminated with their version of Memphis Soul Stew.

The rain stayed away and the sun shone. Great news for a largely outdoor event, superbly organised and efficiently run, which brought together such a wide range of musical styles across a successful weekend.

Words & Pictures:John Knighton

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