Sunday, 25 September 2011

Smooth operator – Burton Agnes Jazz & Blues Festival 2011

Well it wasn’t what I expected at all. Not having been to a music festival before (yes I was a festival virgin until this summer), I did my homework before leaving home.  Into the car went the wet wipes and antiseptic hand wash I had been told was vital in case of overcrowded and overflowing toilets, games and books to keep the children amused in the traffic queues and between acts on stage, and of course the wellies – four pairs – for the inevitable mud.

I didn’t need any of it.

Claire Martin wowed the crowd
The Burton Agnes Jazz & Blues Festival was the most civilised and enjoyable event – and I loved every minute of the time I spent there. To my dismay we were only able to attend on the final day, so we missed much of a great bill that included Jacqui Dankworth, Matt Smith and Oli Brown.

What we did see though was fab: singer Claire Martin was a revelation – her vocals were sublime and the music lush, while eight-piece East Yorkshire band Octopus played out a set of classic swing that transported me back to my childhood. (I grew up listening to my dad’s jazz and swing records). 

Swing out with Octopus

As the music rang out around the grounds of Burton Agnes Hall, several people started to dance; others watched from blankets or deck chairs, sipping wine or drinking freshly brewed tea. No shouting, no screaming, everybody had a great view and the hours slipped past quickly as we all chilled to the sounds from the stage.

With me were my daughter, my brother and my niece. The girls are aged 10 and 5 so they weren’t for sitting still too long, but it didn’t matter. The gardens surrounding the great hall led to a woodland walk where we had fun spotting carved wooden creatures in the trees and hedges. The vegetable gardens led to a maze that the girls mastered admirably, leaving me stranded trying to find my way to the middle as they ran off.  There were outdoor games – giant chess boards, drafts, hopscotch and snakes and ladders – to hold their attention and we played all of them. These were definitely a big attraction for the many young visitors at the festival, and the great thing was, even while playing, we could still hear the music clearly.

Spot the woodland creatures kept the kids amused
We had taken a picnic to eat while watching the performers on stage, but there was loads of food on sale for non-picnic lovers, including burgers (my daughter had one of those and gave it the thumbs up), salads, hot dishes and homemade cake. The beer tent sold soft drinks as well as alcohol and for shopaholics there were two gift shops, plants for sale from the hall’s gardens, and a display of work by local artists to buy.  Importantly, none of the queues were too long either.

Now for the venue itself – I cannot fault it. The beautiful manor house and grounds have been in the Cunliffe-Lister family for around 900 years, and the performances took place on a stage set on the  beautiful lawns in front of the hall, as well as inside the building itself. Camping facilities were located in a field next to the gardens and though we didn’t bring our tent, by all accounts they were fine.

Beautiful Burton Agnes Hall
Burton Agnes Hall is a tourist attraction in itself, so it is
well served with proper loos (no smelly plastic toilets). It is situated between York and Bridlington on the A614 and offers free parking. 

All in all we really enjoyed our day and are definitely going for the entire festival next year – tent and all. And I’ll take the wellies just in case, though the other stuff can stay at home.

Burton Agnes Jazz & Blues Festival
5-7 August 2011

This review was prepared for the Family Festivals website, check it out on

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