Review: Berwins Salon North

Thursday 27th April, 2017 at The Crown Hotel, Harrogate

Berwins Salon North works in partnership with Harrogate International Festivals to bring experts in the fields of arts, science and psychology to the average Joe without making them schlep to a university. They provide one specific thing: something refreshing. Salon North is structured as three evenings of talks and presentations on a given theme, with each evening featuring three speakers who are experts in their field. There are breaks between each talk to allow for debate with your friends or strangers alike and (which are also very gratefully received after some of the more intense talks or topics). It’s a great way to spend an evening; socialising with a glass of wine and fresh conversation fodder which generally isn’t to be found in the everyday. You can buy a ticket for one or all three of the evenings (with discounts available if you decide to book all three). I’ve unfortunately had to miss two of the three evenings in this series, the theme of which was ‘Caring, Sharing Daring’, but I tagged along on Thursday night to catch the ‘Daring’ evening.

IMG_4779.PNGAs the first billed speaker was unable to attend owing to food poisoning, Helen Bagnall, the face of Salon North and compère of each evening that I have attended, capably took the reigns and delivered an excellent talk on some of the most outrageously spurious and dangerous psychological tests of yesteryear. We were invited to test ourselves and to share openly in the light-hearted mockery of the funny ideas of silly Victorian pseudo scientists as Helen revealed the psychological profiling behind our innocent selections. Following Helen was Dave Randall, who took us on a surprising journey through history, focusing on ‘The Political Power of Music’; we learned of the ludicrous labelling and subsequent outlawing of musical notes labelled as the work of the devil. He took us through his key theories and observations on how despite persistent censorship of music and instruments, people have persevered to have their music heard. Closing the evening was Professor Steve Fuller, who flew through a comprehensive introduction to the ideas behind Transhumanism, raising pressing questions about what technological advances mean for our existing concepts of mortality and what it is to be human. As expected, I was fascinated to learn about a variety of weird and wonderful facts and concepts, many of which I’ve since been nattering away about- and that’s the point of Salon North: to get you thinking and to get you chatting about something slightly more invigorating than the latest betrayal in Eastenders.

IMG_4778.PNGI’ve been to around six or seven Salon North evenings previously and I happily recommend their programme to people looking for something different to enjoy while engaging and thinking rather than lounging about and switching off. The speakers and the themes vary, and there’s a hit and miss element in that you may find two of the three speakers thoroughly fascinating while the last leaves you unimpressed by their subject, but it’s well worth the gamble! Some speakers are also more interactive than others of course, so you really do have to trust in the judiciousness of the organisers and go along to see if the line up meets your interests. I’ve been to evenings about the changing role of gin, complete with a series of tasters and an evening of theories on memory, featuring a champion of memory challenges who delivered a brilliantly interactive talk. It’s important to stress that Salon North is not a stuffy room of intellectuals pontificating about subjects guaranteed to make the eyes droop – it’s designed to be refreshing, thought-provoking and contemporary. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly worth checking out as something out of the ordinary.

You can check them out on Twitter at @SalonNorth or online, here.

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