Bearded Theory festival is a 10k capacity music festival held on a lovely site at Catton Hall in South Derbyshire. It is a small, relaxed and very friendly festival. The festival was held at Catton Hall for the first time in 2014 and as you would expect there were a few teething problems, though to be fair these were largely caused by the truly awful weather.
To their credit the Bearded Theory team acted on all of the feedback they received last year and as a result made the festival even better this year. The team are determined that people will have a great time when they come to the festival. Our arrival was painless and easy. The live in vehicle field this year was in a new location, it is huge, flat and well laid out. I understand that some people had to queue for some time to get onto the site but this wasn’t the case for us.
Our arrival was smooth and easy and we were set up in no time at all. There were numerous toilets and a shower block in easy reach and the entrance to the arena was just a couple of minutes walk away. In my experience the toilets were also spotlessly clean, even first thing in the morning. We were also positioned near to the wonderful woodland stage so if the mood took us we could simply chill out by the van and listen to the music from there. Ideal!
The festival proper at Bearded Theory starts Friday lunchtime but the Something-Else big tops laid on a stellar evenings entertainment for those of us lucky enough to arrive on Thursday. Zombie Met Girl opened up and Barsteward Sons of Val Doonican followed up with their usual brand of musical comedy madness. Levellers frontman Mark Chadwick played a blinding set with a few of his solo project songs but the bulk of his set consisted of festival favourite Levellers songs.
3 Daft Monkeys played their usual excellent set of high-octane danceable folk tunes. This really is a band that gets better and better. They have been around for many years but I never fail to be impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and fun they bring to every performance. I will simply never tire of seeing them. The evening was rounded off by the self styled godfathers of skunk, Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs who entertained us with their crazy mix of punk rock tunes played in a skiffle style. It all added up to a fantastic start to the festival.
Across the weekend the music line-up was very good indeed. I was pleasantly surprised by Friday’s headliners, The Mission. I confess that I know next to nothing about the band and negative comments from some of my festival buddies left me not at all bothered whether or not I saw them. I decided to photograph them and was really very pleasantly surprised by their energy and by the reaction of the crowd. As a result I stuck around to see most of their set. During the remainder of the evening I managed to catch Sonic Boom 6, Dizreali & the small gods, Hugh Cornwall, Alabama 3 and the incredible Gaz Brookfield. The line-up was varied and eclectic and without exception all were excellent. I had been looking forward to seeing Cornwall as I wanted to compare him with the set put on by his erstwhile band-mates, The Stranglers who played last year. Whilst Cornwall’s set was great it didn’t come close to the Stranglers set.
Saturday was by a distance my favourite day in terms of the line-up. There was a strong bias towards bands that fall into the folk and celtic punk genre. Right up my street and the bands really did not let us down. London based Celtic Punk outfit Neck opened up the day for us and they were followed by the likes of Skinny Lister, Pronghorn and the Mahones on the main stage. The day was topped off by New Model Army, one of my all time favourite bands and they played a blinding set. We did have to do a bit of running around because I refused to miss the Leylines and Louise Distras who were playing on the woodland stage. Sadly we were forced to miss both the Jack Ratts and Kilnaboy as they clashed with other bands we wanted to see.
A word on the Bearded Theory woodland stage. What a wonderful area this is. It is situated in a little hollow in the woods and at night is lit by fairy lights strung from the trees. A huge amount of work has been put into this are since last years festival. This year saw the addition of a beautifully designed stage and a fantastic upgrade to the sound system. This combined with a great line-up of bands ensured that the Woodland stage was a very popuar area indeed. The stage played host to the likes of Cara Dillon, Neville Staple, the Star Botherer’s and the Blind Fever Band as well as the others I have already mentioned. As well as a bar the woodland stage enjoyed the addition of a top eatery with Adele Reynolds superb ‘Nana’s Kitchen’. Nana’s kitchen provided a superb spot to relax over a coffee and a huge lump of home baked cake. Amazingly Adele and her team even managed to cater for almost 300 lucky souls who had pre-booked a Sunday Lunch. I didn’t manage to bag one but the feedback from those who did was exceptional. Seriously, a sit-down Sunday Lunch at a festival, brilliant!
After an exhausting Saturday and a very late night Sunday was an altogether more relaxed affair. We wandered, we chatted, we relaxed, chilled out in the Something-Else Tea Tent, enjoyed Beardy Keith’s Uke Jam and bought a few bands including Ned Dylan, James, The Beat and The Buzzcocks. The highlight of Sunday for me though was Les Carter’s Abdoujaparov in the Something-Else big top. I never tire of Abdoujaparov, I think the key is seeing Les have so much fun, the humour of some of Carter USM’s lyrics is still there but with this band Les seems so much more relaxed and he clearly enjoys every second onstage.
This year Bearded Theory made a massive investment in their younger customers. The children’s area was safe, secure and free to parents. The range of activities was superb and everyone from tot’s to teens were having an amazing time. The festival even recognised that in order to allow parents to have the full festival experience it might be necessary for the kids to have an extra day off school.
Taking children out of school during term time is becoming increasingly frowned upon so Bearded Theory came up with the perfect solution. The Bearded Theory school was born. With lessons based on the national curriculum and centred on the festival experience the school had close to 200 attendees who experienced a fun-filled day of learning overseen by qualified teachers. To the best of my knowledge this was a first for a UK festival.
To put everything in a nutshell Bearded Theory is one of the most friendly, enjoyable and best value festivals on the circuit. It is incredibly good fun and I am looking forward to enjoying it for many years to come.
Words And Photographs by Alan Ewart: you can follow Alan on Twitter at @soundofmysummer or on the internet at soundofsummer.org and you can read more posts by Alan at his Louder Than War author’s archive.