Bearded Theory Festival
Fri 18th – Sun 20th May,
Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

Earlier this year it was widely reported that the Sonisphere Festival had been cancelled; only last week we reported that the Belfast based Titanic Lockdown Festival had also been called off ”“ both had cited poor ticket sales as the reason; we had suggested that it is perhaps the sheer proliferation of festivals that is to blame. On the face of it a vast selection of festivals offers a vast choice of genres, a huge range of bands ”“ in reality many bands have merely replace traditional gigs with money earning festival appearances, so you get the same half dozen headliners at the majority of events; no real surprise that people are choosing not to buy tickets.

Bearded Theory however is one festival intent on bucking the trend, now in to its fifth year and most recently voted the ”Ëœfriendliest festival’ in the AIM 2011 Awards, Bearded Theory goes from strength to strength; we sent our man along to find out what all the fuss was about, and to discover just what this beard thing is…

Bearded Theory is set within the grounds of Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire; the hall is the family home of the Curzon family who have lived there since 1297, the current building was constructed in 1763 and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Robert Adam’s work. Adam was also responsible for the layout of the grand gardens which over the weekend of Friday 18th to Sunday 20th May saw thousands attend to partake of the ”ËœBeardie’ delights , with five stages on offer plus a children’s area, a creative area, and a vast array of market stalls the festival has managed to regain an element lost by so many others ”“ perhaps as there is no corporate sponsorship, no huge ”ËœV’ flags or ”ËœTennents’ banners adorning the stage the festival has reached out in some small way to the counter culture; the range of free activities on offer for children, both big and small was impressive ”“ water zorbing, drum workshops, story-telling, and wood carving to list just a fraction. For those too old or too frail for water zorbing there was food from around the globe, and beers to match, and then there was the music all of which ensured the festival had sold out a long time before the gates opened.

We arrived Friday afternoon, and pitched our tent directly adjacent to Keddleston Hall, without doubt the finest backdrop to set up camp before, ahead on the slowly rolling gardens the huge half dome of the main stage, and the big top that forms Tornado Town, so named as during Bearded Theory 2 the main stage was destroyed by a tornado!! In the distance could be spotted the Magical Sounds arena and amongst the throngs of festival goers, many of which wearing false beards and vividly coloured flags was the small Waters Edge stage. Dotted around the main arena were a number of metal statues depicting humanistic and anamorphic beings.

First band was the rather wonderful Zara And The Tatsmiths, who took to the Tornado Town stage beneath the appropriate weather themed decoration, this five piece folk/punk/pop mash-up hail from Brighton and are were intent on setting the tone for the weekend with their humorous lyrics and gritty delivery, certainly got the healthy sized crowd going.

Things took a distinct dive as Dr & The Medics took to the main stage, opening with a cover of Dead Or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round’, before destroying Billy Idol’s ”ËœWhite Wedding’ and savaging The B52’s ”ËœLove Shack’ ”“ yes their cover of ”ËœSpirit In The Sky’ was good, but once they had played that there really was nothing left.

I retreated to Tornado Town for Warrington’s Rougneck Riot, this their biggest gig to date though there wasn’t any sign of nerves on display as front man Matty led us through their raucous blend of punk riven folk ”“ think Flogging Molly, The Clash, a touch of The Man In Black then add youthful enthusiasm and you still ain’t halfway there… Rouhgneck Riot deserve to be huge and on this display that status is hopefully just around the next corner.

Friday nights headline act was Adam Ant; his biggest gig since his return to public performance ”“ I’ve see Adam Ant many times recently, a number of reviews have been written here at LTW so I was particularly interested to see how he would transfer the near intimacy of his recent gigs to a festival stage ”“ my concerns were unmerited, despite the swirling wind and the summer rain, upon hearing opener ”ËœPlastic Surgery’ the crowd responded creating a huge seething mosh-pit.

Adam Ant responded further ”“ a consummate showman, he owns the stage, this is a man who understands his craft; he is a true performer who knows how to entertain, his set consists of the hits from ”ËœKings Of The Wild Frontier’ which retains that weird avant-garde element to the pure pop of ”ËœGoody Two Shoes’ and back into the darker recess of his catalogue; ”ËœLady/Fall-In’, ”ËœChristian Dior’ and then he brings it right up to date with ”ËœVince Taylor’ from the forthcoming album. Adam Ant still retains the all elements that ignited the public’s imagination some 30+ years ago; sex, subversion and a back catalogue of innovative tunes.

Once awake on the Saturday morning breakfast was demolished in front of Kedleston Hall, seeing as the Curzon family had allowed us to play in their front garden we took the opportunity to have a peek around their home which these days is run by The National Trust. The house was never actually intended as an actual home, more a exhibition space for the members of the family to display their collections of artefacts from various world tours ”“ yes its opulent, yes it’s an example of the extremities of the English class system but it is also one of the finest private collections of art and antiquities in the UK and was well worth seeing.

But we came for the music…

Go Go Cult took to the Tornado Town stage and delivered a truly blistering set of sleazy 50’s rock ”Ëœn’ roll delivered Meteors style ”“ the band resplendent in Zorro masks and striped T-shirts as they delivered their voodoo sermon.

Ash Victim took to the Water’s Edge stage and delivered his solo brand of acoustic punk songs ”“ a committed anarchist and vegetarian who supports himself busking across the country, with gigs coming up at the Punk by The Sea Festival he is well worth catching.

Pronghorn managed to ramp things up still further ”“ their blend of deranged alcohol fuelled ”Ëœcow punk’ saw the first instances of crowd surfing; but Pronghorn didn’t just confine themselves to the music, they paused proceedings to allow a crew member onto stage with a tray of slammers as an intro toast to ”ËœGeorge Best’, before we were treated to the bands double bass player proposing to his partner from the stage.

Clearly we were in the land of lunacy, so it was apt that The Damned should headline the main stage, each of them sporting a false beard – Sensible looking anything but in a clashing pink and yellow fur ball number. Watching The Damned can be hit and miss; tonight it was a huge hit, opening with ”ËœWaiting For The Blackout’ before travelling across their entire back catalogue visiting ”ËœNew Rose’, Ignite’, ”ËœLove Song’, ”ËœSmash It Up’ an extended prog version of ”ËœNeat Neat Neat’ and even a short blast of The Capt’s own bona fide hit ”ËœWot’

Vanian stalked the stage whilst Monty Oxy Moron bounced behind his keyboard; the highlight possibly being ”ËœEloise’ with those soaring keys building to a crescendo as the dry ice billowed across the crowd swathed in red lighting.

Sunday morning summed up why Bearded Theory works ”“ this is a well run festival, but a festival that is committed to entertaining all who are there regardless of age as such when The Red Barrows entered the arena beneath the Main Stage to the theme from ”ËœThe Damnbusters’ you knew you were in for something very special; as each Flight Captain ”Ëœpiloted’ his machine through an intricate stunt display of especially choreographed manoeuvres whilst fuelled by two pints of IPA or Fosters, before engage the enemy in battle ”“ this is why Bearded Theory works, it just doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Wheatus took to the stage at midday and gave us a fine performance of nerd rock, they must be nerds ”“ three of them have real beards!! Their set obviously culminating in ”ËœTeenage Dirtbag’ before front man Brendan B Brown stepped onto the Main Stage where the an attempt was being made for the most number of people wearing false beards in one place which was previously held by…Bearded Theory 4! A competition for the best beard was held, won by 7mth old Liam who beat off all comers including Beardy Woman who had a stuffed ferret for a beard and Dread Beard who had used her own dreadlocks to craft her beard.

Beard of 2012 WInner - Baby Liam

Bearded Theory works on every level; it’s without doubt one of the friendliest festivals, musically one of the most eclectic and thankfully all without that overarching corporate presence. Now, what date is Bearded Theory 6?

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Phil Newall is 47, from The Wirral - he earns his living not writing about music nor playing music...though sorely wishes he could. He was fortunate enough to see many of the first generation punk bands when they played the U18's matinee shows at Eric's, Liverpool. As an attendee at Eric's he was exposed to punk rock, dub reggae, art rock, and all manner of weirdness; as a customer at Probe Records he was variously served and scowled at by Pete Wylie and Pete Burns - he has written for Record Collector, Whisperin & Hollerin, and Spiral Scratch and wanted to write a book detailing the Liverpool punk scene; however with 'Head-On' Julian Cope beat him to it...and frankly did a much better job.


  1. Spot on. I’m a veteran of many festivals big & small, and this was my third BT, and each time I’ve had the kids in tow. This year I also had the in-laws, friends and other random associates I managed to convince to come along (some of them festival virgins), and no one was dissappointed. One of the great strengths of this festival is it’s ability to appeal and cater for all generations, all types of music and taste and yet all on such a small budget and without the corporate machine. It is clean, friendly, safe and very well thought through – many of the bigger festival names could learn much from these guys.

    We all still have our festy smiles firmly in place and will be back for our fourth next year.

    Cheers to the organisers, the crews and bands and all fellow Beardies!


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