Bearded Theory Festival 2019
Catton Hall, Derbyshire
Thursday 23rd – Sunday 26th May
Once again Bearded Theory stood out from the crowd of festival alternatives.
From its humble beginnings in a pub beer garden back in 2008, via tornado’s and a number of site moves, Bearded Theory has become a must attend event, many of the 10,000 attendees now class this as a calendar event and return year after year, attracted by the beautiful location, the friendly atmosphere, and the musical diversity on offer; the headliners being Suede, The Cult and Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul.
The access to the site issues experienced in 2018 were resolved for the 2019 gathering, Thursday returning to a more ‘settle in’ vibe, with only two of the stage open. Brighton’s Bar Stool Preachers took to the Woodland Stage as the sun was setting, and delivered a potent firebrand blend of ska, and reggae tinged street punk belters that had an enormous crowd skanking amongst the oak trees; frontman Tom McFaull pinballed the tight stage spitting out intelligent lyrical barbs that challenged homelessness, homophobia, and Brexit yet kept the entire audience in the palm of his hand.
Dr & The Medics played in the Convoy Caberet marquee, when they performed their own material such as ‘More’, and ‘Mole Catcher’ it became clear quite why then garnered such attention back in the late 80’s; sadly they had built their set around pop covers including ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘Kids In America’, and ‘White Wedding which they then proceeded to desecrate, we even got a cover of The Cults ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ which seemed even more foolish when you considered Messer’s Astbury and Duffy would be offering up the real thing some 48hrs later.
It was then back to The Woodland for a Faithless DJ set, which whilst not exactly a visual spectacle was a fine way to close the first evening.
Exeter based Pattern Pusher had the unenviable task of opening the Pallet Stage (Main) at midday on the Friday, at one point this stage was in danger of not being able to open. Bearded Theory was almost destroyed by a tornado back in 2009, this year the estates bee population were the problem!! The queen having escaped and set up a temporary home in the main suspended speaker rig, the problem being averted late on Friday morning by the bee keeper perched on a cherry picker capturing her ladyship and returning her to the hive! Pattern Pusher have been touted by the NME as an ‘emerging talent’ – this young 3-piece whilst somewhat overawed by the size of the stage delivered a tight set of synth-based dance, with some outstanding vocals and were duly rewarded by the receptive audience who were already basking the sunshine.
[spunge] seem to have been around for ever, though somehow I had never seen them live; that changed when they lit up the Pallet with 40mins of ska-punk bangers, using every inch of the expansive stage they too had the audience moving as they delivered material from 2014’s ‘Hang On’ album right back to ‘Pedigree Chump’ from 2002. Frontman Alex Copeland has the engaging cheeky patter off to a tee, dropping self-deprecating cracks amongst the beats.
The sun was high in the afternoon sky as Hollie Cook sashayed onto the Pallet, resplendent in vivid green and oversized sunglasses to treat the crowd to some blissed out reggae, those deep bass tropical tones rolling out across Catton fields. Hollie sparkles in the sunshine, an effervescent ball of happiness as she treated us to material from 2011’s ‘Body Beat album and the more recent and appropriately titled ‘Vessel of Love’ album.
Cook draws upon 70’s lovers rock, she has previously cited Janet Kay as an obvious influence, Kays carefree attitude shines through Hollies own blend of modern lovers which blends electronic beats with brass and strings into a joyful, and dance inducing modern direction for reggae.
Remaining in The Pallet arena The Wildhearts brought some dirty rock ‘n’ roll to the party; drawing on the brand new ‘Renaissance Men’ album, the bands first new material for 10yrs it was clear to see how Ginger has against all odds gained National Treasure status. The Wildhearts played with passion and determination offering up tracks like ‘Dislocated’, and ‘Diagnosis’ between acknowledging those in the audience in Widhearts T-Shirts.
Oh Sees, once John Dwyer had resolved a few technical issues brought the first real noise the weekend; twin metronomic drummer to the stage fore, Dwyer to their right al ball of boundless energy who’s LA accent added multiple ‘e’s to his pronunciation of Derby; there is no set list, instead Dan Rincon hollers the next track from behind his kit. Oh Sees turn in a blistering set, a set that mesmerises the audience with its blend of unrelenting percussive energy; the band draw upon krautrack but take you on as whirling journey through punk rock, stoner and out and out noise and Dwyer wrenches shards of crystalline sheen from his transparent guitar; he keeps the audience interaction to a bare minimum, instead his band tear through a 60min set that was never going to be enough to take in the other worldly sonic travel that encapsulate everything from freak out to the come down, all the while Dwyer the ringmaster of this glorious sonic circus.
Which just left the last 20 minutes of 51st State, the duo of cousins Noah Burton and Josh Wood who dispense with guitars, preferring to concentrate on head splitting bass and tribal drum retorts that pin you to the floor over which a slew of anarcho lyrics; sadly their new EP ‘Plastic’ wasn’t available on the day.
It was back to The Woodland for a majestic performance from The Skids, making their Bearded Theory debut with a set that drew from their 40year career, a perfect blend of ‘Burning Cities’ peppered with the hits ‘Yankee Dollar’, Masquerade’, and ‘Into The Valley’.
Frontman Richard Jobson has charisma in abundance, he is physically fit though jokes about his age, he dominates the colour washed stage with his trademark, and self-confessed ‘dismal dance’ and scissor kicks before he apologises for ‘TV Stars’ which saw the best part of 1800 people punching the air in praise of “Albert Tatlock” before heading into a medley of punk classics including a heartfelt tribute to the late Pete Shelley’ ahead of ‘Into The Valley’ a track that has one of the most iconic opening riffs ever captured, and acts as a catalyst to the already energetic crowd spurring them on into a frantic mosh pit that’s lifts the forest debris from underfoot.
If there was a downside, it was the lack of volume, though this is out of the bands control; similarly, when Stiff Little Fingers took a delayed step onto the Woodland Stage; both Jake Burns and Ian McCallum wearing Buzzcocks logo T-shirts. Perhaps it was the delay, but whilst The Skids ignored the volume hurdle, Fingers despite some powerhouse drumming from anchor Steve grantly seemed subdued, they ricochet through their entire back catalogue, they played with precision, but somehow tonight they just failed to ignite the spark that has been their signature for four decades.
Meanwhile in the Magical Sounds arena Michael Dog is forced to play an extended set of uplifting trance as Transglobal Underground hit some technical issues, not that anyone in the rammed marquee was complaining.
On the Saturday morning I made my earlier than expected to the Pallet Stage, turned out to be beneficial as the Angelic Upstarts set had been brought forward by an hour as the earlier band were caught in heavy traffic on the A38 leading to the site; the somewhat dignified start time did little to disturb founder Mensi as he led his band through a rousing, though hardly visual set that included ‘Teenage Warning’, ‘Solidarity’, ‘Police Oppression’ and the classic ‘Murder of Liddle Towers’ with its almost haunting lead in ahead of the crashing drums that results in a small but energetic mosh pit.
Perhaps it’s the link to IDLES, but Bristol based Heavy Lungs had drawn a huge crowd to the Pallet Stage, no doubt keen to see what all the fuss has been about. I have seen them twice previously, and enjoyed the chaos, however the last eighteen months of hard gigging has seen them tighten up considerably. They now present as a blistering, potent assault on the senses as they expand their sound, moving further into post-punk underpinned by chest rattling bass and shards of glistening guitar.
Frontman Danny Nedelko barks out the lyrics as he traverses the entire stage ahead of stripping to the waist. ‘Blood Brother’ was positively dangerous, equally ‘Descend’ and ‘Charmer’, ahead of new track “Other Side” all of which heightens expectation for the first full album release.
Lady Bird are another band garnering attention following the support of another established band; this time its from Slaves who have recently signed the Tunbridge Wells based three piece and released the long sold out ‘Social Potions’ EP. An unlikely looking trio, they looked like they had dressed by accident stepped out onto a sun setting Woodland Stage and proceeded to lay waste to all witnesses. They have a self-assured swagger, elevated by the cockney accents, that is fully backed up by their huge sound that relies on a prominent bass, propulsive crashing drums and splatter gun vocals “I’m not a suicide bomber/But the effects of this bomb could look like suicide” from the aforementioned ‘Social Potions’.
Rail thin guitarist Alex Deadman wearing just a pair of Chupa Chups shorts is a force of nature entirely of his own invention, storming around the compact stage, one minute throwing rock god poses the next looking like he needs medicating; It was only early Saturday evening and I was pretty confident Lady Bird had just delivered the set of the entire weekend.
The Cult were the Saturday headliners and built their set around the 30th anniversary of their ‘Sonic Temple’ album. I’m not a fan of their grandiose style of hard rock, I liked Southern Death Cult, but that was an entirely different proposition; that said and as would be expected they played with absolute precision. Billy Duffy has created some incredible guitar riffs, and the opening notes to ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ are up there with the greatest and most recognisable. Ian Astbury traverses the stage which is back lit by an array of video screens commanding “more energy” from the crowd, I didn’t hang around to see if he was rewarded instead making to the Convoy Caberet to catch the remainder of the Clusterfuck set; if you haven’t heard of them before, they crawled out of Wales a few years ago dressed like transgender zombies and psycho killers with a mind expanding sound built around electronic beats, glitches, and punctuated by aggressive expletive laden raps. At the front of the stage they look to have kidnapped a young girl who is earning her freedom by beating the crap out of a steel drum with a broom handle.
As we made our way to Magical Sounds to catch some of the Ed Tangent set the night sky was lit up with a firework display signifying the end of The Cults set, usually the fireworks close the entire weekend but Sunday headliners Little Steven seemed to have spoilt that tradition due to the requirements need to record a set for future DVD release.
The Lancashire Hotpots took to the Pallet at 1pm, the perfect lead into the usual Bearded Theory fancy dress antics. Despite pitching themselves as a comedic band they have some fiendishly clever lyrics that target the dreaded Ikea isles.
The theme for Bearded Theory this year being Disco, as such an eye scorching array of outfits are brashly on display, the ‘best’ of which are taken onto the stage for the opportunity to win a pair of tickets for next years event. For what it’s worth my vote went to DJ Bearded who had twin decks as part of his costume, the attention to detail was incredible, he had real vinyl on each deck each with a Bearded Theory logo centre label; a pair of robots where the ultimate winners.
With the crowd in fine form The Mahones came on to a storming reception which they continued to whip up with their Pogues inspired rabble rousers, despite initially forming some thirty years back for a one off party performance they have forged their own path and now lead the vanguard for Celtic punk. Tracks like ‘Queen & Tequila’ is pure energy that had huge sections of the audience dancing in their stack heels.
Remaining in the Pallet arena The Blinders brought their ‘Columbia’ album to Bearded Theory, their debut appearance at the festival. I had last seen them live back in early December in a tiny Manchester brewery, they jump up to such a large stage presented no problems for their confrontational primal sound, as they whipped a maelstrom of noise that sadly left many of the audience utterly bemused.
Dreadzone are a Bearded Theory institution, their fusion of head exploding dub and high energy dance beats never fails to ignite any audience, as a seated MC Spee directs proceedings, his voice dropping to a Lanegan style rasp as he encourages us to bounce ahead of the sun breaking through the clouds ahead of a sensational extended version of ‘Little Britain’.
A quick dash back to the Woodland meant I caught he last tracks from Imperial Leisure, I had never heard of them previously, but as I entered I was confronted with at least 1200 people going ape-shit crazy, bouncing up and down as the band stocked the blaze with the ska tinged alt. hip hop.
Doves chose Bearded Theory to break their 9 year festival hiatus, their finely polished expansive sound filling the entire arena; despite the multiple hits and the clear abundance of genuine song writing talent it just wasn’t for me, as such I made my way back to the Woodland to catch Dreadnoughts, the Canadian six piece who combine street punk, with polka and copious amounts of cider. Their performance is an eye-popping sucker punch, a riot of flailing limbs, stomping boots and screeching fiddle that I will make a point of catching again.
Little Steven And The Disciple Of Soul were the closing act for the entire weekend, a weekend awash with rumours that Bruce Springsteen would make an appearance (he didn’t), bizarre back stage ‘lock down zones’, and a an artic lorry subject to possibly the biggest vinyl wrap ever witnessed.
Little Steven led his 20-piece band through a highly polished set with near perfect sound, that allowed every instrument and vice to be heard, including the three voluptuous backing singers who seemed to catch the eye of the video director. This was a lesson in showmanship with music to back it up, but nowhere near as much fun as Bloodshake Chorus who brought their ‘Rave On’ splatter show to the Maui Waui stage, then to end it all we sneaked into Magical Sounds to witness The Orb as ‘No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds” shimmers over the rammed tent.
Congratulations to all involved with Bearded Theory, lets not forget this is an entirely independent festival, devoid of sponsorship and largely staffed by volunteers; each year an eclectic mix of artists from around the globe is assembled, as such if you don’t like one… just walk around until another takes your fancy. Bearded Theory has retained its ethos, its not actually all about the bands, its about the atmosphere, and the interaction of the audience and 2019 perfectly evidenced that.
Online: Bearded Theory Festival
More writing by Phil can be found at his Louder Than War Author’s Archive