Bearded Theory Festival – what’s all that about then? Well apparently they just wanted a theme for a bit of fun and decided on fake beards. That was 7 years ago and here we are now with an award winning festival built around sound ethics and where the people are the heart and soul of the festival, not only the revellers but also all the staff, either paid or volunteer, the artists and everyone else involved.
There is no big corporate sponsorship, no rip off bars and generally no hassle, just 5000 or so people spending a weekend away in rural Derbyshire having a great deal of fun.
This year we have a new home, Catton Hall, and a new layout that includes some of the previous stages but also a few new ones that have been specifically designed to take in the new surrounding available. In fact it’s the eclectic mix of stages that makes the festival more fun as it pulls people in from all corners of music.
The main stage is just that, it has the big bands on that some people need to have to justify ticket purchase and this year like previous year there are some real corkers over the weekend. Some you wont see at any other festival this year and some maybe never again!
The other stages for me are the real heart of the festival. Tornado Town with its mix of just about everything from punk/jazz/blues/salsa/folk and just about any combination of those together is a large marquee which got its name aptly after back in 2009 the festival was hit by a mini Tornado!
Magical Sounds is another marquee stage where the music is built around bpm and covers just about any sort of electronic/dance/DJ music you can think of and is generally one of the best late night sessions around as the music meanders into the next morning while some people are sleeping others are being mystified.
The Something Else Tea Tent is the smallest of all the stages but don’t let this put you off as here you will get the surprise acts. If you are lucky enough to actually get in the tent you could find anyone onstage including headline artists playing under pseudonyms.
The new stage for this year and truly one of the best stages I have seen at a festival for a long while is the Locked In The Woods stage. Set in a clearing in the woods by day it is a great place to sit and chill and take in the music but as night falls the whole effect takes place at the trees are filled with lights that give the whole area a mystical feel and it really come alive. I could have spent the entire weekend in here but work prevails.
For those that had arrived on the Thursday, Tornado Town was the place to be with a line up to ease people in to the festival.
Great sets from Thinker, Please y Self, Shanks Pony and Hobo Jones and topped with by Dr And The Medics who apart from the classic ‘Spirit In The Sky’ play some great covers. There are definitely more early birds this year than the past few years as everyone tries to get as much out of the weekend as they can.
By the time Friday morning came round the rather inclement weather was making its mark on the weekend as the footpaths and main entrance ways turned from grass green to liquid mud but this didnt seem to put anyone off having fun and in fact as well as a fake beard contest we could also had a welly/footwear contest as summer shoes were replaced by more suitable attire for mud walking.
As with any festival there is so much music to try and catch and now as all the stages are running it gets even harder but there are some real gems to seek out.
The likes of Leatherat who kicked off main stage on Friday who, fueled by Strongbow and adrenaline, pump out a raucous set of folk rock with plenty of fiddles and mandolin thrown in, always guaranteed to get any crowd on their feet and dancing away.
Another favorite of mine and also the festival is Ferocious Dog (Tornado Town), punk and folk come together to produce a set of music that is the most emotional and energetic that you could ever experience.
What looks like a vicious pit of mohican touting punks pogo and dance away to the infectious music produced by Ken, Dan and the band and I’ve heard mentioned that if you fall over in the pit there will be 20 hellhounds picking you up to carry on again that is the nature of the band and the hellhounds.
The set does have its slower moments and none better than Glass, written by Ken Bonsall and Dan Booth in memory of Lee Bonsall RIP. The band appears at various stages over the weekend and as always spends the entire weekend there.
The organizers this year have put together an extremely good lineup for the main stage, Friday saw The Membranes kick out a great punk set which as ever saw John Robb hanging over the photopit in the crowd.
Continuing on in a similar theme were the Dub Pistols which at one point saw front man Barry Ashworth jumping over 10ft in the air off the drum riser.
But the highlight for Friday and indeed one of the festival highlights was an stunning set from Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine who are, despite their name, stopping!! They are playing their last ever dates this year and apart from 2 sold out dates in November in London will never be seen in the UK again.
A truly amazing set and lightshow by a band that has skirted the Indi scene for over 30 years and may well come round again in some form or another, but tonight Jimbob and Fruitbat really hit the spot.
Chill out tonight was in the Locked In The Woods stage and as previously mentioned it is a great atmosphere in here and we had the joy of an hour of the wild and wacky Jolly Jock who puts his own twist on music hall favourites and comedy songs and also throws in a few really corny jokes.
Definitely something to chill out to after a long day of music and it shows the depth of entertainment the festival has on offer.
Mainstage Saturday bought delights such as Merry Hell and the Oysterband both who play a lot round the festival scene and have appeared here in the past. Even though the weather was still a bit ropey the crowds were still turning out in good numbers to enjoy the music.
PWEI up next gave an uplifting and bouncy performance as front men Ian Garfield and Graham Crabb pogoing around stage and into each other on numerous occasions.
Following these was a great set by The Wonderstuff which saw Miles Hunt in great form on vocals and guitar deliver an awesome set which was most definitely lifted by the brilliant fiddle work by Erica Nockalls.
To close main stage tonight was The Stranglers who despite their many falling outs and spats over the years can still pull out a great show when they want to albeit without Hugh Cornwell. Fronted by Gaz Warne and Jean-Jacques Burnel we get a well delivered and received set of all the hits and a few album tracks thrown in.
Maybe as this year is their 40th year we may see a return to the full band if they can stop arguing long enough?
Topping off Tornado Town were The Men They Couldn’t Hang and a barnstorming foot tapping set from Hayseed Dixie, like them or not they really do get the crowd going with their mix of Louisiana mash and rock classics.
Sunday as ever kicked off with a slice of English humor in the form of the Red Barrows display team who perform death defying stunts and pie slinging antics all without the aid of a safety net whilst flying their red wheelbarrows round the arena.
Due to some organizational issues there was a somewhat muted turnout for the beard contest, there was only about a hundred or so in beards but those who turned out were all in good spirit and this year the 2 winners were glitzy discoballs donning glitzy beards who took the 1st prize of 2 tickets for next years festival.
Musically today was quite varied with a great set from Duke Special whose vaudeville style of piano and writing is certainly something different and he was joined onstage by drummer/percussionist Pete Bailey.
The Blockheads as ever are great and fronted by Derek Hussey they go through the entire back catalogue of hits including ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ and ‘Billericay Dickie’. Bass player Norman Watt Roy is as flamboyant as ever and ironically should have been on stage for a second set today with Wilco who unfortunately due to his illness has had to pull out.
Headliners today on the mainstage were UB40 who despite having the final slot delivered a luke warm set that certainly didn’t live up to its billing, thankfully King Prawn were banging out a brilliant set of ska/punk in Tornado Town and gave us all the chance for one final blast out before heading over the Locked In The Woods stage for one of the highlights of the weekend, Mark Chadwick supported by the guys from County Hell and joined part way through the set by fellow Levellers comrade Jon Sevink on fiddle.
Mark who has supported the festival since the beginning and has appeared on most of the stages over the years goes down a storm as he pumps out some Levellers classics and some from his new album Moment.
This is certainly one of the better festivals around and it manages to squeeze so much into the site and weekend that there are numerous other bits of it not covered here and the overall feel is really chilled and welcoming, definitely one we will be doing next year.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
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Featured Albums w/c 22 February 2021 (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 RADAR Lost In The Atlantic (Escape Music)
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