BEARDED THEORY – TEN YEARS OF MUSIC, MAGIC AND MISCHIEF…
Once a year the grounds of Catton Park in Derbyshire are transformed into one of the happiest places on earth. If this conjures images of a saccharine sweet world of bubble-gum and lollipops then please, let me reassure you, it’s nothing like that.
The happiness that Bearded Theory is, is a relaxed happiness, a warm happiness, the happiness that comes from being among your tribe, free to be your real self without the constraints of societal norms and everyday life. And with the sun beating down from a cloudless blue sky the weekend looked very promising indeed.
Thursday 25th May
After erecting camping equipment in the searing sun, I was ready for something cold to drink and somewhere cool to sit, so The Woodland was the obvious destination. Every time I walk into The Woodland clearing the Bearded crew manage to take my breath away and stretch a big grin across my face with the beautiful way they transform the woodland into a magical place.
The kind of place where imps and fairies play, and punks and hippies too. The Woodland Stage is a work of art made entirely of wood and adorned with carved wooden beards and colourful bunting. The Woodland stage really is a delight to behold.
As the Woodland began to fill Don Letts took to the stage with his decks and gave us something to bounce about. Some laid back dub and reggae tracks which, for me, were a great warm-up for Dreadzone who were headlining Thursday evening on The Pallet Stage. I was excited to see Dreadzone as I’ve been a fan since the mid-nineties and can honestly, hand on heart, say that I have never been to a less than awesome Dreadzone gig. Always as happy to see us as we are to see them they were a great choice to round off Thursday. Even those who aren’t life-long fans couldn’t help but get swept up in their infectious dub sound.
Friday 26th May
Friday was another scorching hot day so I was glad the first band on my list were Son Primo at The Woodland Stage. A three piece from Manchester, they play polished rock with the raw metal sound that I love. These guys really know how to make music that I could listen to again and again.
Time to check out the festival proper. I spent some time drinking in Bearded Theory, capturing memories like photographs in my mind. The colours of the tents, the stalls, the people, the art installations, the smell of fresh summer air and sun-baked earth, the sounds of all kinds of music washing over me as I walked around the festival site and the sounds of laughter and singing. I spent a pleasant hour devouring these. Also, some delicious festival grub to recharge and ready myself for Ferocious Dog.
Ferocious Dog fans are an incredibly loyal and rowdy lot who form some of the biggest mosh pits I’ve seen, so it was a good thing they were playing on The Pallet Stage so there was plenty of room for the hell hounds to go nuts.
Folk punks, Ferocious Dog are a bunch of genuinely lovely chaps who have a lot to say, and they say it loudly. As well as being known for their huge sound they are also known for having huge hearts, and Ken Bonsall, the bands front man, wore his heart very much on his sleeve.
In amongst the songs that make you leap he sang a solo song, just voice, no instruments, an incredibly touching tribute to his son Lee. I’m not going to lie, he certainly caused a tear to escape from my eye.
After that emotional exchange, up next on The Pallet Stage, Slaves. Modern punk duo, Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman swaggered onto stage with confidence, not arrogance, because they knew what they had in store for an audience gathered to mosh. They gave us a phenomenal performance with energy spewing from the stage. To say they absolutely blew me away is a bit of an understatement, I loved them!
The main arena was filled with an eager audience by the time Skunk Anansie took to the stage as the Friday headliners. Skin, in a playful mood, went crowd surfing and stood on speakers, amps and security barriers to sing her soul out to a crowd loving the interaction and high-octane show. Yet another bands performance that blew us all away.
Saturday 27th May
After some foot stomping with Funke And the Two Tone Baby, belly laughing with Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores and reeling with Greenman Rising, all at The Woodland Stage, it was time for Blackballed to take ownership of the bearded wooden stage.
Blackballed are a hard rock blues groove band fronted by Marshall Gill of New Model Army, along with his brother Leon Gill on drums and Tom Wibberley on bass. Always fun to see live, Blackballed are a well-polished trio of musicians with no pretension, they don’t take themselves too seriously because they don’t have to, their music is seriously good.
The rest of the day was spent in and around the main arena for some seriously class acts on The Pallet Stage. The wind had picked up quite considerably by this point and the backdrop of the stage had to be lifted to allow the wind to blow through rather than blow the stage away. That was the job of Alabama 3, the coolest band around. They rocked the socks off the audience gathered to partake of their booming bass lines, wailing harmonica and their own unique blend of modern blues rock. They certainly seemed to please the Bearded folk. Myself included.
And then it was time for the highlight of the weekend, New Model Army. I may be a little biased in that last statement as a fan of The Army for almost thirty years, but they just seem to keep getting better and better, with the latest album, Winter, being one of the best albums they’ve ever written. And with over 200 songs in their back catalogue there’s certainly plenty to choose from.
The wind blowing a gale across the stage just added to the intensity of an already epic performance. Surrounded by fellow Army fanatics of all ages, singing our hearts out ’til our voices were hoarse, the New Model Army experience is incredibly tribal. I was fully charged and ready to take on the world!
Seasick Steve was the Saturday headliner and with a face full of smiles he seemed genuinely pleased to be there and this was reflected in his performance. He’s an incredibly talented musician and songwriter who really made the stage his own with his blend of blues and country, and his rickety old wooden chair held together with gaffa tape. He was utterly charming and his warm smile was very contagious. I think I fell a little bit in love with him that day.
Sunday 28th May
After starting the last day of freedom with Beardy Keef and his motley crew of musicians, the Woodland filled with the sounds of laughter and ukulele joy, I headed over to The Pallet Stage where John Robb was taking command of the stage and gripping the audience with Goldblade.
Goldblade are as punk as they come, punks with a huge amount of love for their fans. John Robb leapt from the stage to share some of that love with the audience and they ate it up like fledgling chicks being fed by mum, while bellowing the songs back at the band with great fervour. The high level of emotion on the stage and in the audience, the touching relationship between John Robb and his fans, were humbling to witness.
Founders of the Two-Tone movement, The Selecter were next on The Pallet Stage. The Selecter are a powerful band with a huge ska sound. With Pauline Black exuding style, class, grace and a whole lot of passion, and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson’s commanding stage presence it is impossible not to fall under their musical spell. So, we danced and we sang and we loved every minute.
After spending a restorative hour in The Woodland listening to gentle folk duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman I went to spend some time at the opposite end of the sound spectrum with One Eyed God at The Convoy Cabaret, where much punk skankin was happening while people visited the Mohican barber set up at the back of the tent and dancing girls danced on podiums. Brilliant and bizarre.
And so, sadly, it was time for the Sunday headliners. Where had the weekend gone?
When Madness took to the stage the main arena was filled with Bearded folk who had been looking forward to singing and dancing their way to the fireworks climax. Now, I know I am going to upset some people here, but Madness, for me, didn’t live up to expectations. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one to think so. The consensus from fellow revellers was pretty much split 50/50, with some who felt it was a bit disappointing and others exclaiming how brilliant they thought the performance was.
But Bearded Theory weren’t quite finished with us yet. Bearded regulars Reverend and The Makers were about to absolutely smash it in The Woodland. Singer, Jon McClure, has such a huge personality that he alone filled the stage, so joined by the rest of the band they spilled out into the audience filling the decorated woodland with their mirth and music. Looking around the packed clearing at the tired but happy faces of everyone there I knew the organisers had bested themselves yet again.
With twelve months until Bearded Theory 11 organiser Rich Bryant told us in a rare press briefing that the team had already booked the Friday night headliner. An immense amount of hard work and planning goes into this festival, and the work for Rich and his team begins as soon as they arrive home, logging on to social media to see what people are saying on the Bearded Theory forums.
Any gripes and grumbles are addressed and year on year improvements are made. This is what sets Bearded Theory apart from other festivals, they listen to the paying public and act on it. And that’s why I keep coming back, because just when I think it can’t get any better, they prove me wrong.
Review and photos by Hollie Latham
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