Hollie Latham writes…
Held at Catton Hall at the end of May each year, (2018 dates are 24 – 27 May) Bearded Theory music festival is a favourite and summer must do for so many people, myself included.
The full title of the festival is Bearded Theory’s Spring Gathering, and that’s precisely what it is, a spring gathering. The hippies and the misfits, the punks and the ravers, the fairies and the imps, all wake from their winter slumber to gather in the grounds of Catton Hall for a musical smorgasbord and much needed field-based shenanigans.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Rich Bryan, organiser of Bearded Theory. I wanted to know a bit more about this magical gem of a festival. Here’s what he had to say…
Tell me about the first Bearded Theory. Whose birthday celebration was it? How did the idea for a mini-festival/gathering come about?
It was mine and it was never meant to be a mini festival, but rather somewhere my friends could camp over, as they are from all over the place. The venue was a hall with a field.
Was it a conscious decision to allow the festival to grow?
3 Daft Monkeys said to me as a parting shot after leaving my party that we should do it again the following year and so we did. But the venue had double booked, so we had to find a new venue which essentially pushed the festival to being outdoors.
With the increase in overheads we needed to get more people to it, and with that we sold 500 tickets for £12 and raised a chunk for charity. We then couldn’t use the pub with a field anymore and had to find another venue in 2009.
As a result we had to put in more infrastructure such as power, marquees and with that we had to increase numbers again. That year we had a stage incident which resulted in us losing a stage in a tornado and so the following year we had to sell a few more to cover some hefty losses from that incident and to bring in robust safety processes which has paid dividends in later years.
We only had space for 120 camper vans and as a result moved to Kedleston and then the National Trust changed management and we had to move again but we have been at Catton for five years now.
The growth has been a victim of circumstance rather than an aim to have a festival of a certain size.
Do you have plans to grow the festival further?
No. Catton Park is full and as a festival our footprint is much more than a younger persons or a rock festival due to the number of campervans and families we attract – which is great.
We have no plans to leave and see Catton as our final home. We have made substantial infrastructure investment since being at Catton into water distribution and ring mains, permanent roadways, drainage, gates and much more besides.
Why do you do it year on year?
We feel a certain level of pressure to do it, we can do without the drama of saying we are not doing it and we always want to right the wrongs of the previous year. It is a vicious cycle…
For me personally the Bearded crew nail it every year and I finished last year’s review by saying, “just when we think it can’t get any better you prove us wrong.” How do you keep bettering yourselves - how do you keep it fresh with improvements every year without massive hikes in ticket prices or going the commercial route.
Because we are a team and not a group of individuals running things. The egotistical side is never really there, and we can look at the negatives or read the feedback a lot more impartially.
We have always focused on negative feedback given – it simply helps us to improve the following years plan. And as a result the end outcome is a festival which has been moulded by those that attend rather than one person’s vision.
The only negative in trying to address all that is wrong is the costs involved! And so to avoid massive price hikes the capacity over some of the time has been increased between 2009 and 2014.
Does it bother you when you get the odd bit of negative feedback after spending so much time busting a gut?
Not about the festival operation – we like to see people moaning about that. If they moan, it shows they care enough to moan rather than not come back at all. Our issue is that we can’t put that feedback right until we do it again in a years’ time which is frustrating.
Moans about the line-up will always exist and more so for festivals of our age. We can’t recycle the same circuit acts year on year and we need to keep things fresh and new. When the festival is younger you can get away with putting favourites on year in and out as a safe option but after a time the festival will start to look bland.
Our job is to provide stages and areas full of different things for them to walk away from an act they think is shit to something they will love. We ensure the programming has different genres on at the same time for that reason.
…by involving and listening to those that have attended has created a festival modelled by the attendee rather than some egotistical organiser type.
How do you keep going considering the huge undertaking of organising a festival on top of every day life? And how and where do you find the time?
It has become easier over time and the past few years and we have a much better home life balance. We all work full time and give up a lot to be able to do it. Thankfully as the festival grew we could afford to pay more contractors and consultants to undertake some of the daily tasks which as a result has enabled us to carry on.
Can you ever see a time when you’d throw in the towel?
One day but we don’t know when.
How do you keep the magic of Bearded Theory?
By listening and reacting to feedback and by putting the person who walks through the door first in regards to cost, safety, facilities and care. We know we are not perfect and we have never proclaimed to be that and by involving and listening to those that have attended has created a festival modelled by the attendee rather than some egotistical organiser type.
People feel they have played a part in its success and they have, most changes have been a direct result to us gaining feedback – bars, facilities, PA systems, road way, toilets in certain areas, reduction of the fun fair, children’s village, school, campervan field, family camping, all has improved because people asked for it to be improved.
What is the magic ingredient that makes Bearded Theory one of the best festivals of the season and many people’s personal favourite?
Come and find out!
What does Bearded Theory mean to you?
Hard work but nice. Also I like being able to hire stupid things…
Who have been your favourite acts that you’ve seen at your own festival?
Too many to mention.
Do you have any favourite memories of Bearded Theory?
2010 when Dreadzone closed it and it was our first proper year of delivering a festival with no issues.
Who will you see this year if you get the chance? Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?
Blue Rose Code
What can we expect from this years Bearded Theory?
More of the same but hopefully a bit more polished than last year and some new bits here and there. Also … Robert Plant.
There are still a few tickets available for this years gathering, but you’d better get in quick because they’re nearly all gone, and trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.
For the full line up and more information: www.beardedtheory.co.uk
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