When asked “How was Bearded Theory?”, the short answer is “Awesome! Brilliant! I had the best weekend!”. The long answer that I want to give is this…
THURSDAY 26TH MAY
We were really lucky and arrived on Wednesday, so Thursday was a very relaxed affair. Most of the day was spent ambling around the site meeting up with festival family and bumping into old friends I hadn’t seen since we were last in those fields, on hallowed ground, in 2019.
Being part of the online Bearded Theory community, meeting friends for the first time was more like meeting people I already knew and adored because we’d already formed good friendships through Bearded Theory Facebook groups. One of the positive sides of social media. So many hugs!
This was a familiar scene throughout the festival site. People hugging hugs that haven’t been hugged in three whole years. The whole festival was alive with excitement, anticipation, and a palpable joy that we were here, together again, our Bearded family. We were home.
I managed to find time to explore the stalls in between hugs. There was something to suit most budgets, ranging from sculptures for hundreds of pounds, to reasonably priced festival clothes, to nick-nacks and trinkets for £1. I managed to pick up a charcoal grey, wooden Gandalf staff for £15!
The Bearded Theory beauties had even laid on bands for us so we could begin our weekend a day early. They really do spoil us rotten!
Opening the festival, playing the first music to be played on The Pallet stage in three years, were Cottons. Cottons are a new, up and coming band, with a modern indie sound. They absolutely reflected the joy that shrouded the main arena with their hard to resist charm and happy energy. They had drawn quite a crowd, filling the main arena by the time they’d finished their set. You’d be mad to miss out on seeing these live before we lose them to Glastonbury.
Pierce Brothers continued the joyous energy on The Pallet. Twin brothers from Melbourne, they dominated the stage with their roots/folk music. Exploding with energy, they play many instruments, sometimes two at once, or both brothers playing the same guitar, they are a visual as well as aural delight.
The Bearded genies were outdoing themselves with the music they laid on for us that day because following Pierce Brothers were Dub Pistols. After three years away, Bearded Theory stalwarts, Dub Pistols, were a very welcome and familiar sight. More energy exploding onto the stage but this time by way of skanking, reminding us what our legs are for: bouncing!
Dreadzone were the final band of the day, and what a wonderful way to end a perfect day. Another Bearded favourite, Dreadzone had the crowd jumping and bouncing with many crowd favourites. Especially “Little Britain”, which they closed with, as “Welcome back” and “We’ve missed you” were projected onto the stage backdrop. Mine weren’t the only damp eyes at that point.
FRIDAY 27TH MAY 2022
I thought the festival was alive with excitement on Thursday, but Friday morning, walking around the festival site, there was even more of a jubilant feel. There was a positive energy radiating from every person I encountered.
Random strangers complimenting each other on their hair, their T-shirt, their clothes, their style. Free to do so without feeling daft. Spreading so much love, kindness, and happiness. More hugs and huge grins. Even more of a feeling of togetherness, being amongst people who are like us, peace loving, music worshiping folks. This was our church and we had come here to worship our gods and feel the rapture of live music. No feeling like it in the world.
Live music is what Bearded Theory delivered. Tons and oodles of it! Scouring the programme while drinking my morning coffee, not knowing where to begin, was a daily routine!
Where I eventually decided to begin that Friday was at The Pallet where The Now were rocking the boots off the crowd gathered there. Front man, Shane Callaghan has one of those effortless, where did that come from, voices. Their poetic lyrics sung with his terrific rock vocals. I had chosen well.
Next on my extensive list was a trip over to The Woodland for more noise explosions. Echo Machine don’t just play their music, they are their music. This energy being translated throughout the crowd. Eighties synth taken by a new generation who have brought it into the 21st century with a modern punk twist. They brought their passion and vigour for what they do, to The Woodland that afternoon.
After a break to refuel and replenish my coffee flask I meandered through the swollen crowd in the main arena to see The Skints, a must see at any festival. Their infectious modern reggae/rap sound spread through the field, causing symptoms such as an impossible to resist compulsion to bob, sway, and dance. They should come with a health warning – The Skints will cause compelling feelings of rhythm and happiness.
Following The Skints were Dubioza Kolektiv. If you’ve never seen these live I seriously recommend you do. They are bonkers! A bright yellow, Bosnian force of nature, who blast rap, ska songs at you along with a massive dose of the grins. They will have you joining in within the opening bars of their first song.
After that jolt to the system I took a walk back over to The Woodland to see Blackballed. Front man, Marshall Gill, has the perfect voice for the blues rock they play. I’m fairly sure he gargles Jack Daniels to achieve this. Either way, his voice is as sublime as his guitar playing. Add that to the smooth bass and slick drumming from Tom Wibberley and Alex Whitehead, and you have a blues rock band that can pour honey into your soul.
I stayed in The Woodland for Bob Vylan, and wow, am I glad I did! He opened the show with a mindfulness session set to a loud eruption of guitar and drumming. Then he let rip with an explosion of energy, performing modern protest rap songs about current issues of race and social inequality, accompanied by metal guitar and hammering drums. Bob Vylan is a jolt of electricity to the soul.
Up next for me was a band I’d been really looking forward to, punk metal band, Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes, on The Pallet. A friend of mine says that at every Bearded Theory you’ll find your new favourite band. I found my absolute favourite just before the festival while listening to the artists on the line up.
The massive sound that Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes create absolutely blew me away. It was love at first listen, so I was definitely excited to see them live. They were a hundred times better than I ever imagined.
With buckets of charisma and a wicked sense of humour, Frank Carter had the crowd eating out of his hand. He joined the mosh pit at one point, still singing songs that command your attention. It wasn’t a band playing music on the stage, it was a ball of punk energy taking over the entire field. Utterly incredible. So far, every single band I’d seen had brought their A game. Zero disappointments.
And then Placebo happened. Lazy and lacklustre. Moving on…
To be fair, I left before the end of their set, so I don’t know if they finished the same way. But I’d seen enough and headed to Magical Sounds for Subgiant.
Over in Magical Sounds, Subgiant were filling the air with fantastic beats. Despite having the odd sound issue, they still had the tent jumping, and when The Pallet stage emptied after Placebo, Magical Sounds filled. The tent looked like it had burst its seams, with people spilling out of the doorways.
SATURDAY 28TH MAY 2022
It was a laid-back start to the Saturday over in The Woodland, the sun dappled through the trees and contented faces all around. I was there to see Jess Silk. Jess is a singer/guitar player of beautiful self-penned folk songs that are pure poetry. A singer and a set that were as warm as the sunshine coming through the trees.
Tarantism kept me in The Woodland. I’ve seen them several times at various music festivals, so I knew I was going to enjoy their splendid offerings. Tarantism are a music category all of their own, describing themselves as “celticskapunkfunkdubdance”. Yep. That pretty much sums them up. If you enjoy music in any of the categories listed, then you’ll enjoy Tarantism. Especially on a beautiful day in a beautiful woodland. They were made for the place.-
The Popes Of Chillitown kept me in the Woodland for a further hour. They were a massive high energy, blood pumping, bouncing, eruption of sound, this time of the two-tone/punk/rock/rap variety. I was so glad I’d spent the afternoon in The Woodland!
Time for a change of scenery, so I went over to The Pallet for the first time that day. I was at The Pallet to see Shame on recommendation from a good friend. This friend of mine clearly knows a thing or two. Shame are a very intense band, who know how to use a stage. They knew how to make it theirs; it belonged entirely to them. Indie rock/punk burst from the amps and speakers, the music itself almost demanded the crowd listen and dance to it. I listened, I danced, and I loved it.
The Pallet was where I was well and truly staying put for the final two acts of the day, the first of whom was Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls. If you’ve ever been to Bearded Theory there’s a good chance you’ve seen Frank Turner. Punk/folk at its finest, Frank puts every ounce of energy he has into his performances. He’s an awesome live artist. He’s very engaging and he gets back from the crowd as much he gives out. It’s a massive mutual exchange of passion for the music.
Patti Smith was The Pallet headliner of the day and when she took to the stage something took over me. That something was Patti Smith, her voice, and her songs, and I fully let her. It was almost spiritual.
Utterly compelling and powerfully enthralling, she and her music filled your soul. It was much more than a live set at a music festival, it was a live music experience. I was lost in a musical utopia, dancing completely freely in a way I haven’t for years. But when Patti performed “After The Goldrush” the dancing stopped and the arena fell silent, completely under her spell. That evening I felt the true impact that music can have, and it was mind-blowing.
SUNDAY 29TH MAY 2022
Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican were a welcome start to the final day, a massive dose of happiness and humour to lift us from our melancholy about it being the last day of our gathering.
They kept making me laugh when I was photographing them, so I was grateful that the band encourage photographers to hang around to photograph their entire set.
Looking around at the crowd to see people who had seen BSVD many times, plus first timers, bellow laughing at the punchlines. I couldn’t help but laugh and grin just the same. Thank you, BSVD, for dragging me out of my funk and reminding me that we were still in our happy place.
The Woodland was my next port of call as Liines had caught my eye in the program. They had me at “post punk”. I was not disappointed. A voice made for punk you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been taken back to the 80’s, to a punk gig with a room filled with mohawks and silver studded denim jackets. I was in my element.
Remaining in the magic of The Woodland, I was definitely hanging around to see Gaz Brookfield. I’ve always found it remarkable how one man and a guitar manage to fill a venue with a huge atmosphere and massive folk sound.
It always seems to feel that the venues are too small to contain his music and energy. There was genuine love and affection for Gaz Brookfield, and you can see why when you see him live. Utterly charming and a thoroughly lovely human being. He loves what he does and shows love and genuine affection for his audience in return.
I felt a certain sadness as Gaz was coming to an end as it was probably the last time I’d be in The Woodland. (It was.) I made sure to take a moment to breathe it all in, to imprint it on my mind, as Gaz Brookfield’s voice and guitar rang out through the trees. Fresh memories of my ultimate happy place.
A band I admire and adore were next up on my schedule for the day, The Selecter. They were on absolute top form too, and we in the main field sang and skanked with the same vigour as the band delivered on stage.
Over the weekend I had many pinch myself moments. I had one when I was watching The Selecter, and dancing and chatting with a very dear friend. I had to pinch myself to remind myself I was back in a field, with some of my favourite people, skanking to two-tone icons, The Selecter.
All weekend I had moments of beautiful clarity, turning around to see a sea of happy faces, people dancing and enjoying themselves, laughing, sharing hugs and drinks with good friends.
In those moments I fully appreciated where we were. We were at bearded theory’s spring gathering for the first time in three very long years. Wow! I would fully take everything in. The warm sun on my face, the sound of the music, the laughter, the delicious and enticing aromas from the food stalls, the sight of that place, full of happy, full of grateful joy.
I then spent a delicious hour taking a walk, sucking up every last ounce of the happiness that had been prevalent throughout the festival all weekend. One last look at the sea of faces that I would miss so much, strangers and friends alike, I would miss those faces. Then there were the goodbye hugs. But goodbyes weren’t goodbyes because that word was too final. There were too many of those. We’d only just got there! How was it goodbye already?! So, goodbyes were “see you later”.
My amblings came to an end at Magical Sounds to see another band I was greatly looking forward to, ambient dance legends, Astralasia. I was in utter bliss and got lost in an ambient trance. So much so that I almost missed the pit time for The Pallet headliners, Flaming Lips!
What to say about Flaming Lips? Inflatables, technicolour light shows, and literal drama! As the band began their third number, Wayne Coyne noticed that someone was in trouble in the crowd and immediately brought the show to a stop.
The stage, security, and medical crews sprang immediately into action and the show was delayed while they dealt with the situation. Thankfully the individual that needed help only had a minor injury and was taken away to be looked after.
As the band resumed their set there was a sense of relief from everyone. Wayne took command of the stage, but almost apologetically with his warm and gentle manner, and the rest of the show continued without incident. Ethereal, rapturous harmonies echoed out into the crowd and into the night.
The weekend ended with the traditional fireworks display, bright colours lighting up the sky as “What a Wonderful World” played out over the sound system. I was destroyed. A full tears streaming down my face moment. I had missed this place and everything that came with it, and that was it, in the blink of an eye it was all over. The time had gone so quickly, I was left with a surreal feeling, questioning whether it had actually happened.
But I was treated to one last little bit of Bearded Theory magic. I was inwardly excited but outwardly cool that we had been camped next door to Tarantism all weekend. As the festival returned to its slumber, in the stillness you only get in the darkness of night,
Tarantism took up their instruments and started to play. It was such a pure and exquisite sound because it wasn’t a performance, it was completely organic. Friends coming together to play their music. It was one of my favourite music experiences to ever happen. A memory I will treasure forever. A beautiful end to the weekend.
Over in Facebook land there were the usual grumbles and gripes, big and small. I feel for the organisers of any festival to have to read the criticisms after working so hard to make sure everyone has a good time, but especially the team at Bearded Theory because I know how much they care. How hard they strive to improve and learn year on year, to make as many people as happy as possible.
That’s why this is an open letter of sorts, to everyone involved. The organisers, the bookers, the stage crew, the bands, the Oxfam stewards, the stall holders, the onsite medical crew and security team, (who saved a man’s life thanks to their quick action!).
To any, and all members of this amazing team who make the festival happen. And to the wonderful, shiny happy people who attend. You create something a bit magically, beautifully special in the grounds of Catton Hall.
Review and photos by Hollie Latham
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Power Plays w/c 8 August 2022 (Mon-Fri)
BORN LOST Take Time (Mouthpiece) (Revolver Records)
JAIME KYLE Driving With The Brakes On (Conquest Music)
SCARLET DORN Born To Suffer (SPV Recordings)
HOLDING ABSENCE Coffin (Sharptone Records)
TYRANNOSAURUS NEBULOUS Get Some (Echoed Past Records)
KROOKED TONGUE When The Beaches Bleed (indie)
SKYPILOT Knifed On The Beach (The Distortion Project)
Featured Albums w/c 8 August (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 LESSMAN VOSS Rock Is Our Religion (Atomic Fire Records)
12:00-13:00 H.E.A.T. Force Majeure (earMUSIC)
14:00-16:00 THE SLAMBOVIAN CIRCUS OF DREAMS A Very Unusual Head (indie)
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