No wonder the splendid Bearded Theory sets the benchmark that other events strive to follow. By any criteria there was nothing to fault here; from the organisation, to the facilities, to the goodtime atmosphere, to the marvellous music, to the downright great value, for its size Bearded Theory is simply one of the best festivals around.

Anyone lucky enough to grab tickets for this frolic in the fields will not be surprised that Bearded consistently sells out before the event, and rightly so. One of the friendliest festivals you’ll find with a great crowd of organisers, staff, and festival goers, all determined to create a wonderful hassle free party atmosphere…. And what a party!

Set in the grounds of the beautiful Kedleston Hall estate in Derbyshire, all the basics are just right. Camping – check. Facilities – check. Dedicated kids area creating a wonderful world of entertainment for all ages – check. Great food and drink at acceptable prices – check. Artists that other similar festivals would simply die for – check. Weekend tickets at £74 – check. Rewind – yep £74! This is a festival that punches above its weight year on year and is truly a credit to the organisers for cramming so much into a great value package. (You can read an exclusive FFA interview with organiser Rich Bryan about how he manages the impossible HERE!)

Celebrating its fifth anniversary, Bearded’s stated intent was to fill the line-up with Bearded festival favourites back by public demand, experienced festival stagers, and budding new talent. It proved to be a success at every turn. This reviewer had a great time; here are just a few of the highlights that we can remember!....

Friday saw the worst of the weather, cold and drizzly, but that didn’t stop the buzzing crowd kicking the main stage up to Manchester’s own Travelling Band. Country Rock, Folk, Rock, call it what you will – there was something for everyone here. The biggest highlight of the day for this reviewer was the superb Tarantism, playing a set of magical trippy dancefolkrockdubreggaedance (!) to whip up a dancing fever in the swaying crowd (Tarantism indeed!). What is rapidly becoming a cult festival song ‘Gotta Get This Tent Up’ probably got the best reaction of the night. Marvellous stuff.

Adam Ant? What can we say? Mr Ant has surrounded himself with a fine rock band and is probably playing now with more overt post-punk overtones in his music than at any time throughout his career. Some great newer material and just enough old classics to keep the crowd happy. Top version of Christian Dior!

Laters, we were simply blown away by a power set from Sicknote in the wonderfully atmospheric Magical Sounds tent. Top marks to someone for the imaginative decorations and light show on this stage. This was techno-punkesque at its finest. Throbbing beats, crazy dancers, fluid vocals. There was nothing not to like. Expect big things from this crew.

Saturday – if ever a programming policy defines what makes a great festival line-up, then Saturday at Bearded delivered in spades. The Old Stagers held court. These are the acts that have been there. Done that. Know the meaning of a ‘festival set’. Crowd Pleasers. Genuine Bonafide Entertainers. To attend a festival where one is playing is a bonus – Saturday illustrated what Bearded is all about – they came in waves! Don’t get me wrong, the weekend was littered with class acts; Saturday simply epitomised it.

Show Of Hands – brilliant, beautiful music about life, love and loss, power and injustice delivered with a relaxed professionalism that was a pleasure to behold. Knightley worked the crowd like an old trouper; his self-depreciating banter working wonders on the ever growing audience. “There were only 300 hundred when we started the set – now there are three thousand of you. We told you Folk Music isn’t all bad you know!”…. and he was right of course, the arena was packed to listen to a great set – with Keys of Canterbury the highlight for yours truly.

Planned headliners the Levellers were forced to pull out due to injury, but in a masterstroke, Bearded presented Mark Chadwick as ‘Mystery Guest’. Blimey. It may not have been the full band, (“Just imagine they’re on stage with me” Chadwick joked), but Chadwick produced a brilliant set to compensate the hordes of Levellers fans in attendance. The Tornado Stage was packed to the rafters for this one. A mixture of personal material, new Levellers stuff from the forthcoming album, and some real classics, this was a set to remember for many a year.

3 Daft Monkeys entertained as always with some lightening fiddle on the diminutive Waters Edge stage. They really are a festival mainstay. Special mention to a cracking set from Pronghorn. This is a big band in so many ways – the ten piece combo inviting lucky punters to join them to dance on-stage until they ran out of room! Great atmosphere.

Old pro’s The Damned transfixed the main stage crowd with a brilliant festival headline set. How many times can these guys reinvent themselves? True headliners with great stage banter – mostly, it has to said, at the expense of Mr Ant!

Set of the festival for this reviewer was Dr Feelgood. Absolutely faultless. For pacing, stage presence, intensity, and outright quality these guys delivered. I will say magnificent. Talking about experience, there is little more left to write about the Hillage / Giraundy outfit System 7. A marvellous way to end a Saturday night.

Sunday saw the best of the weather with the arena packed for the Bearded annual mass false beard ensemble. There were some crackers; with the prize eventually being awarded to a bearded baby! It’s that kind of festival!

Special mention to Rasta4eyes – very talented young men producing another power set. Tipped for the top.

A lovely mellow Sunday afternoon set from Chumbawamba set the chilled out tone. This reviewer was one of the very lucky folks to catch Jolly Jock’s set. Anyone fortunate enough to have been there will know why this was so special. Entertaining and very, very, funny… and he was giving away free air guitars too – what a guy!

Monster Ceilidh Band produced yet another great set. This must be one of the most consistent festival bands around. Evolving all the time, they’ve ramped up the D&B and electronica recently to great effect. Chatting afterwards they said they are really looking forwards to hitting the Glade audience with the new material. Do go and see these guys anywhere – and take yer dancing shoes.

Kissmet were stunning, arguably producing the best audience reaction of the festival. With Bhangra takes of everything from Led Zeppelin to Hendrix and Cream, coupled with reworkings of old Punjabi classics, this was yet another class festival act.

Festival favourites Dreadzone entertained Bearded with a great set of old dub fuelled classics, and newer, more melodic songs to get the crowd bouncing. Iron Shirt in particular got the packed revellers stomping. A fitting end to a splendid three days.

So, there you have it; Bearded Theory – where all the right ingredients and the audience come together to create a very special weekend.


Article by Barrie Dimond