Blimey – In their sixth year Bearded Theory have only gone and pulled it off again! This is an excellent festival. There is simply nothing not to like about Bearded Theory. A brilliant friendly crowd, first class facilities, loads of stuff for the kids, some absolutely magnificent music, and a commendably relaxed attitude to bringing your own drink into the arena – important for some in these cash strapped times. All this for a measly £79 makes Bearded an absolute bargain on both the wallet and enjoyment front. It really was first class.

If you include the excellent scheduling in the Tea Tent, Bearded offers five stages of top calibre acts – no filters here. The site is large enough to create a ‘big’ festival vibe, but small enough to retain the friendly intimacy between performers and audience for which this festival is renowned. There is loads to do, and they make a special effort to keep families entertained with the dedicated Angel Garden kids area, which doubles as a hazy chill out zone later in the evening. You can expect everything from workshops, to Helter Skelters, to duck racing on the river!

To be part of the crowd at Bearded is a privilege – warm (despite some of the conditions!) and very very friendly. They really do make the effort to follow fancy dress themes, and are always up for a party. Crowd reaction is rarely muted and there really does appear to be a special relationship between artist and audience – not always apparent at some events we could mention!

2013 saw some terrible weather on Friday, dry(ish) on Saturday, and A Beautiful Day (gettit?) in so many ways on Sunday. This reviewer was not the only one to return home with a red nose and a big smile on Monday morning.

Musically, one of the many attributes of this festival is their continuing ability to punch above their weight in the status of acts they consistently attract. This year witnessed the likes of Levellers, Reverend and The Makers, and Asian Dub Foundation grace the main stage, whilst the tents offered a wealth of genre defying talent. Indeed two of this reviewers favourite musical highlights happened away from the Main Stage. This is always A GOOD SIGN of an excellent festival.

The Tea Tent is a special little venue – it features artists with names chalked up on blackboards, it appears to open 24*7, the vibe is excellent… and they, er, sell tea and cakes! FFA were lucky enough to hear rumours of a secret gig in there by ‘Gentle Kitten’ a.k.a. festival favourites Ferocious Dog. What can we say – the atmosphere was electric. They are an excellent band – with a new album to boot. The crowd went crazy. Ferocious Dog take their own mosh pit with them and the Tea Tent was absolutely kicking. Folk infused rock and punk with some excellent melodic breaks – it’s all in the mix. Great good time dance and sing your heart out music. FFA absolutely loved it. (Read a recent FFA interview with these guys HERE.)

Gentle Kitten a.k.a. Ferocious Dog

Same Same But Different… The Peatbog Faeries provided perhaps the set of the festival for this reviewer. Tight, polished, an excellent set list balancing trippy Celtic house and wild folk reel breaks, this was a gig to remember. Back to back versions of Naughty Step and the inimitable Folk Police had the tent bouncing. Not bad for an early evening slot!

A fine set by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin set the tone for an excellent main stage finale of New Model Army and Reverend and The Makers on Friday night. Sadly the downpour did them no favours but the crowd danced on seemingly oblivious. Over in Tornado Town FFA caught the excellent Maroon Town and their brand of Latino infused Ska. Once the technical hassles were overcome and the bass actually kicked in fully they provided a great show – the first class ‘Fire’ providing a fitting finale.

The Comedy Night over in the new Lock Inn tent runs ‘til 2am and FFA caught some excellent comperes and acts, particularly on Friday night. As with all good jokes, you forget next day, and we can’t actually remember many of the acts names (come on guys, it was late!) but Jolly Jock, Ben Schofield and the brilliant observational humour of Pierre Hollins were involved somewhere!

On Saturday, two Main Stage acts did it for FFA on a day of really diverse musical offerings throughout the arena. Seth Lakeman, to this reviewer at least, is a festival act on par with Levellers in having an almost magical effect on a festival audience. Never offering less the 100% this was yet another blinding set. Asian Dub Foundation absolutely rocked. Playing a back catalogue of nearly 20 years (oh my!), a stomping version of Fortress Europe had the wild crowd all a frenzy. Excellent stuff again.

Peatbog Faeries - Folk Police Live

Sunday offered a wealth of fabulous music; this isn’t a list – but special mention to Goldblade: Punk Band – Main Stage – Sunday afternoon – come on. They ripped it up! Multi-talented John Robb is a photographer’s dream – energetic, visual, excellent audience banter, and a much overused term – but an absolute showman. The new material is timelessly excellent whilst old stompers like ‘Do You Believe…’ saw Robb once again in the crowd anointing the faithful – and there were plenty. Loved it.

Stiff Little Fingers long awaited return to the UK fields delivered an excellent set – opening with a rousing Alternative Ulster back to back with At The Edge provided a blistering start and they just got better. Don’t leave it so long next time guys!

Levellers. THE festival band. An absolute banker to provide a marvellous set – anywhere. With this band it’s so easy to run out of superlatives to describe simply how good they are at providing the perfect festival set and igniting a crowd. So it proved again on Sunday night. Brilliant as always.

So there you have it – Bearded Theory … what a superb opener to the festival season. Roll on 2014.

For background, read what festival organiser Rich Bryan had to say in anticipation of this year’s festival HERE.


Article by Barrie Dimond