|Bearded Theory 2016|
26th - 29th May 2016
Catton Park, Walton upon Trent, Derbyshire, DE12 8LN, United Kingdom
Tickets for adults (with camping) from £97.00
In so many ways, Bearded Theory is the perfect festival; it offers some top flight artists, quality facilities and camping, some excellent non-music activities, plenty for the kids, and a wonderful festival vibe, all wrapped in a complete package that sent the 10,000 strong revellers home absolutely buzzing. But that’s not the half of it. It’s the sheer value of the Bearded Theory offering that continues to amaze this reviewer year upon year.
In the eight years this somewhat nomadic festival has trodden the boards it has consistently punched well above its weight in the scale of value on offer. For starters the festival has developed into what is effectively a four night bash with the site open for business on Thursday night at no extra charge. They open up the Something Else Big Top Stage and throw in the likes of 3 Daft Monkeys and Mark Chadwick for good measure… and it does not cost a penny more.
Secondly, it is one of those increasingly rare events where you can take your own booze into the arena, although the bars were somewhat lively all weekend :). Food and drink were par for the course.
Thirdly, there are over one hundred acts on offer across four stages including the calibre of James, The Mission, Afro Celt Sound System, and Alabama 3.
Add to that a massive site imaginatively decorated, simply loads of stalls and eateries, dedicated teen zone, kids village and pursuits, an absolutely stonking dance tent, and more atmosphere than you can shake a stick at, and the entry price of £87 is positively cheap!
It’s hard to identify any area where corners have been cut to contain the amazing pricing; indeed many aspects of Bearded Theory set a benchmark for others to follow. It really is that good.
Bearded also attracts a great crowd. It’s a big site with lots of dedicated areas so there are loads of places to chill even for 10 thousand punters over the weekend, none more so than the wonderful Woodland stage buried amongst a wooded copse. The crowd are as varied as the line-up. It’s a well-worn cliché but there genuinely is something for everyone at Bearded. Families rub shoulders with wide eyed stompers and it all works. Bearded is one of the friendliest festivals this reviewer has had the pleasure of attending. The atmosphere the crowd generate is the icing on the cake and helps Bearded to be a very special festival indeed.
The organisers listen and learn every year. Just as a ‘fer instance; they got a bit of stick last year for the toilet facilities at the new Catton Hall location not being up to the usual Bearded standard. This year they were faultless. Indeed the festival even provided a few luxury units gratis in the arena by way of an apology. Nice touch. Disabled camping had a few issues this year but knowing Bearded it will all be sorted for next year. This level of responsiveness to the pulse of the crowd is what makes Bearded what it is.
The May weather was remarkably kind. No rain and moments of sunshine! That has to be a result in itself. The weekend really flew by – always a good sign of a great time. It was also rather a blur. In a line-up absolutely bursting with talent here’s a few Festivals For All highlights....
Thursday night belonged to Leveller Mark Chadwick and the 3 Daft Monkeys. Both acts are virtually guaranteed to produce a great show. These are the festival stalwarts; artists that you just know will deliver… and so it proved. Chadwick played a crowd pleasing set – almost a Greatest Hits, as his own and the Levellers back-catalogue was given a comprehensive airing. The crowd were already punch-drunk when the Dafts upped the ante with some blistering good time folk-rock. The packed tent was bouncing with most of the large crowd outside dancing and reeling in the fields. Wonderful stuff.
Friday on The Pallet main stage witnessed Sonic Boom 6 warm up the crowd nicely with their infectious brand of Manc Ska Beats before Hugh Cornwell regaled the crowd with a satisfying bag of post Stranglers work with enough old Stranglers classics in the mix to keep everyone happy.
Alabama 3 produced a fine set of their suitably sleazy Acid Country malarkey but appeared somewhat muted and lacked some of their usual caustic edge. On stage murmurings of tonsillitis affecting the usually exuberant Mr L Love being one likely cause. Nothing however could detract from the mayhem generated during the classic Hypo Full of Love. Muted or not – the crowd had a ball.
What? – set of the festival decided on a Friday night? Tough call but for this reviewer at least, The Mission stole the festival. Forget the old Goth trappings – the band have matured into a simply stunning rock outfit. They've not lost their Goth roots – rather they have taken it with them on the journey. They are bigger. More rounded. More complete. Better. Hussey was magnificent; his stage presence immense – none more so than those moments when he took to the darkened stage alone to render beautifully constructed ballads like Butterfly On A Wheel. The voice is still wonderful and that distinctive ‘Mission’ guitar sound is still there, but the band appears older and wiser now and able to bring every nuance to the fore in their fine back-catalogue. The finale of Tower of Strength had my spine tingling. Absolutely splendid.
The Woodland arena was really a festival within a festival set apart, in, erm, the woods. We caught the frankly bizarre Jaya The Cat in there later. Those goddam yanks are impossible to pigeon-hole - and all the better for it. A rather splendid mish-mash of genres and influences.
On Saturday Pronghorn caught the eye. Always producing a raucous show with infectious pace and good humour, the guys one again delivered, with the main arena awash with gyrating souls dancing in a hint of sunshine.
British Sea Power are a strange bunch; a personal favourite over many years, their stage shows are famously anarchic and sometimes shambolic. I’ve seen them end shows in a rugby scrum pile of bodies and guitars before now. Their Bearded outing was a mixed bag with moments of excellence but perhaps a bit too much musical looning on this occasion.
New Model Army brought their usual glorious army of camp followers with many in the crowd resplendent in NMA finery. The band did not disappoint. This band has a loyal and vocal fan base swelling festival numbers throughout the land - much to the delight of event organisers! As always, the performance was enhanced by the shoulder standing rabble rousers in the crowd. Indeed by the end of the set everyone in the pit with some misguided sense of balance was having a pop at shoulder standing. Great scenes.
Arguably up there with The Mission as one of the sets of the festival was Afro Celt Sound System. Another band impossible to classify with Senegambian rhythms overlaid with electronica and just about everything else. Wonderful stuff and true World Music. Any band that can throw the wonderful Kora in the mix is a friend of mine! A marvellous trippy set and the crowd absolutely loved it.
Sunday was Reggae-Ska fuelled on the main stage with Mad Professor + The Robotics, The Beat, and Misty In Roots. The Prof produced a great set resplendent with dancers and classic beats. Next up were indeed The Beat. Yet another act where class entertainment is guaranteed. Brilliant, dynamic good time music. A great band.
The Buzzcocks are another merry band of old stagers who know how to put on the show. No messing. No chat. Just a stream of 3 minute classics. Great set and one of the best crowd reactions of the weekend.
All roads let to James to close the bash. Kicking off the set with the Sit Down classic laid the marker that James want to move on from their illustrious past. As Tim Booth is fond of saying – they don't want to become their own tribute band. So… old hits were a little thin on the ground. However, the set absolutely rocked. They were beset by sound problems which led to a couple of iffy moments but not enough to spoil the party. Superb vibe in the crowd, particularly when a spectacular firework display closed the show.
The Neville Staple set in the woods was an absolutely wild affair. Bearded had to close access to The Woodland due to crowd capacity! It was packed - now that’s a measure of the success of this great festival.
I could go on. And on. What about RDF, Tarantism, Eat Static, Cara Dillon, Banco De Gaia, the Floating Lotus tent playing excellent acid jazz into the night, et cetera, et cetera. Let’s just say Bearded provided absolute class across the stages all weekend as part of a great festie and, well, leave it at that.
Article by Barrie Dimond