|Bearded Theory 2024
23rd - 26th May 2024
Catton Park, Walton upon Trent, Derbyshire, DE12 8LN, United Kingdom
Tickets for adults (with camping) from £219.95
In the FFA Preview of Bearded Theory 2023 we wrote that this festival has consistently maintained its status as a benchmark event for others to follow in the sub 20,000 attendee sector. FFA are delighted to report that this still remains the case! Bearded 2023 was one hell of a bash. It still offers fantastic value for money, still punches well above its weight for the calibre of artists on offer across its six stages, and still offers a quality, multi-faceted festival experience. The organisation, facilities, and professionalism are absolutely on the button. Its diverse music policy, the sheer variety of non-music entertainment, its extensive kids’ area, its first-class Accessible facilities, its late-night happenings … all coalesce into one amazing festival weekend. Just check out all the goodies Bearded has to offer. This experienced Reviewer genuinely found nothing to fault.
But, Listen Up – all that counts for Nowt. Zilch. Nothing. Many festivals large and small offer similar. What Bearded possesses in spades is Atmosphere. Without that, many festivals remain little more than bands in fields. At Bearded, the air crackles as you approach the site. You can almost taste it. It is a rare and precious thing. Bearded has what many others lack – The Vibe! That Buzz that brings it all to life. At Bearded, its people are everything. They are the generators. It all flows through every single person in those fields. From the organisers to the stewards, to all the volunteers, and not least the fantastic crowd. Bearded attracts Festival People. They are some of the most friendly, diverse, open minded, fun loving, dysfunctional (!) folk one could ever hope to meet. The crowd are fantastic. Forget everything else – Bearded IS its people. Everyone plays their part – and plays it well. They leave any musical prejudices at the gate, support all the artists, and, collectively, create such a sense of community and togetherness that it all makes the spine tingle. This audience parks the cares of world aside for a few days and throws one hell of a party. They carry a little piece of Bearded around all year. Pent up. At the festival it all spills out. From thousands of people. Together… and it’s wonderful. If you were blessed to attend Bearded in 2023 then you know.
Now guess what? The bands don’t really matter! Bearded is one of the few festivals you can book with confidence in advance without knowing a single artist. The artists are transitory. The FESTIVAL is the thing. Bearded has never been a festival that is only has good as last year’s bands. Now don’t get me wrong – Bearded consistently offers up class international acts across the board. It always has, and did so again in 2023, but Bearded is all about the Buzz.
Mind you, there were some absolutely cracking acts on offer! This is FFA’s take on a fabulous 2023.
In fine weather, which it was, Bearded is one of those festivals where you simply cruise through the day. It’s the Bee & Nectar Complex – FFA simply alighted where we chose, random moments, following the shiny things, savouring the delights, a band here, a drink there, you know the score. Here’s what went down for us… This is the shortlist of the shortlist! Many artists missed the cut completely. So it goes. Chances are we missed your favourite band. Chances are what rocked our boat sank yours. Chances are we won’t all agree – it’s all choice and preference after all. If you’re expecting a list of bands – buy a programme :). This is simply a snapshot of FFA’s ‘Moments’ – if your own Moments were half as good, then we were all truly blessed at Bearded 2023.
A low-key set up day. Get sorted. Check out the Bars and toilets. Compare stall prices. Get your bearings. Bearded opened up the main arena and offered up a handful of bands with lights out before midnight. Fine; given the excesses to follow.
The daytime highlight that was Mad Dog Mcrea drew FFA into The Meadow stage. A fine folk-rock outfit. ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ is embedded within the DNA of their setlist, and they defy any band to better their take on this classic. Bearded was revving up. We checked out FFA favourite Beth Orton on The Pallet later; ongoing poor sound issues did for the woman. Shame. Another time maybe. The splendid EMF were nearly overshadowed by their own Intro! For it was poet Jack Horner (aka Leon the Pig Farmer) MC’ing them on to the stage.
To a backdrop of the opening strains of ‘Children’, Horner let loose such a blisteringly razor-sharp, rapid-fire rant that encapsulated the whole ethos of Rave Culture in 90 seconds, that it frankly blew this Reviewer away. Ecstasy. Mother. Fucker. erm, Quite. Then E.M.F. hit the stage and proceeded to absolutely nail a rip roaring ‘Children’. Obviously. Highlight was the tent absolutely bouncing for a stonkingly good sing-along ‘Unbelievable’. Always love a decent band that does not take themselves too seriously. EMF know their place in the order of things, and appear to have an absolute ball doing what they do. Respect.
Gogol Bordello!!! This outfit should patent the exclamation mark! What a full-on exploding razzamatazz of a show. This must be one of the most dynamic bands on the circuit. Given frontman Hutz’s Ukrainian heritage and their latest offering ‘Solidaritine’ dedicated to the cause, the show could have had sombre overtones – but the band just let rip. Making their point whilst delivering one hell of a show. Splendid Stuff.
Over in The Woodland Grace Petrie was absolutely superb. An immense talent; bloody funny too. As she says ‘If you don’t like Socialist Butch Lesbians, then this show may not be up your street!’. Talent, Commitment, and Passion are a powerful combination. It would take a cold-hearted soul not to be stirred by some of Petrie’s spoken word and song as she tackles injustice head-on. Spine tingling in parts, with ‘Black Tie’ and ‘Northbound’ taking the absolute biscuit. A cracking day across the stages. Throw in some debauched shenanigans bouncing between Convoy Cabaret, Maui Waui, Magical Sounds, and finally collapsing near Big Ed, and Bearded was up and running. Bloody ‘ell – it was only Friday.
Lazing at Big Ed when some punters wandered over with instruments and sparked up an impromptu mini acoustic session of Cult classics. Typical Bearded somehow. Well done Not Quite Dead Yet. Wirral outfit She Drew The Gun caught the ear over on The Pallet. A band difficult to classify into any nice little musical genre tick box – which is always a Good Thing. Interesting sounds – do check ‘em out. Heart-on-yer-sleeve radical, all-round good guy… yes, its Billy Bragg! The man can do no wrong in this Reviewers eyes, and another fine set excellently delivered. He’d even splashed out on a band! As with Petrie the night before, I must have got a bit of grit in these old eyes, particularly during ‘Power in a Union’. Splendid. Caught Jessie Guise over in The Woodland. Forget the rather patronising ‘Wife of more famous Husband’ trope; the woman is a fine singer/song writer, and does a nice line in cat stories. An ideal set of gentle lilting summer sounds. What’s not to like?
Brace Yourself – FFA Set Of The Festival Award Winner – it's Gary Numan!!! Artists who achieve peak popularity decades ago can go one of two ways; they can rock up as a live manifestation of their Greatest Hits CD and take the easy money as their own Copy Band, or, like Numan, maintain the creativity and constantly re-invent themselves. This was contemporary Numan. Let’s be blunt here – the bloke, and his amazing band, were magnificent… Angst filled, catchy hummable synth-pop this certainly wasn’t. The angst was still there, but this was darker, deeper, heavier, exponentially more extreme. The stage production and costumes were fantastic, like some Gothic Zombie Fever Dream. Numan looked wonderful, as did his two guitar wielding cohorts. ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric’ were in the mix somewhere, but the set majored on the ‘Intruder’ album. Elements of the set were truly dystopian and the non-verbal-communications from guitarists Harris and Slade frankly disturbing. Absolutely outstanding.
Change of scene, certainly change of pace. The Men They Couldn’t Hang Acoustic went down a storm. The feel of the set was like stumbling across the guys sparking up in the back room of an old Irish boozer. Warm, friendly, intimate, a good sing-along and smashing crowd. Later, The Meadow was absolutely rammed for a great set from festival stalwarts Echo And The Bunnymen. Smoky and moody, the place was jumping from the off; great crowd reaction – you could hear the punters singing from across the site when the band fired up ‘The Cutter’. Glorious stuff.
More late-night malarkey ensued in the very capable hands of the excellently named DJ From London in Maui interspersed with the Mike Glowbones / Scalping soundscapes over in Magical Sounds. Throw in some jigging in the Tea Tent, plus chilled vibes around the firepit and FFA were done for.
The old Hippy in me had FFA sleepwalking towards Magical Sounds for the Flutatious set. Magical Sounds is a lovely scene and certainly the most atmospheric of the Bearded stages; when the beats of a band like Flutatious kick in, it normally produces something rather special – and so it proved. Sound hassles were a minor irritant as the band soared. Lovely.
Every sunny Sunday afternoon demands Ska-Reggae, and who better than The Dualers to delivery up the goodies. A great set to get the arena skanking on down. Two worthy headliners finished Bearded 2023 on a veritable high. First up – The Pretenders. Hynde is an astute dude and has surrounded herself with excellent musicians. The set simply buzzed along. No room on the set list for ‘Brass in Pocket’, but a great rock set that covered all the bases nonetheless. A fantastic crowd reaction, but nothing compared to that generated by Primal Scream.
Bobby Gillespie is a rock god pure and simple. The man’s persona and presence sweep all before him; indeed, so smitten was Hynde when she caught a glimpse of Gillespie side stage, that she got all a giddy mid song and had to restart! Primal Scream are all fine musicians, but they, and the attendant Choir, are happy to just let Gillespie do his thing. Gillespie even had to cajole their absolutely superb Sax player, Alex White, centre stage to solo. The set list encapsuled their thirty-year history, with classics like ‘Loaded’ and ‘Country Girl’ bringing the house down. An absolutely class act, still at the top of their game. What a way to close out the main stage. Cue fireworks. Bearded did us proud.
Last Rites were performed by Public Service Broadcasting over in The Meadow. A splendid outfit that appears to add new band members every time we see them. The crowd were up for one last hurrah and PSB delivered in style. Any outfit that can throw ‘Spitfire’ in mid set, and finishing with a stomping ‘Everest’ deserves praise. A great end to a great festival.
There you go then. A brilliant weekend. Thank you, Bearded People, for making it so.
Article and Snaps by Barrie Dimond
(More Snaps as we load them HERE.)