In an exclusive interview with Festivals For All, we talk to Rich Bryan, organiser of Bearded Theory, about what makes Bearded really tick.

FFA kicked off by asking Rich a little about his background and how Bearded evolved; “My day job is actually as a surveyor, and prior to that I was the youngest licensee in the country at the time, managing a 1,000 capacity nightclub when I was 18.  I made some good contacts out of that – I met early business partners for the festival and quite a few people in the business. We managed to blag a few favours - that’s how we managed to put the festival on in the first year. …. You need favours and contacts. That’s pretty much a given to keep costs down in the first year if you want to survive! ... And that’s what we did. Dreadzone and people like that. Then we built on that each year.”

FFA commented that Bearded consistently punches above it weight both in the calibre of artists and its renowned extremely competitive ticket prices. So does he still need all those favours now, FFA asked; “Not at all. To be brutally honest, the main reason is that we are good negotiators, and secondly, the time of year we are on (Mid May). Majority reason is time of year – there is no great completion for the kind of acts we are booking. It’s an unromantic answer – but that’s how it is.” He laughs.

Bearded is famed for both its quality ethos and keen pricing; it must make life difficult on a budget and yet you certainly attract major artists FFA opined; “Most of the acts at Bearded are not on tour, so that helps availability. We also write a personalised proposal for every single artist above a certain level – we sell them the festival – what it’s about, what the concept is … and why they would fit in! Remember that most acts at Bearded are picked on the basis of personal suggestions from attendees.”

You’ve certainly pulled in some major ‘Old Stagers’ of the festival scene again this year FFA commented, Dreadzone, Levellers, Damned, and Show Of Hands to name a few. “Yeah! Dreadzone went down really well last time and really wanted to play us again. It’s taken us three years to get the Levellers!”

FFA – so it’s positioning the Bearded ethos to the artists as well as the festival goers then; “Yeah.” he laughs again! “Some smaller festivals unfortunately tend not to be very professional – when you get there it’s all a bit haphazard – we do punch above our weight on that score as regards infrastructure. So for the artists we provide stuff like top end PA system’s etc – it all helps to sell the festival to them.”

Is quality and value what makes your different then, FFA asked “Our equivalent rivals are charging about £100… we knick their ideas and put a different twist on it“  he laughs mischievously. “Festivals all have essentially the same concept – getting people in a field – it’s what you do with them whilst they are there that defines your originally as a festival. Bearded focusses on being a family weekend…. For instance we take the best bits of carnivals and village fete’s where it’s great if they have a band on to top the evening off – it’s the same concept really.”

“Festivals are the same prices now as weekends away in nice hotels – you don’t expect to get there and be growled at by the people serving you. We talk about this a lot at Bearded and we put a lot of effort into our security, and everyone else involved, in treating people right, for instance.”

Being based at the beautiful and historic Kedleston Hall must help of course, FFA suggests; “It’s a splendid location…. it took us 4 years to get there. It’s our base now – we spent a lot of money on the site last year and we have continued improving it this year by putting in permanent water supplies and other stuff. We’ve good facilities…good toilets – more of them & better locations this year – we’ve also dedicated kid’s toilets of course. I’d say one of the major improvements is the water – there is effectively mains water into the camp sites now.”

We’ve listened to feedback and we’ll have better bars this year. We’ve got a local brewery coming in (Thornbridge) and we’ve improved the camper van area. On the value front it will be £3 at bar and we are charging less to our food concessions to ensure you should get a proper meal for £5. The majority of kid’s activity is free or very low cost…. If you fleece people they won’t go back, and I wouldn’t either!” He adds.

Is there any emerging act you’d particularly recommend us to watch out for at Bearded, FFA enquired; Rasta4eyes – they are a young and really up and coming. We also encourage a lot of really good local acts and we try and put at least two of three local bands on the main stage – and on the other stages too!

FFA asked if the absence of Glastonbury had made any impact this year; “I’m not too sure about Glastonbury but we’ve had a significant upturn in sales this year. We’ve been going a while now and five years is long time in the market place so we’d expect to do better year on year anyway! Our repeat business is a 90% return rate!” Impressive indeed.

Rich expects Bearded Theory tickets to sell out completely in the next few weeks – so be sharp!

Finally, what do you hope for personally at this years Bearded, we asked; “We are trying to make it easier this year so we get a little bit of time off – we are working 18hrs a day and living in a porta-cabin – so I never get to see the bands! I may sometimes manage to catch the last band of Sunday. With the Waterboys last year I just wanted to see them play Whole Of The Moon and then the local Council turned up ….I sat in a meeting through the set - Great!”

With some great acts again this year, let’s hope Rich manages to see a few at least!

Bearded Theory is held 18th-20th May 2012 at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire.

More info on Bearded Theory HERE.


Article by Barrie Dimond