tornado fails to dampen spirits at this year's Bearded Theory

2009 Bearded Theory review

published: Tue 19th May 2009

Goldblade

Friday 15th to Sunday 17th May 2009
Bradley Nook Farm, Hulland Ward, Ashbourne, Derbyshire , England MAP
£45 for a weekend ticket, day tickets £20/under 16s £10/under 5s £5
daily capacity: 1500
last updated: Sat 16th May 2009

"It's a village fete gone wrong", the colourful festival T-shirt quotes. "It's a growing festival coping admirably with freaky weather" might have been more apt. Having bucketed down for much of Friday without dampening many spirits, some sudden and vicious wind blew off the cover of the professional-looking and certainly seemingly-unmovable main stage early Saturday evening. And yet despite that major set-back, despite the cordoned-off stage being investigated by the HSE, and despite all the mud, the party was enabled to go on into the night and through all of Sunday. Quite probably an astonishing effort from all those working there.

the tornado
The main stage incident may well grab the headlines when they should have been dominated by the efforts of securing quality entertainment at a snip of a price with significant charity contributions on any money made from the sold-out event. Whilst wearing beards too often. But that sudden piece of extreme weather, within a day that had already seen the rain-macks out several times, needs dealing with. It happened as a hardy few of us were waiting for Subgiant to finish setting up their equipment and crack on with their unique brand of electronica. The rain and wind started up yet again, but this time with hailstones, so I ran to the nearest bit of shelter (urinals!) where I found people pointing to where the roof of the stage was. The roof of the 1920s restaurant and much of the Something Else café and open-mic stage had also been badly hit, and a couple of portaloos right next to us had blown over, but remarkably tents just 100 metres away survived quite intact.

Initial impressions were, amazingly, of no-one being obviously injured. Wild rumours quickly circulated as emergency services arrived, but later in the evening I heard that just three people were taken to hospital. This was confirmed the next day by clearly-weary festival management who were kind enough to go round areas of the campsite to clarify what is and what isn't. We also found out that all three injured people decided to come back on-site, and that a lot of hard work and very little sleep took place to keep things going.

around the festival site
In practice, us punters still had the Dance Tent going until 2am Saturday night, culminating in a cracking set by Ed Tangent and Dickster. The reggae café had a fine selection of reggae classics until much the same time, all courtesy of Axis SoundSystem. Next door, a temporary and very basic stage was set up for Tarantism to play their unique grooves gone midnight. And all too late I found out that Tofu Love Frogs played that stage a little earlier, and that some of The Saw Doctors regaled the beer tent with an improvised set.

Sunday had a lot of questions marks across the morning, what with approximately a third to a half of people clearly having gone home judging by the gaps in the camping and car park areas. At one point a whole new stage arrived and was starting to be set up, only to have disappeared a little further down the line. Early afternoon had someone with a loudspeaker came through the camp-site announcing that the Campfire Stage, previously thought unusable, was now to become the main stage through having a temporary sound-desk set up. Hand-written schedules of acts are found taped up around key areas of the site, and music is made available again to those that were still braving the ongoing mixed bag of atrocious weather.

The Boot Hill All Stars
In practice, the Campfire Stage didn't last more than a couple of acts. I caught the end of Monkeyrush's set there along with a good number of other weather-hardened punters, and it was enjoyable and appreciated. Later on, Goldblade managed to squeeze into the Beer Tent early-evening for a rousing set of punk-like tunes by some seriously hardened-looking musicians. Lead singer John Robb cut a most energetic figure, finding ways of raising his naked chest up above the crowd and engaging with anyone wanting liveliness. Many did, and so this was as busy a beer tent as I’d witnessed all weekend. There was even a small mosh-pit that needed experiencing, the only one of the weekend I found, so well-played that band and those that made them happen despite the odds.

Meantime the huge Magical Sounds Dance Tent continued to beat harmoniously along as if nothing had happened, only compromising through having a curfew at around 10pm instead of the anticipated midnight. Its acts were on-time pretty much all weekend, everything seemed to run very smoothly, and the many visits I made there were always rewarded with great beat-led music of some form. Sunday's highlight for me was a performance by Sunfish featuring vocals and guitar, reminding me of System 7 but with harder beats. There was also an abundance of DJs, and by the end, dancing fairies on each side of the stage. Best stage of the weekend therefore, or as one random voice from a tent said as I walked past it Saturday morning, "The Dance Tent were mint!"

Strengths and weaknesses now in no particular order, from my personal perspective and pretty much independent of the weather in my opinion. First off, there was a nice set of friendly stewards, matching a significant lack of aggression and good camaraderie across the whole festival. There were regularly-cleaned toilets, usually with instant-soap and toilet paper (& obligatory muddy floor). Not much litter overall, and plenty of spacious recycling points. Quick bar service, albeit with the annoying token system back but then with readily-available refunds if needed. The bar had a good variety of ales and ciders, all served in biodegradable cups for when you just couldn't locate the bins.

around the festival site (1)
Plenty of car-parking and camping space, with no queues in or out. Straw was put down to attempt to deal with key muddied areas, and it was encouraging to see a tractor getting people out of the car-park field where needed. Great to have the camping field next to the car park, and so there was never much walking needed. Great also to have had a viewing platform at the main stage for people with physical disabilities.

The Green Fairy main stage suffered from bands being on late too often, or in The Beetroot Kings' case, playing about four hours early. Don't know why it happened that way, but it would have been helpful to have been updated on running orders, as was managed once that main stage was no-more.

There were enough food stalls and cafes, some of them very nice. There was an abundance of stalls selling things, including medieval-styled items and jerky; indeed there was a whole sub-section of a medieval camp with demonstrations of that lifestyle. Good to have had a camping gear stall, but next time a basic-essentials stall would be a good addition – regular cigarettes were like gold-dust come Sunday.

around the festival site (1)
A wide variety of children's activities were available in one corner, the Children's Village, mostly for free. The many various activities included a Circus Skills Tent, drama workshops, games, stories, a climbing-frame, trampolines, and separate toilets. Plus there was some walk-about entertainment that went through the campsite on occasions, and there were angels everywhere.

Other musical highlights included a Friday headline Hawkwind set for the devotional, and a bass-heavy Dreadzone SoundSystem set for most other people. There was good comedy from Attila the Stockbroker at the main stage, and a fine all-round laugh and sing-along from Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs at the nicely-secluded Campfire Stage. Some captivating, stripped-down New Model Army songs were aired by Justin Sullivan & Dean White, and there was a feel-good know-what-you’re-getting set from 3 Daft Monkeys. And Zetan Spore were my pick of a high-quality bunch from the Dance Tent.

Last of all, special mention to the open-mic tent and cafe, for being cosy and full of surprise musical and artistic performances before the storm, and for getting going again on the Sunday despite being blown down. They even had a mic under a new gazebo on the last day, from which acoustic performances could be enjoyed whilst sitting at an open-air table enjoying the resurrected café’s wares.

So overall, the weekend didn't go as expected, but for all the problems thrown at this quaint little festival, they found a way to carry on regardless. As their website said in reporting on the freak weather, "We are entertaining the crowd the best we can." They did, we're grateful, and it still worked in a friendly & charming manner. Same time next year then?
review by: Clive Hoadley

photos by: Phil Bull

Friday 15th to Sunday 17th May 2009
Bradley Nook Farm, Hulland Ward, Ashbourne, Derbyshire , England MAP
£45 for a weekend ticket, day tickets £20/under 16s £10/under 5s £5
daily capacity: 1500
last updated: Sat 16th May 2009


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