Bearded Theory delivers what people want in a festival

Bearded Theory 2012 review

published: Fri 25th May 2012

around the festival site (2)

Friday 18th to Sunday 20th May 2012
Kedleston Hall Park, Derby, Derbyshire, DE22 5JH, England MAP
£74 - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Wed 9th May 2012

Bearded Theory 5 takes place in the beautiful grounds of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. We arrive on Friday afternoon – being me and our two kids (aged 11 and 6). Mum is already on site having arrived earlier. We get on site with no problems at all (there were hold ups earlier in the day) and are greeted by smiling stewards who seem well drilled. A very swift park up, wristband exchange and a short plod to our home, through the festival site, which I rather like, it makes you eager to get back into the festival, although in our case we're already set up for the weekend!

around the festival site (3)
The only thing that might be improved upon is a giving out some rubbish sacks, perhaps a campsite map showing where family camping and quiet camping are, and details of where water points and lockups are. Waterpoints in particular were not easily visible from a distance in crowds. The organisers made all of this information available online, but I wonder how many people printed it out or could remember, and everything always looks different when you're actually there.

One of the things that I love about Bearded Theory is that there is a huge level of attention to detail, but retaining the feeling that everything has simply fallen into place. I think the term 'Organic' is over used but it seems to fit the bill here and as the organisers said in the programme, the Bearded Theory team have provided the furniture in a field, it's up to the punters to have a great time. It's the little things like having the Angel Gardens kids play area, easy to access, and placed close enough to the main stage so that parents don't feel like they're out on a limb, with the amount of activities, on offer great. Let's face it, if you're a parent at a festival and the kids are miserable, you’re in for a very wearing time.

The bar is close by and directly opposite the main stage so if it does rain, (as it did - it's England in May), you can see the main stage whilst supping one of the variety of wonderful tipples available at the bar and sheltering from the elements.

Last year, my biggest gripe was the company running the bar (and that most of the beers were undrinkable). Not this year!! A good selection of beers and the bar was staffed brilliantly by Thornbridge Brewery. Their own 'Jaipur Ale' was available for a very limited time from the barrel, and then subsequently from the bottle. They also brought with them a lovely light 'Bearded Theory' Ale which was nice and crisp and worked pretty well even in the chilly evenings. Their 'Lord Marples' was darker and had a deeper chewier feel to it. Cider drinkers were well catered for with Thatchers Gold and daily specials as well as Perry, Wine and a good choice of soft drinks too. Even at the busiest times, waiting time was kept to just a few minutes. Despite the option to bring your own booze into the arena, both bars were still well attended all weekend.

around the festival site (2)
There are a huge variety of places to eat too. Many curry places selling veggie only food (Ghandi's Flip-Flop comes highly recommended) while a mixture of veggie and meat Thai and Tibetan curries were available from other places too. If burgers and sausages, or fish and chips are your thing, you'll be fine too. Or there was pizza, a Jerky stall (including Tofu Jerky), or the most amazing coffee from a tiny coffee stall.

Large mutant monster sculptures of animals and aliens over the site made for some excellent photos and one of our group's young daughters wanted to travel the site looking for the painted wooden worm monster statues and had her picture taken with them all. There must have been at least 25 in all but they were kept amused hunting them all down.

Kids were spoilt for choice with activities for all ages: Water Zorbing, things to bounce on, fire shows, storytelling, and kids' discos. The young ones in our group loved making soaps, beard knitting, banging on the drums, painting stones and listening to stories told by Lord Trotsky from the band Hobo Jones, being entertained by Captain Dan and his treasure hunts and pirate magic, and karaoke with live guitar backing from Doozer. Walkabout acts held their gaze for ages (their favourite seemed to be the sack troll people) and a group of particularly mischievous old ladies with shopping trollies. I was really impressed by the Moaning Lisa – a large painting with the face cut out and replaced by someone moaning. I'm not sure I'll ever look at the real painting in the same way again.

around the festival site (3)
Saturday morning kicked off with The Bearded Theory Horse Trials. We arrived in time for the aftermath (typical), and the 'horses' leaving to go back to the paddock but it looked great and there was plenty of horseplay as they made their way past the kids.

Sunday mornings display by The Red Barrows was stunning: Death defying feats of bravery by a barrow wielding troupe of nutters all 'flying' in tight formation and performing stunts.

From a musical perspective my highlights came from a few unexpected areas really. The Magical Sounds Arena played host to some phenomenal acts: Steve Hillage's System 7, Astralasia, Banco de Gaia, Ed Tangent (DJ), and ZubZub to name but a few.

around the festival site (3)
The line-up in there would be enough on its own to sway me to go to a festival, but they also played hosts to one of my favourite acts of the weekend – Sicknote. Their sounds were an unlikely marriage of dirty dancy baselines, and angry lairy punk vocals.

From time to time they sounded like they were about to ask us to break into a Charleston or tea dance, and then that techno bassline kicked back in again and we we're off, heads nodding and compelled to dance. Having never seen them perform live before, I was converted and if I get the opportunity, I'd definitely see them again!

Boot Hill All Stars
As I head over to the bar from at the Tornado Town stage I catch some of the surprise headliner Karl Phillips & The Midnight Ramblers who is another great live band well worth checking out. Their musical styles change from song to song but I have to say, 'Pink Champagne' is great. The punchy ska style with rap vocals spat out over the top is probably my favourite of their set. This stage offers a host of knees up punk, ska and rockabilly acts over the weekend, with Pronghorn providing another suitable headline act, and a proposal of marriage!

Our eldest loved Rasta4Eyes another ska band. Their message-laden lyrics and bouncy bass lines won him over and he's now looking to spend his birthday vouchers on downloading some of their tunes. I'm not going to dissuade him because I thought they were great too. They seemed really tight and the tempo on Sunday coupled with the drying ground made for some excellent bouncing.

Old school noise was served up by Radical Dance Faction (RDF), a man down, and a man remembered, whose dub punk sounds echoed and rattled inside my head. Bearded Theory does very well at delivering bands who write songs with lyrics that challenge the audience to think. Their departure from the stage is pretty short lived as they come back onto the stage to apologise to the organisers for something. I can't quite make out what but cross my fingers that the kids in the audience don't catch the amplified language. It seems to wash over our two at least. As well as punk, Bearded Theory also has some very laid back folk music in the shape of Cara Dillon.

Cara Dillon
Her hushed tones quieten the crowd and although I've been at festivals where she has appeared in the past, I have never watched her. She has such beautiful voice haunting through 'Garden River' and she plays the whistle very well too. Show of Hands puts on a great show too and is rated very highly by all of our family (so much so that Steve Knightley recognises my son later at a signing in the Merchandise tent). Theirs is a more traditional musical style but the messages contained in songs like 'Arrogance Ignorance and Greed' and 'Stop Copying Me' are far from traditional. The crowd swell is pretty big for them as they play at tea time, but they're used to playing to large audiences having sold out the Royal Albert Hall on several occasions.

The Chumbawamba set is another filled with thought provoking ditties and tracks like 'Homophobia' – taken from when the band had a more electronic feel really suit the acoustic sound that they have now. The brilliantly written 'Add Me' covers the subject of people hiding behind personas on the Internet – the lyrics make me chuckle and feel uncomfortable at the same time – now that takes some skill.

The Damned
Due to sleepy children, I watch The Damned and their headline set from the comfort of the campsite and feel really lucky that from where I am, I can actually see them on stage and sit in my chair with a cold drink. The slight chill in the air is lessened by the blankets I am wearing as I listen to 'A New Rose', and 'Smash It Up'. I really enjoy Captain Sensible's 'Wot' and they sound really tight, even from this distance. Friends who watch the performance from the mosh pit all enjoy the show too.

I felt like I ought to watch Adam Ant as he was a headliner and quite a few of our group were really up for seeing him. I have to be honest though - I stuck it out for a bit of his set and wasn't really won over. I thought the organisers did well to secure someone as well-known as Adam Ant quite so close to the festival date (after the Levellers were forced to pull out due to their fiddle player requiring a hand operation), but he wasn't really for me. I listened to the first four or five songs and bimbled off to find something that suited my mood a bit better.

Mad Dog Mcrea
I think the song that has really stuck in my head since I heard it (and let's see if writing about it helps), is Mad Dog Mcrea's version of 'Little Black Fly'. They appeared on The Waters Edge stage, a new stage for the festival and in theory a great idea, but the stage is a little too close to the Tornado Town stage and on several occasions it doesn't work for me. When acts with a large following play the small open air stage, the sound system lacks the punch to deliver any sound out as far as people on the fringes (something I notice for Hobo Jones, and 3 Daft Monkeys). I'd love to get in a bit closer but it's crowded and with two children it's not easy.

The other time the layout doesn't work so well is when one of the larger bands play Tornado Town stage and there is an overspill of people outside trying to listen through the noise bleed of the acts on The Waters Edge. What works a lot better is the slightly later acoustic sessions at The Something Else Tea Tent with a lovely cup of something warm. It's a really nice environment for having a bit of a natter, a sing song and eating cake!

Mark Chadwick
The Levellers Mark Chadwick is the surprise 'Beautiful Guest' in Tornado Town and he plays a few solo tracks but the bulk of his set is made up of Levellers classics. It's a shame that The Levellers have had to cancel due to their fiddle players tendon problems, the crowd are clearly up for a sing along. It's nice to see Mark make an appearance and he assures us that Levellers will play next year.

The next best thing to The Levellers is Ferocious Dog who sounds very much like the Levellers and treat us to a few Levellers covers. I am reliably informed that Ferocious Dog sold more merchandise than any other band playing Bearded Theory. They were pretty entertaining and as very early afternoon main stage slot, they managed to pull the crowd in. They have played Bearded Theory in some incarnation for the last 5 years too!

I think the biggest musical surprise for me is watching the Wheatus. Their early Sunday morning slot pulls in quite a crowd – who obviously know something I don't. Front man Brendan B Brown has sack loads of charisma, a sense of humour that is disarming and before I know it, I am laughing through my hangover. The whole band wear fake beards through their performance which includes a cover of Erasure's 'Give a Little Respect', after which Brown points out a man in the crown who sung all the lyrics and is wearing a Motorhead t-shirt. He congratulates him on his diverse taste in music.

After their show at Tornado Town, the band makes their way to the main stage to help in judging the Bearded Theory beard contest. The entries (pretty much all attendees present at the main stage), are shortlisted to a man with a beard made of bras, a flower beard, a beard made from the wearers cut dreadlocks, two of a troupe of long white beard wearers, and a bearded baby.

around the festival site (bearded record 1)
The winning beard was fairly adjudged to be the baby (Milo), in a colourful knitted beard who won a family ticket to next years Bearded Theory.

The festival was skilfully closed by Dreadzone. Sunday night headliners at a festival often play to a very small crowd (especially a family friendly festival during term time), but although the crowd has thinned out a bit, the loyal "Dreadzone Bouncing Crew" remain and I'm pleased to see the majority still have a spring in their stride. MC Spee takes his seat on stage and directs proceedings with crowd favourites 'Little Britain', 'Iron Shirt' and a finishing up with 'American Dread' during which the sound is switched off ensuring adherence to the Council's strict curfews.

For many, Bearded Theory is the first festival in the calendar, the first opportunity of the year to say hello to friends who have hibernated over winter and come back out to play. That's exactly what it was like for our family. A place where we could get together with old mates, make new ones and be in an environment surrounded by like-minded people, full of smiles and feel safe. Someone clever once told me that it's the bands that get you to a festival in the first instance, and the touchy feely festival vibe that gets you going back year after year. Bearded Theory manages to pull in some great acts (an amazing feat for a festival selling out at what I think to be 5,000 tickets), and has this year managed to create an atmosphere very similar to the more established Beautiful Days. However it's harder to see apart from the beards what's innovative or unique about it, it seems to have instead borrowed all the best from other established festivals. But does not being unique matter? It delivers what's good about the UK's independent small festival scene perfectly. It's a place that our family will return next year for sure. Bearded Theory, please don't go changing!

review by: James Tayler

photos by: Karen Williams / Phil Bull

Friday 18th to Sunday 20th May 2012
Kedleston Hall Park, Derby, Derbyshire, DE22 5JH, England MAP
£74 - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 5000
last updated: Wed 9th May 2012

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